According to IPCC reports, Thailand and Indonesia have been classified among the most vulnerable countries to climate change. The oceans’ health in this area is in serious decline: climate change-related phenomena and anthropological stressors, such as pollution and overfishing practices, have destroyed 40% of coral reefs, while fish stocks continue to decline and consumption patterns remain unsustainable. These and other pressures exacerbate climate-induced ocean acidification and warming and weaken the capacity of the oceans to mitigate the impact of climate change, also threatening the fishing industry on which 200 million people in the Indo-Pacific depend for food and jobs. Symbiosis demonstrates the interconnectedness of climate change-related issues, investigating the direct effect of these phenomena on the marine environment, and highlighting the positive solutions that both local communities and scientific authorities are implementing to preserve the health of the marine ecosystem for our future.
Series, 2nd place
Sea turtles are one of the marine species most affected by climate change. While the sea levels rise and stronger storms erode their beach habitats, higher temperatures can change ocean currents, potentially introducing sea turtles to new predators. Furthermore, according to several studies, there is a direct relationship between the sand temperature where the turtles nest and the gender of the offspring. The sand temperature, in fact, influences the gender of the offspring during incubation, favoring the birth of females and consequently resulting in a shortage of males. For years, the Royal Thai Navy has been involved in sea turtle conservation activities. Thanks to conservation centers throughout the country, they monitor and breed hawksbill and green turtles with the aim of releasing them into the sea and increasing their population.
The local community in Trang during the seagrass transplanting activity in the Sikao Bay, Thailand. This project, involving the young generation, started in 2004 after a severe storm hit the coasts destroying a large part of the seabed. The pH and the 02 levels in the water began to gradually change, resulting in a loss of biodiversity. Thanks to these continuous efforts by the local community, since 2018 the seagrass planted at the beginning of the project has flourished. The health of the ecosystem gradually improved, with a noticeable increase in the fish population.
Detail of a fisherman's arm and his fishing net in Tom Thong Yai village. One of the causes of the decrease in the fish population is overfishing practices by large boats in recent years. Fishing techniques with trawl nets and dynamite destroyed large areas of the reefs. Catching without distinction both adult and juvenile fish interrupts their life cycle and reduces their population. People have realized that in the long term these practices aren't profitable anymore due to a drastic decrease in the fish population in the bay. For this reason, in 2012 they decided to change the regulations and ban large boats from the bay, allowing just sustainable fishing practices using the long tail boats and the small fishing nets.
In Amed, North East Bali, the women of the community play a key role in the coral reef restoration project. The opportunity to earn a stable income through conservation activities, and at the same time build a future for their children, made them more aware of the importance of the marine environment. Their role is to make concrete cube structures that will be used for corals transplantation. Furthermore, they have started to monitor the fishermen and protect the areas where conservation projects are underway, creating no-fishing zones.
In November 2021 Coral Reef Care, a dutch NGO, began a collaboration with a local diving association Perkumpulan Pemandu Penyelam Amed (P3A) and the fishermen in Amed, North East Bali. Depending on the sea floor topography, they use different techniques. For flat areas, they developed a modular system of concrete cubes and bricks. The structures mimic the natural complexity of coral colonies in the sense that they provide many small refuge areas for fish and invertebrates. A diverse array of marine life is required to support and sustain a healthy reef ecosystem. On the concrete structures, they plant corals of opportunity i.e. coral fragments that have broken off healthy coral reefs, either naturally or by human impact. Planting these corals speeds up the creation of a new reef and slows down the settlement of other benthic organisms like algae, which can quickly take over.
During a scientific expedition, a researcher from Ramkhamhaeng University is conducting a fish survey among the Acropora fields surrounding Koh Tao. This research is important to analyze how marine biodiversity is changing over the years and to estimate the impact of climate change on the migratory path of several fish species.
A sample of Pocillopora Acuta is being tested in a continuous nitrogen chamber recreating a hypoxic condition inside the laboratory of MACORIN (Marine and Coastal Research Institute) at Prince of Songkla University. Hypoxic conditions mean that the oxygen level is less than 2 mg/l. Low oxygen levels have an extreme impact on corals, causing very fast tissue loss, even in a short period of 10 days.
Daw (33) has been working for five years as a fisherman on the big boats in the Thailand Gulf. He sails with a crew of six to eight people, all working in poor conditions in order to give their families a decent livelihood. They navigate the open seas, their long trips lasting between one and two months, and return to the mainland for just few days to reorganize themselves. During these trip, a single boat can consume up to 400 liters of diesel per day, using the seawater to cool down the engine and as a result, contaminating the ocean with kerosene. Big companies expect them to catch a massive amount of fish daily (up to 3 tons) using unsustainable practices such as trawl nets to satisfy the vast demand of the national market.
The Blackfin barracuda (Sphyraena qenie), also known as the Chevron barracuda, is a species of barracuda that is in high demand especially in Southern Thailand. Barracuda play an important role in marine food webs because they remove sick and vulnerable members of prey fish populations. However, anything that threatens coral reefs, seagrass beds, or mangrove forests is a threat to barracudas. These include coastal development, ocean acidification, marine debris pollution, overfishing and excessive nutrients that lead to harmful algal blooms.
A villager goes in search of sea shells at low tide in the southern bay of Koh Libong. Due to severe storms in recent years, the seabed structure changed, and the wider leaf seagrass stopped growing naturally, with a severe impact on the marine ecosystem. On top of that, mud, sediment and polluted water coming from Trang city play a crucial role in these changes, which are having a severe impact even on community life. Low-income families who can't afford a long tail boat to go fishing in the deep sea, used to go daily into the bay at low tide to collect shellfish to sell in the local markets. This has always been good business for them, as in Koh Libong it is possible to find a particular species of spiral shellfish that is in high demand in local restaurants. Today people can no longer rely on this activity as the once common spiral shellfish are slowly disappearing.
Officers from the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation involved in seagrass transplantation in Koh Libong. The Koh Libong coastal environment has approximately 32 square km of seagrass cover, with up to 12 different species. Currently in the coastal area, 16 square km of seagrass is in poor health, while it has already died in a 3.2 square km area. The ecosystem of the island has completely changed: in the past 10 years the seagrass could grow up to 120cm, but now the maximum growth is around 20cm. Due to the environmental changes, the temperature is noticeably increasing in the shallower water as previously, the seagrass provided shade for the seabed. Mollusks and other small fish can’t stand this new hotter environment. Furthermore, the loss of seagrass has a strong impact on the mammal population such as dugong, which rely on seagrass as a mainstay of their diet.
The fish houses project (Sai-Nang) in Tom Thong Yai bay. Sai-Nang are built using bamboo sticks and palm leaves. The local community started this project 15 years ago to preserve the environment by discouraging the use of destructive fishing practices in the bay. The palm leaves around the bamboo sticks provide a safe place where fish can shelter and breed, increasing the fish population in the bay. Since the project started, they have built 100 to 500 fish houses per year. Due to the natural decomposition of the bamboo and the palm leaves, the fish houses have to be replaced annually. Since the launch of the project, the fish population (especially tuna, black pomfret, grouper, mackerel) has noticeably increased in the bay.