The mountainous backbone of the peninsula runs rather lopsided near the western coastline facing the Andaman Sea. Hence, it has settlements in coastal plains rather than the hinterland, which might best be described as “windows” to the world – in comparison to the “gateways” on the Gulf Coast. Moreover, in history navigating the Andaman Sea was difficult, at best, not to say outright dangerous, given the threats posed by rough seas during the monsoon, a myriad of reefs and seamounts, and pirates sheltering in the coves of the plethora of islands.
In this environment of ranges of high mountain crests, narrow coastal plains, rocky coastlines, archipelagos, scattered islands and islets as well as seamounts and reefs, the sea was the means of making a living, foremost, with its great variety of marine resources. Fisheries and trade got people from near and distant shores involved in exchanges such as seafaring merchants of the Coromandel Coast in present-day India and of realms on the island of Sumatra. Ports such as Kantang in Trang Province were roadsteads and trading centres handling the flow of commodities between distant lands in the West and Ligor, the regional realm at the Gulf Coast, the area of present-day Nakhon Si Thammarat. Such historical “land-bridges”, safe alternatives to the piracy prone Straits of Malacca, were operated by alternating between waterborne and land transportation. In this manner, commodities were shipped upstream on the Trang River, then carted across the watershed and loaded on boats going downstream on the Sin Pun and Tapi rivers. Farther north, from the Bight of Phang-nga goods were transshipped on the route known as Pak Phanom, first by boat on the Pak Lao River, then across the continental divide by either sliding the boats mounted on sledges, or carting goods which were again loaded onto boats going downstream via the Cha-un, Phum Duang and Tapi rivers of to the Bight of Surat Thani. Another such historical “land-bridge” linked the Andaman Sea port of Mergui, historically in the Siamese territory of Tenasserim, with Phiphli near present-day Petchaburi Town, on the coast of the Gulf, then the coastal harbour nearest Ayutthaya, the capital of Siam. Fisheries and trade were supplemented by the mining largely of tin deposits in hillsides as well as in the seabed, the latter upon the introduction of dredging by the turn from the 19th to the 20th centuries, and the start of planting rubber trees, Hevea brasiliensis.
There still are blazing green mountain ranges with thick rainforests, cascading waterfalls, unspoilt mangrove forests, a translucent sea blessed with magnificent coral reefs, and abundant terrestrial as well as aquatic wildlife. To preserve this highly diverse natural environment, forest reserves, protected areas, national parks, a World Nature Heritage Park and a World Nature Conservation Site were demarcated. Owing to their physical settings as varied as archipelagos in the Andaman Sea, a coastline crusted with limestone karst mounts, floodplain forests, hill-area wetlands, and rainforests straddling hills and mountain ranges, the western flank of the peninsula has the greatest concentration and highest density of nature reserves nationwide. With the hilly and mountainous hinterland widely uninhabited, or sparsely populated in only few locations, vast areas of virgin forests retain virtually pristine nature, both flora and fauna. Protected as national parks, some of them cover areas as large as those of contemporary, independent states. Together, these nature reserves represent the largest proportionate expanse of the surface areas among the five major regions of
Thailand, i.e. the Central, Eastern, Northern, Northeastern and Southern regions.
PRISTINE NATURAL ENVIRONMENT IN THE MAINLAND MOUNTAINS
The mountains, which run the length of the peninsula toward the south like a spine, and their slopes as well, are dotted with nature reserves, large and small. Khlong Phrao National Park covers much of the mountain range that forms the watershed between West and East, extending over an area of 668 sq km, equal to the area size of the Sultanate of Bahrain, and straddling across large parts of Ranong as well as neighbouring Chumphon provinces. A major attraction in the spectacular forests on its western slope is the Ngao Waterfall, cascading from a high mountain top. The great variety of wildlife includes a rare species of fresh water crab, pu chao fa, with a white elongated body and dark-violet claws and legs as well as eye sockets and mouth, which roams in rock clefts and beneath foliage alongside rivulets, which feed this waterfall as well as the equally attractive waterfalls called Punyaban and Ton Phet.
The former is plunging from a high cliff, and the latter is cascading from the highest mountain peak in Ranong Province across eleven tiers of beautiful rock formations. Equally pristine is the environment of Khlong Nakha Forest Wildlife Reserve, with a one-thousand-metre long waterfall. A vast plateau covered with green grass in the rainy season, criss-crossed by trails open to visitors, is known by the names of PhuKhao Ya or Khao Hua Lan. This hilly grassland is encapsulated by dense forests which provide shelter to wildlife foraging in the open. Northernmost in the mountain ranges of Phang-nga Province is the Si Phang-nga National Park, established in honour of H.M. the King’s 60th birthday anniversary. Covering 246 sq km, about the size of the Cayman Islands, its virgin forests are rich in flora and fauna as well as spectacular sights such as waterfalls. Forests have trees in abundance such as yang, a Dipterocarpus species, ironwood, sago palm and fan palm as well as a great variety of wild orchids. Wildlife species include tapir, goat-antelope, serow, banteng, barking deer, tiger, Malay wreathed hornbill, helmeted hornbill, Asian fairy-blue bird, as well as soro brook carps and other rare fish.
Virgin forests in the rough mountains of Khao Lak – Lam Ru National Park, a vital headwater area of Phang-nga Province extending over 125 sq km, are the natural habitat of several Dipterocarpus tree species including yang, Shorea, ironwood and Anisoptera as well as Malacca teak and Indian rosewood chestnut. Wildlife that can be spotted, by guided trekking on long educational nature trails, includes tapir, tiger, goat-antelope, serow, langur, gibbon, Malay sambar, barking deer, Asian black bear and birds such as argus pheasant, Malayan wreathed hornbill, woodpeckers,
bulbuls of the great variety of 22 local subspecies, Malay talking mynah, and drongos.
The mountainous part of Khao Lam Pi – Hat Thai Mueang National Park, in Phang-nga Province as well, covering a total area of 72 sq km, shows geomorphological formations aged between 140 and 60 million years. Its mountains are covered with virgin forests of Dipterocarpus species including the giant yang and ironwood trees as well as Anisoptera, mixed with ferns, rattan and bamboo. Wildlife therein includes the palm civet, Malay sambar, Burmese jungle fowl and Malay spotted dove. A rare attraction alongside the educational nature trail in the Pa Ton Poriwat Wildlife Reserve of Phang-nga Province, with its great variety of tree species and the Ton Poriwan , also known as Song Phraek Waterfall, is the blossoming, around October, of the Rafflesia [known in Thai as bua phut, or else as krathonruesi meaning ‘hermit’s spittoon’]. This plant is an epiphyte botanically named Rhinzanthes zippelii(Rafflesiaceae) with the worldwide largest blossoms of about 80 centimetres in diameter, petals of brownish-reddish colour and letting off an offensive odour.
On the backbone of the island of Phuket, its mountains and hills, the remaining forest and wildlife are protected in the Khao Phra Thaeo Royal Wildlife and Forest Reserve. In its comparatively small area of 22 sq km, dense rainforest around the waterfalls of Ton Sai and Bang Pae harbours an arboretum with the rare palm lang khao, a fan palm, and the Gibbon Rehabilitation Centre, where gibbons freed from captivity are re-naturalized to be released to fend for themselves. Roaming freely are such wildlife species as wild pig, langur, Malayan sun bear, mouse-deer and birds including crimson sunbirds, white-fronted scops-owls and paradise flycatchers.
The mountain range of PhanomBencha lies just off-centre of Krabi Province. Its southeastern, larger part with the highest peak at 1,397 metres forms the Khao Phanom Bencha National Park. The park area of 50 sq km, roughly the area size of Bermuda, is covered with dense rainforest, on both the northern and southern mountain sides. Natural attractions include waterfalls, caves and numerous species of wildlife. The rainforest is the habitat of the tapir, barking deer, serow, Asian black bear, fishing cat, clouded leopard, black panther, tiger, langur, dusky leaf monkey and gibbon. Birds of altogether 218 species can be watched, such as eagles, hornbills, woodpeckers, argus pheasant or great argus, and the extremely rare Guerney’s pitta. At close distance is another site with hot springs, known as SaMorakot, a cluster of three hot-water pools with clear, emerald waters of temperatures between 30o and 50o Celsius. This spot is surrounded by trees of the Khao Pra – Bang Khram Forest Wildlife Reserve, a non-hunting zone. It was established to protect one of the few remaining lowland forests in Thailand. A nature educational trail leads over a distance of 2.3 kilometres through the low-lying plain covered with virgin forest known as na choliff, the ‘Choliff Field’, named after Tina Choliff, an Englishwoman, who pioneered local forest conservation. As for the wildlife, signboards highlight especially the more than 300 avian species. Among them are Gurney’s pitta, thick-billed pigeon, a great variety of Asian barbets, Asian fairy-bluebird, bulbuls and various spiderhunters.
In the foothills of mountains within Krabi Province lies a small patch of the large Than Bok Khorani National Park, the former botanical garden for which the park was named, with nine caves. Emerald waters flow out of a narrow cave in a tall cliff and into a large lotus pool, which overflows steadily into a wide stream, itself dividing into many smaller streams in several stages; at each stage there is a pool and a small waterfall. Asok trees line the streams as well as pools. Numerous plants and trees characteristic of a virgin rainforest cover an area of 6.4 hectares, through which a nature educational trail winds over a length of one kilometre.
That part of the western flank of high mountains, which form the watershed and where the Trang River has its source, belongs to Trang Province. Its headwater area lies in the Khao Pu – Khao Ya National Park which straddles across the provinces of Phatthalung, Nakhon Si Thammarat and Trang. Most of its area of 694 sq km, larger than the Sultanate of Bahrain, consists of rugged terrain. Many of its very high mountain peaks are uniquely shaped like an anvil or dais, as expressed in the Thai description as khao hinthaen.
Thailand’s first educational facility of its kind is the Khao Chong Promotion Centre for Wildlife Conservation in Trang Province. The centre has a nature museum and an exposition hall equipped to practise conservation activities. Its two pilot, nature educational trails, known as the “Blue Trails”, wind over close to two and three kilometres, respectively, through one of the few remaining tropical rainforests, past the waterfalls of Ton Yai, Ton Noi and Kachong.
In the same mountain area is the habitat of large flocks of the duck species known as garganey and of the lesser whistling-duck or lesser tree-duck. These ducks are attracted by a large swamp surrounded by tall trees, located in the Khlong Lam Chan Waterfowl Park. Educational nature trails lead through this tranquil, no-hunting zone, dotted with pavilions for bird watching. In the largely mountainous terrain on the mainland of Satun Province, a unique ensemble of vegetation and wildlife has been preserved within the Thale Ban National Park. The national forest reserves of Ku PangPu To and Kaming combined with the wetland forest of Pu Yu form the park area of 196 sq km, thus exceeding the area size of the Principality of Liechtenstein. Derived from the original Malay name of ‘loed roe ban’, the name of ‘thaleban’ signifies a lake shrinking in size by filling up with sedimentation. The wetland inside the nature reserve extends over 101 sq km, interspersed with rugged mountains and covered with dense forests and thickets. This natural environment is habitat of wildlife such as goatantelope, elephant, tapir, wild pig, dusky leaf monkey, white-handed gibbon, langur, tapir, serow, Malay sun bear and dhole or Malay wild dog as well as of a great variety of reptiles, amphibians and fish. Birds include the whiskered tree-swift, stripe-throated bulbul, chestnutnaped forktail, rufous piculet, woodpeckers, and flamebacks. Among the waterfalls [nam tok], two stand out. Ya Roy has nine tiers, with a pool at every level that is fit for swimming. Similar is the large Ton Pliu with several tiers. Lot Pu Yu is a cave with stalactites and stalagmites through which a stream flows. It empties into a fen grown over with mangroves. Embedded in this pristine setting of Satun Province, at the bottom of a vale surrounded by mountains covered with rainforest, is the marsh with the freshwater lake named Thale Ban. Its shore is lined by cajeput, also known as milkwood [ samet ], both thickets and tall trees, growing out of the water as well as on dry ground above the water-line. This forest is locally known as tonba kong. Through it and around the lake a wooden jetty was built for wildlife watching. The lake measuring 20 hectares has a large variety of fishes and plenty of mussels of various kinds. In the rainy season, the shore is occupied by masses of noisy frogs [ khia kwak ]. Avian species, especially waterfowl and birds in the surrounding shrubs and forests include pheasants, bat hawk, booted eagle, masked finfoot, dusky crag martin and black baza, as well as numerous hornbill subspecies. In the mountains to the North, there in the National Forest Reserve named Pha Khao Ma Mai Yok, is the Thara Sawan Waterfall Forest Park. Across this mountainside in Satun Province, rainfalls are fairly evenly distributed throughout the year, keeping alive a pristine virgin forest.
COASTAL PLAINS WEDGED BETWEEN FOOTHILLS AND SHORELINE
Looking south from the estuary of the Kra Buri River that marks the border with Myanmar, a long stretch of coastal plain forms the Laem Son National Park, which covers an area of 315 sq km, equalling the area size of the Republic of Malta, extending across parts of Ranong and Phang-nga provinces, and comprising islands [ ko ] in the Andaman Sea including Khang Khao and the Kam Archipelago. Its many beautiful attractions include the beaches of Laem Son, Bang Ben and Praphat, the point of departure for islands such as Khang Khao, Kam Tok and Kam Yai and the seamount known as Hin Khan Na, with corals in abundance. The park is habitat for birds, monkeys and crab-eating macaques.
The coastal plains of Phang-nga Province are dotted with a variety of sites and spots that are of specific significance. The site of an ancient settlement named Ban Thung Tuek, situated near the district town of Khura Buri, presumably shows the remnants of a town built by migrants from the Coromandel Coast in present-day India. Thung Samet, located in the midst of the coastal plain called Hat Thai Mueang, is a vast expanse exclusively of cajeput trees covering an area of 160 hectares. At the Chulabhorn MARPARK Conservatory Centre, information and data are gathered about the southern marine environment and its natural resources. Nearby, at the sea turtle breeding and rearing station of the Royal Thai Navy, named BoAnuban Tao Kong Thap Ruea Phak3, efforts are focused on ensuring the survival of such endangered species as the green sea-turtle and hawk-bill turtle.
Sirinat National Park, spread across an area of 90 sq km on the island of Phuket, was first established in 1981. It includes 13 kilometres of coves and straight shore stretches. Sea-turtles come ashore to lay their eggs between November and February. In parts, the coast is lined by casuarinas or pandanus trees, interspersed with boulders. Other parts are covered by mangroves, with a network of raised wooden walkways for self-guided viewing of the wetland plant and animal wildlife.
In Krabi Province, the Noppharat Thara Coast – Phi Phi Archipelago National Park, one of the most spectacular national parks, straddles across some terra firma, equalling about one sixth of its area, and largely across the sea, totalling 388 sq km. In the area behind Nang Bay, thick virgin forests in the mountain area of Khao Hang Nak, mangroves along the creek of Klong Haeng, and a peat forest with plenty of cajeput trees [samet] represent three distinct types of forest. Within the Park lies the cape named Laem Pho, where a large fresh-water swamp is separated from the shore by fossilized shells. Petrified they form giant slabs known as shelly limestone, about 40 centimetres thick and estimated to be 75 million years old. The swamp is the habitat of masses of vivipara freshwater snails, known in Thai as hoi khom.
The coastal hinterland, by far the largest part of Than Bok Khorani National Park, totalling an area of 121 sq km, encompasses dense virgin forests, peat woodlands and mangroves. The flora and fauna of mangroves are made accessible along a four-kilometre nature educational trail.
The Southern Botanical Garden, also called Thung Khai and located in Trang Province, encompasses a section called “vegetable kingdom”. Another, planted with medicinal herbs, is a botany library, as well as a research and training facility. There are several educational nature trails, among them one trail through a rare lowland virgin forest and one through a rare peat forest, each with a great variety of trees.
VITAL ECOSYSTEMS ALONG THE SHORES
Along the shore, few stretches covered by natural vegetation have been preserved. Of particular significance are woodlands. Among these, the mangrove swamps are the spawning, hatching and breeding grounds of marine life. To conserve this vital environment, nature reserves were established. In Ranong Province, these are the Ngao Mangrove Forest Research Station, where visitors are welcome to observe the indigenous and rare plants as well as wildlife, and the Plant Kingdom Garden, located in the Khlong Lam Liang – La-un National Forest Reserve, with 15 species of mangroves.
The accessible shores, as they run in north-south direction within Phang-nga Province, are a succession of beaches alternating with mudflats covered by mangrove trees or rock-strewn strips. Laem Pa Ka Rang, a peninsula, has a mangrove forest as well as a sandy beach, with stone-shaped coral reefs at its shoreline and Malay sambar deer roaming the coastal forest. The long, sandy Hat Bang Sak is studded with smoothly shaped granite boulders and lined by casuarinas. Off Khao Lak Beach is a live coral reef suitable for snorkelling. Attractions of the sandy beaches located inside Khao Lam Pi – Hat Thai Mueang National Park are fish such as rays and sea mullets, small clusters of stone-shaped corals and, above all, sea turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs, from November to February, and the hatching of turtle spawn from March until April.
Magnificent rock formations along the shore form part, albeit a minor one, of the Phang-nga Bay National Park, which boasts the largest primary, evergreen remaining mangrove forest in Thailand. The pristine environment is the habitat of such animals as white-handed gibbon, crab-eating macaque, serow and dusky langur and, particularly, reptiles including the Bengal monitor, flying lizard or dragon, an agamid, banded sea snake, dog-faced water snake, shore pit viper, Malayan pit viper, two-banded or water monitor as well as amphibians. Among avian residents are the helmeted hornbill, edible-nest swiftlet, white-bellied sea eagle, osprey and Pacific reef egret.
Situated within the boundaries of Than Bok Khorani National Park in Krabi Province are the caves [tham] named Lot and Phi Hua To. The cave named Lot is accessible by boat on a navigable stream flowing through a tunnel at the bottom of the limestone cliff. The nearby cave of Phiu Hua, also called Hua Kalok or Hua To, has prehistoric rock paintings featuring people, animals and geometric designs. Its bottom is littered with shells. Similar are the rock paintings in the cave called Chao Le, which bears the name of a long sandy stretch, Hat Nopharat Thara or Khlong Haeng, strewn with lots of small shells, and the cape of Phra Nang with its adjacent, miraculous cave known as Tham Phra Nang.
The major coastal nature reserve within the boundaries of Trang Province is the Hat Chao Mai National Park. Its smaller part is situated on terra firma over a length of 20 kilometres, with some islands at close distance alongside. There is the Marine Life Study Centre covering the Andaman Sea and specializing in research on sea-grass, the scientifically proven, vital resource of the coastal water habitat. In this area, the endangered dugong (also called manatee or sea-cow) can sometimes be spotted. Rare black-necked storks feed on molluscs and crustaceans. Other avian species include little herons, Pacific reef-egrets and white-bellied sea eagles. Also, there are sea otters, macaques, langurs, wild pigs, pangolins, monitor lizards and water monitors. On the shore, evergreen rainforest, limestone crag forest in steep and rugged cliffs, mangroves and beach forest provide a suitable wildlife habitat. semi-sedentary ethnic group whose members ferry visitors to the cave. It also holds all sorts of geometrical sculptures, perhaps also of prehistoric origin.
In Krabi Province as well, along the coastal strip within Noppharat Thara Coast – Phi Phi Archipelago National Park are a three-kilometre- long sandy stretch, Hat Nopharat Thara or Khlong Haeng, strewn with lots of small shells, and the cape of Phra Nang with its adjacent, miraculous cave known as Tham Phra Nang.
The major coastal nature reserve within the boundaries of Trang Province is the Hat Chao Mai National Park. Its smaller part is situated on terra firma over a length of 20 kilometres, with some islands at close distance alongside. There is the Marine Life Study Centre covering the Andaman Sea and specializing in research on sea-grass, the scientifically proven, vital resource of the coastal water habitat. In this area, the endangered dugong (also called manatee or sea-cow) can sometimes be spotted. Rare black-necked storks feed on molluscs and crustaceans. Other avian species include little herons, Pacific reef-egrets and white-bellied sea eagles. Also, there are sea otters, macaques, langurs, wild pigs, pangolins, monitor lizards and water monitors. On the shore, evergreen rainforest, limestone crag forest in steep and rugged cliffs, mangroves and beach forest provide a suitable wildlife habitat. The Phetra Archipelago National Park, with its 22 islands and covering a total land area of 494 sq km, straddles across the marine territories of the provinces of Satun and Trang. On the mainland, Nun Bay, a spacious and tranquil cove, as well as Rawai Beach lined by casuarinas, are part of this nature reserve.
MYRIAD OF ISLANDS, ISLETS, SEAMOUNTS, AND REEFS
Of the hundreds of islands, islets, seamounts and reefs in Thailand’s territorial waters of the Andaman Sea, many form part of protected marine zones. Located northernmost is the Surin Archipelago National Park with five major islands and some islets, totalling a land area of 33 sq km, which covers a marine area of 135 sq km and belongs to Phang-nga Province. Its islands have sandy, white beaches, splendid stone-shaped corals in shallow waters, plenty of colourful fishes, a wondrous and fascinating underwater scenery, and a great variety of fish including whale-sharks. It is home to sea nomads known as Chao Le, also called Moken, an ethnic group native to the Andaman Sea whose people are used to live in boats. They make their living from the sea, in the traditional ways of catching, netting and harvesting. By major islands, islets, seamounts and reefs, there is diversity.
The islands [ ko ] with small as well as large coves, Surin Tai and Klang, also called Pa Chum Ba, reputedly have sea turtles coming ashore in great numbers to lay their eggs, during November through February. Bon Bay on the island of Surin Tai holds promise to spot white-tip sharks, small sharks called chalamkop, rays such as manta rays, giant manta rays and spotted devil-rays. Three out of five islands are famous for their corals. Their shores have some of the best stone-shaped as well as branching or tree-shaped corals in shallow as well as deep waters. Shoals of colourful and flamboyant fishes, sea anemones and giant sea fans are ubiquitous. Another island, Khai or To Rin La, has a long stretch of stone-shaped coral reefs in deep waters close to its shore, which is the habitat of rays, a great variety of pretty fish, and plenty of dragon prawns.
The interior of the island of Surin Nuea has a great variety of wildlife, including such rare animals as the mouse-deer or chevrotain and flying lemur as well as bird species rarely sighted elsewhere, including the Nicobar pigeon and pied imperial pigeon. The island of Surin Tai has become home to some groups of the once exclusively nomadic ethnic group of the Chao Le or Moken. Islands and seamounts bare of any beaches include the island of Ri, also known as Stork Island with massive granite boulders, which attracts a variety of sea turtles, reef sharks and blue-ringed angelfish. Situated off the northeast of the island of Surin Nuea is the small island of Chi with dive sites that are deemed among the very best.
Richelieu Rock, a seamount southeast of the island of Surin Tai, is a major dive site and among the best places to encounter whale-sharks, which reportedly would be spotted nearby on every other dive trip, most commonly during March through April. Dangerous zebra-fish, sea anemones and whale-sharks are likely encountered when diving at the arched seamount of Castle Rock. Further to the south, also within the boundaries of Phang-nga Province, the Similan Archipelago National Park comprises, as its name derived from the Malay word semibilan for the numeral ‘9’ indicates, nine islands with a total land area of approximately 20 sq km, in a sea area of 128 sq km. They form an idyllic marine park of beautiful surface and underwater sceneries, suitable for hiking, snorkelling or diving in shallow or deep waters, to admire splendid corals and colourful as well as rarely sighted fish.
All islands are known for rugged granite boulders that reveal what the rock formations below the seawater surface are like. Seamounts, ridges, cliffs, rock reefs, clefts, bowls, ledges, caves, archways, vast slates and troughs are the habitat of corals, including soft, branching or treeshaped, swaying corals, irridescent corals, and hard corals such as porites and table acroporas, i.e. corals shaped like a large ‘leaf’, ‘brain’, ‘flower’ or ’mushroom’. Coupled with ‘gardens’ of gigantic, gorgonian sea fans, the underwater scenery teems with large sea turtles such as hawksbill and leatherback turtles, schooling goatfish, yellow snappers, blue-ringed angelfish, Moorish idols clad in brilliant jackets of yellow and black, green chromis, antheus, irridescent wrasses, cartoon fish, black-and-white batfish, fusiliers, golden damselfish, moray eels and leopard moray eels, groupers, sleepers and gobies, unicorn surgeonfish, Asian snappers, yellowfins, reef sharks, rays, stingrays, dragon shrimps, spiny lobsters, mantis prawns, plume worms and large pelagic fish including leopard sharks, silver-tip sharks, white-tip sharks, giant tuna, giant rays, stingrays, mantas, whales, dolphins and whale-sharks.
In addition to the wonders of the sea, the Similan Islands are habitat of terrestrial and avian wildlife. There are two species of crabs known as pu kai, with an elongated red body, black claws, blue eyesockets, which make noise like chicken, and Szechuan crabs. Mammals include the bush-tailed porcupine, common palm civet and flying lemur. Among the reptiles and amphibians are the banded kraits, reticulated pythons, white-lipped pit vipers, common pit vipers, Bengal monitor lizards, common water monitor lizards and ornate froglets. Of some 32 species of birds, resident examples are the Brahmin kite and white-breasted waterhen, and migratory ones include the pintail snipe, grey wagtail, cattle egret, watercock, roseate tern, rock pigeon, imperial pied-pigeon and Nicobar pigeon. Rocky islands without beaches proper are Pa Yan, the minor Miang islands, Pa Yu, Bon or Hua Kalok and Ba Ngu. Among rocks and boulders below the waterline unfolds a splendid ensemble of corals and flamboyant sea-life. In strong currents hard, stone-shaped and soft, antler or tree-shaped corals thrive, along with sea fans and sea anemones. Shoals of beautiful fish, big reef fish, sea-turtles and large pelagic fish including the world’s largest, the whale-shark, are the floating attractions. Numerous are dive sites reaching down to depths of about 40 metres.
Seamounts and reefs surround the islands. Famous for their wonderful habitat are flat, sandy plateaus of submerged massifs as well as undersea ridges, slates, rocks and boulders. Some are topographically identified as Beacon Point, Hin Phae, Hin Pu Sa with its “Elephant Pinnacles”, Kong Hin Faentasi, Christmas Point, Bird Rock, Turtle Rock and Stonehenge as well as reefs named ‘Shark Fin’, ‘Turtle Gully’, ‘Morning Edge’, ‘Coral Gardens’, ‘Campbell Bay’, ‘Dirk’s Decision’, ‘The Mooring’, ‘Snapper Alley’, ‘Deep Six’ and ‘Batfish Bend’. In this marine environment, the diversity of corals, sea fans, sea anemones, fish and various am phibians is particularly great and spectacular. The archipelagos of Surin and Similan are worldrenowned for their pristine natural environments above the sea and in their underwater surroundings. Efforts are underway to have these archipelagos and adjacent islands recognized as a World Nature Conservation Site.
Equally worthy of protection and conservation are the adjacent islands of Ta Chai and Phra Thong, situated within the territory of Phang-nga Province as well. While Ta Chai has magnificent corals at depths of 18 to 35 metres, where rays and whalesharks gather, Phra Thong has wide coves with sandy beaches and wildlife in its interior such as Malay sambar deer and wild pig, and among its many bird species the Malay wreathed hornbill and the lesser adjutant.
Small islands to the south of Phuket are exposed to strong current and surf. They are known, first and foremost, for their beautiful underwater scenery. Hard, stone-shaped coral reefs surround the islands of Pu, Kaeo Noi and Kaeo Yai, Racha Noi and Racha Yai, Mai Thon, He and Khai Nok, in both shallow and deep waters. Young stone-shaped corals are a particular attraction at a site off Racha Yai. Pristine coral gardens in shallow waters and the habitat for larger pelagic fish among deeply submerged boulders distinguish Racha Noi. Scenic bays with sandy beaches adorn the shores of Racha Yai, Mai Thon, He and Khai Nok.
Officially decreed “Marine Sanctuaries” include the islet named Ko Dok Mai, the famous dive site called “Shark Point” and the submerged pinnacle forming a shallow reef called “Anemone Reef”. Ko Dok Mai is a seamount of steep limestone cliffs with caves, which are the preferred habitat of larger pelagic fish. “Shark Point” teems with abundant marine life that includes leopard sharks and moray eels. “Anemone Reef” is so named for the tapestry that covers the shallow reef and offers the habitat preferred by the likes of moray eel and zebra-fish. Over 40 limestone islands and islets combined form the largest part of the Phang-nga Bay National Park, which as a whole covers an area of 400 sq km. Among these islands, some may represent the scope of attractions. Pan Yi is a limestone cliff with a Muslim fishing settlement built on stilts along the shore. Phanak has a cave and a pool at the bottom of a multi-tiered waterfall. Tha Lu is known for its water-filled cave accessible by boat. Khao Phing Kan is a gigantic cliff cloven in two, the halves leaning against each other.
Khao Ta Pu or ‘James Bond Island’ figures as a spectacularly tall and broad peak with a narrow base. Hong, with low and high peaks, imparts on entering its cave the sensation of being in a large, gilded hall. Yao Noi with the beaches of Pa Sai and Tha Khao as well as Yao Yai with beaches in the bays of Tikut, Khlong Son, Lan, Sai, Loparaet and at the cape of Nok Ok, most of them with white, clean sand, some bordered by rocks, some with pebbly stretches, are all suitable for swimming and not too far from stone-shaped coral reefs. Ao Hin Kong alone is not suitable for water sports, yet attractive owing to its native Muslim fishing population, with opportunities to observe fishing or join crews. Khai Nok and Khai Nai boast white sandy beaches, clear sea water, beautiful stone-shaped coral reefs and colourful fishes. Bele has a large tidal lagoon, white-sand beaches, easily accessible caves and coral reefs all around. The marine area of Krabi Province is virtually subdivided among three national parks, thus encompassing by far most of its islands. They are the Hat Noppharat Thara – Mu Ko Phi Phi National Park, the Than Bok Khorani National Park and the Mu Ko Lanta National Park.
Spread across a marine area of 321 sq km, which forms by far the larger part of the Hat Noppharat Thara – Mu Ko Phi Phi National Park, are two archipelagos and numerous other islands and islets. The Po Da Archipelago with the islands of Po Da, Thap, Mo, Hua Khwan and Kai, is known for white sandy beaches, clear sea water and attractive stone-shaped coral reefs, and the island of Rang Nok for its underwater cave. Farther away from the coast lies the Phi Phi Archipelago. Sandy beaches and clear sea water are matched by the amazing underwater domain with jutting cliffs, stone-shaped coral reefs, sea anemones and a great variety of colourful fishes. Its islands include Phi Phi Le, Phi Phi Don, Yung, Mai Phai, Bida Nok and Bida Nai. Closer to the Krabi mainland coast lie several islands and islets that belong to the Than Bok Khorani National Park. Islands of particular interest include Ka Rot which is popular for canoeing to visit caves; Daeng with a sandy beach, a spacious cave and a stone-shaped coral reef; and the Hong or Lao Pi Le Archipelago. It comprises several limestone islands such as Hong or Lao Pi Le, Lao or Chaka, Lao Riam, Pak Ka and Lao La Ding. Among these, Hong is the largest with mostly rocky terrain, a nature educational trail, clear sea water and stone-shaped coral reefs in shallow as well as deep waters.
The third national park in the marine environment, Mu Ko Lanta National Park, is entirely insular. Its area of 152 square kilometres encompasses 52 islands. The major islands are Lanta Yai, Lanta Noi, Ta La Beng, Klay Khiang, Pu or Klang, Nok Khuam, Si Bo Ya together with Cham, Bu Bu, Po, Kam Yai , Kam Noi, Son, Hai, Bok and the Ha Archipelago as well as the far-flung island of Ngai and the even farther Rok Archipelago. The Ha Archipelago has a fabulous concentration of coral reefs. Its islands of Ha, Bida, Hin Mueang and Hin Daeng have been described as “coral-encrusted”. The abundance of hard and soft corals provides the habitat for a highly diverse sea-life and, hence, attracts large pelagic fishes such as shark, tuna, manta ray and whale-shark.
Encircled by corals as well, some of them hardly submerged, lots of them grown into stone-shape and forming a ring of islets, is the island of Ngai. It has sandy beaches at the foot of mountains in the interior which are covered by dense forest. Coral reefs surround the islands of the Rok Archipelago, Rok Nai and Rok Nok. Although part of Ko Lanta District, Krabi Province, the island of Ngai is best accessible from the coast of Trang Province and also serves as the jumping-off point to Rok Nai and Rok Nok.
Most islands within the boundaries of Trang Province belong to the marine areas of either one of the two national parks, Hat Chao Mai National Park or Phetra National Marine Park. Together, they number some 40 islands. In the Hat Chao Mai National Park the largest island by far is Libong with an area of 40 square kilometres. Together with nearby islets, it forms the Libon Archipelago, part of which was decreed a non-hunting area. Along the shore, sea grass abounds. It is the preferred fodder of the rare and endangered dugong or manatee, called phayun in Thai. It is a sanctuary as well for other endangered sea-life such as green turtles and dolphins. Avian species include collared kingfisher, blacknecked stork, white-breasted waterhen, little heron, whiskered tern, whimbrel, Kentish plover, crab plover, redshank and Pacific reef-egret.
The Phetra Archipelago National Park with its 22 islands and covering a land area of 494 sq km in total, straddles across the marine territories of the provinces of Trang and Satun. Among its islands situated in the waters of Trang Province are Phetra, Lanti, Lao Liang Nuea, Lao Liang Tai, Daeng, Ta Bai, Ta Lui Yai, Ta Lui Noi and Perama. The island of Phetra, shaped like a junk, and the other islands of the archipelago have rugged terrain with high mountains and deep vales under forest cover, which are habitat to varied wildlife. The islands are surrounded by a great variety of stone-shaped coral reefs. The islands belonging to the Phetra Archipelago National Marine Park and situated in the waters of Satun Province have rugged terrain with high mountains and deep vales covered with forests, which are habitat to varied wildlife. They are surrounded by a great variety of stone-shaped coral reefs. The larger islands include Li Di Yai, Li Di Lek, Bu Lon Don, Bu Lon Mai Phai, Bu Lon Le, Khao Yai, A Yam, Rang Nok, Bu La, La Ma, Tong Ku, Kluai, Hin Khao and La Lo Baen Tae. The first national marine conservation area of Thailand, Taru Tao National Park, established in 1974, is also the largest of its kind, with a combined sea and land area of 1,490 sq km, encompassing altogether 51 large and small islands, which are part of Satun Province. It was recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1982, and also as one of the ASEAN Heritage Parks and Reserves. The islands belong to one of four archipelagos, namely, the Taru Tao, Klang or Khai, Adang-Rawi, and Tong or Bu Tong archipelagos. The main island of the Taru Tao Archipelago is the one which lends it the name, Taru Tao, derived from the Malay name of Ta Lo Tarau, signifying “many bays”. In the Taru Tao Archipelago, as well as of the Taru Tao National Park, the island of Taru Tao is the largest, with an area of 152 sq km. Its mostly mountainous terrain is largely covered with virgin forest, which is accessible on an educational nature trail. Endowed with streams, waterfalls and caves, the interior is the habitat of such wildlife as dusky langur, mouse-deer or chevrotain, wild pig, fishing cat and crab-eating macaque. The cave known as Tham Chorakhe was variously described as between 300 and 1,000 metres long. The coast has bays, coves and beaches where hawksbill, leatherback, Pacific ridley, and green sea-turtles lay their eggs. The bays of Ta Lo Wao and Ta Lo Adang are the sites of former prisoner training and manufacturing camps.
The other three archipelagos of the Taru Tao National Park are parts of its subunit named Laem Son Protection Section of the National Park. The Khai or Klang Archipelago comprises rocky islands, islets and seamounts which are surrounded by many stone-shaped coral reefs.
Among the small islands are Ta Nga, Khai, Klang, Bi Sa Si or Lek, Bong Kang, Ta Rang, Hin Ta Kon and Kra. The Adang-Rawi Archipelago includes large and small islands such as Adang, Rawi, Li Pe, Hin Ngam, Yang and Cha Bang. The name of the island of Adang, the largest with an area of 30 sq km, is derived from the Malay word ‘adang’ which translates as ‘prawn’, given the abundance of prawns in its coastal waters. It is a densely forested island. Its white-sandy beaches face off-shore coral reefs with many live species of coral. On the west coast is the village of Talo Puya, whose inhabitants are the Chao Le or Moken, a seafaring ethnic group native to the Andaman Sea. Their rallying point on festive occasions is the small island of Si Pe or Li Pe, or else Ni Pis, surrounded by stoneshaped coral reefs. The other large island is Rawi, with an area of 29 sq km. Its sandy beaches and clear seawater offer excellent snorkelling spots. Stone-shaped as well as branching coral reefs with many live species of coral are ideally suited for diving. The other, small islands are equally, if not more attractive. Hin Ngam has a beach that is covered with dark-coloured, shiny pebbles.
Yang or Ka Ta, or else Pa Na Ka has splendid stone-shaped coral reefs such as those called Khao KwangPakarang Phak Kat, in English antlershaped corals resembling lettuce’, and Pakarang Samong, in English ‘stoneshaped corals resembling brains’.
The island of Cha Bang with its surrounding rocks has young, stoneshaped coral reefs, with many live species of coral, sea anemones and shoals of colourful fishes. The Tong or Bu Tong Archipelago is a cluttering of six small islands with stoneshaped coral reefs at shallow shore sites as well as in deep waters. These islands are Tong or Bu Tong, Hin Chon, Lok Kuai, Bu Lo, Sa Kai and Sa Rang or Sawang. Given all these fabulous natural facets, it does not come as a surprise that these land and marine areas of Thailand’s peninsula facing the Andaman Sea have impressed ever more visitors as a virtual edge of paradise, thus adding tourism to the economic mainstay of the Andaman Sea Coast and its islands.
The earthquake of 26 December 2004, which triggered the giant waves known as tsunami, the Japanese word for “harbour wave”, that forged into the Andaman Sea and devastated some of Thailand’s coastal areas and islands with diabolic force, alerted the world community to how precarious life on the edge of paradise could be. Under the destructive impact of the tsunami, far too many local people and visitors perished or went missing. Many more traumatized survivors had been injured, were bereaved, suffered loss of or damage to their property, or were deprived of their source of livelihood. That terrible disaster has triggered both reactive and pro-active interventions, in virtually all spheres of the natural and physical environment. Given the emphasis of this feature on the natural environment of the coast, islands and waters of the Andaman Sea, the focus is on the impact which the tsunami had on select aspects of the littoral and marine ecosystems.
As a reaction to the terrible tsunami, the need for information, felt not solely by policymakers but particularly by lay-persons, covers five facets that are of vital significance. The salient questions are  in how far the occurrence of giant waves is germane to the ecosystem of the Andaman Sea,  how public alertness could be enhanced in parallel with a state-of-the-art early warning system,  how some parts of the natural environment were adversely affected and rehabilitated while others remained unscathed,  how nature restores, recreates, and creates ecosystem components, and  what proactive ecological strategies as well as measures are identified so as to safeguard against any future loss of life.
In how far is the occurrence of giant waves germane to the ecosystem of the Andaman Sea ? First and most of all, by far most local residents and visitors along the coast and on the islands of the Andaman Sea had no knowledge of any occurrence of such giant waves. To date, 80 percent of all tsunamis occurred in the Pacific Ocean, and few only in the Indian Ocean, of which the Andaman Sea is part. For the Indian Ocean, the recurrence of 10-metre waves was extrapolated at an interval of about 1,000 years.1 People were, hence, caught unaware of the monstrous impact of a tsunami, triggered by one of the strongest earthquakes on record at the bottom of the ocean. The seismic slip of 26 December 2004 caused a rupture running the length of 1,200 km which sparked the waves.2 How could public alertness be enhanced in parallel with the introduction and operation of a state-ofthe- art early-warning system ?
Five lessons imparted by and learnt from nature proved to ensure survival. The following experiences render proof of the feasibility, not to say necessity, to recognize the need for environmental conservation, as a matter of principle, and to heed nature’s signals, which would be flashed in the process of any such rare force gathering virulence, thus allowing for time to escape. A herd of some 100 heads of buffalo grazing on the Muang Kluang Peninsula in Kapoe District of Ranong Province, which was the coastal strip hit most violently by the tsunami, stampeded in panic towards the inland hills, well before the giant waves reached the shore. Villagers ran after their livestock for fear of losing it. As a result, the livestock survived, and nobody perished under the onslaught.
In like manner, tamed elephants trained to carry tourists around for sight-seeing began to trumpet, “cry” and wail, when they sensed the giant waves coming, well before they were visible. Escaping into the hills with their mahouts and charges of tourists riding on elephant backs, followed by alerted people, human and animal lives were saved. When the ocean receded before the giant waves surged and hit, most people witnessing its perplexing disappearance did not understand the ominous warning sign. Many even wandered out onto the unexpected mud flats in pursuit of the receding sea, to marvel at this extraordinary phenomenon.
The Moken3, a seafaring ethnic group native to the eastern longitudes of the Andaman Sea, have preserved in their oral tradition a body of lifesaving indigenous knowledge that is based on experience and observations gathered since time immemorial. It enabled these “sea-wise” people to become alerted to the imminent danger, take necessary precautions, and survive, albeit losing their immovable properties. A hitherto neglected dimension of the detrimental impact of encroachment on protected coastal areas became obvious. By far the worst damage to coral reefs and sea fans at affected sites was caused by debris and detritus of modern civilization. Objects of all sorts and sizes had been swept off the largely illicitly built-up shorelines on the mainland and island coasts.
How were some adversely affected parts of the natural environment rehabilitated, and which others remained unscathed ? Nine of the 17 marine national parks remained unaffected by the tsunami, with a clustering of unscathed nature reserves alongside and in the territorial waters of the provinces of Trang and Satun. In Satun Province, many beaches and islands were not affected, with their coral reefs in shallow waters undamaged and deep-water coral reefs untouched. Three natural ecosystems are singled out here for closer inspection, including  the fragile terrestrial ecosystem,  the mangrove forests, and  the coral reefs. On high ground, priority was given to recovering those freshwater sources which had been swamped by giant waves and contaminated with saline water, removing salty mud from top soils, rejuvenating vegetation as the vital source of fodder for wildlife, and rehabilitating agricultural lands.
Post-disaster assessments made evident that shores originally covered with mangrove forests yet lost to encroachment, equalling 30 percent, were far worse ravaged than shores with existing, albeit tsunamidamaged mangrove forests. While restoring vast tracts of mangroves is feasible by assisting nature to heal the wounds, the reclaiming of encroached mangrove forests for rehabilitation is an obvious necessity yet might prove difficult.
Soon after the giant waves had ravaged certain sections of mainland and island coasts, surveys rendered evidence that the waves had an impact largely on coral reefs in shallow waters at some sites along the shorelines, while the effects on deep-water ecosystems were much smaller. While many areas were unscathed, in others minor fractions of between five and 20 percent of the coral reefs sustained damage. This explains why marine life in the areas surveyed was found to be largely intact.
While some broken coral parts were seemingly doomed to perish under thick layers of sand, the summer monsoon would wash out the sand. Young and new coral species would cling to the reef remains and grow. Those corals only turned-over were beginning to recover. This was ensured by sealing off certain sites for wholesome regeneration. Although overall minor proportions of corals were destroyed, it was deemed mandatory to remedy the loss of habitat for marine life and, hence, restore the source of livelihood of fishing communities. Sea fans disconnected by the impact of giant waves were propped up by fastening them onto the sea bed. How does nature restore, recreate, and create ecosystem components ?
Earth’s surface is made up of big crustal slabs that float on a sea of melted rock. Over ages, this churning sea moves the plates. The type of geological process that caused the earthquake and the tsunami is an essential characteristic of the Earth. Waves are the inevitable side effects of the constant recycling of the planetary crust, which produces a lush, habitable planet. The diabolic tsunami may prove to be an ecological boon for coastal areas, over the coming decades. Huge waves can distribute rich sediments from river systems across coastal plains, making the soil richer. Its fertility is conducive to the growing of coffee trees, sugar cane, hevea (‘rubber’) trees, coconut palms, oil palms, tobacco plants, pepper vine, tea trees and cocoa trees.
What proactive ecological strategies as well as measures ought to be taken so as to safeguard particularly against any future loss of life ?
Ecological impact assessments conducted by national as well as international organizations were focussed on vital aspects of environmental conservation. For example, a Thai – Swedish team of experts identified high-risk coastal areas that are exposed to erosion as well as destruction by tidal waves and require environmental restoration mainly through renaturation by planting mangroves.
Mangrove forests serve not only as an important natural protective barrier against waves and storms, but are the breeding ground of marine life. They are vital for the conservation of marine resources and, therefore, an ecological necessity with a view to realizing the long-term Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) under the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Equally important is the ecological restoration of beaches. By nature, two almost parallel lines of sand dunes act as physical barriers to protect the shore ecosystem. Where such sand dunes were flattened or used as building ground, they need to be restored. Moreover, as jointly appraised by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, UNDP and World Bank, the future development of sustainable ecotourism and the recovery as well as diversification of the livelihood of fishing communities will heavily rely on the recovery and regeneration of the coral reefs.
Resilience on the part of local people and restoration as well as conservation of the environment should be reconciled with the exigencies of human habitat and the highly desirable, ecologically salutary tourism. Equipped with a state-of-the-art early warning system and alertness, living and working as well as holidaying or vacationing become feasible and enjoyable on this safeguarded edge of paradise.
Taken from: Thailand: Traits and Treasures. The National Identity Board, Royal Thai Government 2005.
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