Thailand Tsunami Clean Up
Tsunami Marine Clean Up Project – Phuket, Thailand
Conducted and written by: Alex Gerard , Lee Smitten and James Anger (P J Scuba – Mermaids CDC)
On Friday 28th January 2005 we caught an afternoon flight to Phuket. We had all recently passed our PADI Divemaster course and wanted to use our new skills to help clear up after the Boxing Day (26th December 2004) tsunami disaster that hit the South East Asian region hard.
We had been put in contact with Alistair at Sea King Divers who is the chairman of the DOCT and who had organised a clear up of the waters off Kata Noi Beach , in southwest Phuket. Alistair has been in Thailand for many years operating a great live-aboard dive operation. The boat that we use for all of the friend’s Similans live-aboard trips is owned by Alistair.
The clear up was set for 9am on the Saturday, so we headed down to meet at Sea Fun Divers who had agreed to act as a meeting and tank filling point for the day. We were joined by about 40 other experienced divers and were put into smaller teams in order to sweep across the bay, the object of the clear-up was to salvage any debris that was swept back into the sea and bay after the Tsunami backlash.
At about 9.30am we were given a dive brief and each team was allocated a direction and depth to start out searching the seabed for debris. We were also given collection bags and lift bags (essential tools to be used if bringing heavy objects to the surface). As we were being briefed and kitted up there were several film crews recording the event. They were joined by many spectators who watched as we all headed into the sea.
All teams were to head north at their given depth. 6 long (long-tail) boats and been provided to collect anything that was brought up. This was then transferred to the beach and sorted into things that would be scrapped.
Due to the nature of the search we were soon working in a group on our own. We were working at a depth of approximately 10 metres. We headed along our set course working in a line, west to east and keeping each other just in sight as to cover as much ground as possible but to keep in safe contact. The beginning of the search proved to be a bit sparse on objects but as the time went by we started to find a lot more and our bags were soon full.
There was a variety of things we found that were amazing. They included; unopened bottles of beer, a crate of diet coke, restaurant utensils, all sorts of clothes and shoes, large beach parasols and even a framed portrait of the king! We decided to leave a number of objects down there because marine life had already set up home and that would be counter productive. We were surprised at the variety of life that had already become established. Amongst others, we found lionfish, puffer fish, octopus, anemones, and seahorses.
After an hour under the water we returned to the shore for lunch. We were given lunch at a hotel next to the beach, where we could catch up with what the other divers have found. The tanks were all re-filled and after about an hour and a half we had another dive brief and set off into the water again. All the groups continued from the points were we had finished in the morning. The afternoon continued in the same fashion as the morning, with us finding the same types of things and making the same decisions about the now settled marine life in certain debris – in a few years these might become reefs.
We spent about another hour in the water and were in fact the last divers out of the water, what dedicated professionals! (Note from Pj – These guys are good – but not shy in showing it!).
When we got back to Sea Fun Divers where the director Rene met us and kindly offered to supply tanks and even a long boat for us on Monday as we wanted to continue the work and make the most of our visit to Phuket. We had decided to take Sunday off as we had come up to the surface a lot during the day and as a result had a rather zigzagged (saw-tooth) dive profile, better to be safe than sorry!
When it came to Monday morning we were the only divers to turn up (there were three others that had planned to come) and Rene was only able to get the boat for the afternoon.
Having geared up at Sea Fun Divers we headed to the beach and begun walking up the beach towards the point we had finished on Saturday. As we walked we were stopped by a film crew from Channel 7 who asked us about the condition of the diving in Phuket and we talked about the assistance clean-up work that we were doing. We also encouraged people to come back to Phuket.
We surface swum out to approximately our finishing point on Saturday and then began our dive. We continued our search in the same fashion as had worked on Saturday. We found another parasol close to the start and marked it with a surface marker so we could retrieve in the afternoon when we would have the boat. We collected two bags of general stuff and then on the way back to shore we found another parasol. We decided to bring this one back. It was a bit of a struggle but we managed it. When we reached the shore a man came and helped carry the bags.
After a quick lunch and a change of tanks we were told that our long boat was ready. We headed out to the surface marker and went down there to retrieve the parasol. Having returned to the bottom we headed towards the rocks. Just when we thought we wouldn’t find much else we found a large roll of dress material. This proved a little tricky as it contained quite a bit of wildlife but was very long and could cause more problems later on. While one of us went to the surface to signal the boat and take up one end the other two started to untangle it and carefully remove the wildlife. This included baby octopuses, lionfish, triggerfish and various fish fry.
Once this was aboard the boat we continued towards the rocks. The only things we found after this was a wooden pole, a plank and another bags of general rubbish. We climbed aboard the long boat and headed back to base. All our collected rubbish was added to the general pile collected on Saturday. This was to be sorted and disposed off, though local people we sifting through it and taking what they wanted – when left with nothing even a pile of junk can be a resource.
Even though we only spent five days in Phuket we were touched by how hard the local people have worked to get there lives and businesses back together without despair even though the tsunami had done so much damage. When we left the water we can honestly say that it is very clean and clear. The beaches look great and the people are just for the tourist to return.
We cannot stress enough how important it is for everyone to still head to Phuket, it’s a lovely island with lovely people.
We would like to thank Alistair at Sea King Divers, Rene at Sea Fun Divers and PJ at PJ Scuba – www.Learn-in-asia.com for all their help and support with our clear up project.