Divers are drawn to the island of Ko Tao by its pristine marine environment, coral reefs, abundant marine life, and frequent whale shark sightings, while other tourists come here for the beautiful white sandy beaches, so it’s critically important to look after the island’s delicate marine environment.
The Thai government does its bit to promote ecotourism, however the serious work is done on a grassroots level by the tour operators themselves.
Together the private sector has collectively created the ‘5Rs’ dedicated to reducing, reusing, repairing, recycling and rejecting:
- Reduce consumption of fresh raw materials, un-recyclable packaging or any waste producing material
- Reuse or repurpose items that can be used again like glass bottles, boxes or paper
- Repair to fix and reuse an item instead of buying a new one
- Recycle all materials that can be transformed into a new product
- Reject or stop using any item or material that pollutes or harms the environment
Other informal groups include the ‘Save Ko Tao Club’, whose efforts date back to 2000, and advocates eco-friendly products and best practices like refillable bathroom amenities, energy saving lightbulbs, line drying laundry, and using recycled wood in the building and maintenance of resort villas. The Club also captures and uses rainwater, with a filtration system to provide drinking water from the tap that reduces the number of plastic bottles brought to and in use on Ko Tao.
‘Trash Hero’ is a community-based initiative on Ko Tao set up to help remove current waste as well as find ways to reduce future waste by inspiring long-term behaviour change. Trash Hero sets an important example when visitors see its team cleaning up Sairee Beach twice a week.
‘Get Involved Ko Tao’ is also a community-based conservation initiative to help preserve the natural resources and environment of Ko Tao. This group of Dive Centres has joined forces to organise a monthly clean-up to remove waste and to courage locals and tourists to ‘get involved’ by saying no plastic straws, cups and bags.
Ban’s Conservation Learning Centre Ko Tao is another community-based conservation initiative, an eco-friendly organisation dedicated to preserving the island’s natural resources. It operates a waste separation plant for recycling paper, aluminium cans, bottles and plastic whilst also managing a dedicated composting area that ferments fat residue into fertiliser by mixing in grass and organic waste.
The Centre has a wastewater treatment plant that processes grey water, so it can be used for plants and vegetable gardens and holds regular workshops to demonstrate simple crafts to reuse waste, such as how to make candles and liquid soap from recyclables.
Divers are usually among the world’s most ecologically aware individuals, and are well schooled that responsible diving means avoiding contact with any plant or marine life they encounter. What probably would not occur to any responsible diver is to litter the ocean with objects that should be returned to land for proper disposal. Unfortunately, the reality is such that trash and pollution are common to many dive sites.
Whether it is because of irresponsible fishermen, passing tourists or ocean born litter settling on the seabed, it is something that cannot be ignored or accepted to ensure the preservation of marine resources for generations to come.
With these ongoing community-based initiatives, the island’s marine environment is hopefully well-prepared to handle future generations of eco-aware divers and tourists.