Bangkok Post, 18 June 2015
Located 315km southeast of Bangkok, the resort island of Koh Chang in Trat is a five-hour drive from the capital city and a 30-minute ferry ride from the mainland. Technically, travelling to any destination increases carbon emissions. Koh Chang is a long-time popular tourist destination, meaning it has long been exploited as well.
Fortunately, the Designated Areas for Sustainable Tourism Administration (Dasta) and the Institute for Small and Medium Enterprises Development (Ismed) have been working to change Koh Chang and its vicinity from a general tourist site to a low-carbon destination. Both Dasta and Ismed helped transfer knowledge about sustainable tourism, initiate green projects and build brand awareness.
After four years of successful implementation on Koh Mak, which is part of the Koh Chang cluster of islands, this low-carbon destination project is taking shape seriously on Koh Chang. It started up with the east side of the island which has no beaches, pubs and beachfront bars but 650 rai of mangrove forest, fishing villages and a few resorts. Last month, more than 50 local entrepreneurs and local leaders, mostly those from the east side, gathered to brainstorm.
Dasta recommends at least five places and activities in the Salak Khok and Salak Phet communities, about 20km from the island’s ferry pier, for tourists under this low-carbon destination project. They are a cruise along a canal in Salak Khok, an extra virgin coconut oil factory, a coconut shell product shop, Wat Salak Phet and its museum and a trail.
Thanan Apivantanaporn, vice-president of Ismed’s International Business and Marketing Development department, said the cruise, coconut shell products and coconut oil projects are part of environmentally friendly tourism, or low-carbon tourism. Community lifestyles fit the low-carbon tourist ideal.
“When we use nature, we must take good care of it,” he said. “Salak Khok is where you can enjoy a Thai gondola ride. This place balances tourism and the villagers’ occupations. This is an interesting model since villagers do not care about increasing the number of boats to meet high demand.”
According to him, the Salak Khok community enterprise is well-managed and capable of maintaining natural balance in the environment.
Sitisak Pathomwaree, managing director of Dasta Area 1 (Chang Island and Vicinity), said: “Koh Chang exceeds the carbon emission limits. Ferries are used for travel between the mainland and islands and many vehicles are used for travel on the island. There are many other activities. We must try our best to reduce carbon emissions using scientific approaches.”
In 2009, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), or the German Federal Enterprise for International Cooperation, revealed the average distribution of CO2 emissions was 19.74kg per tourist, per day in general. Owned by the German government, GIZ works worldwide in the field of international co-operation for sustainable development.
Dasta, in collaboration with GIZ, saw the potential for the Koh Chang “cluster”, which includes Koh Mak and Koh Kood, to become a low-carbon tourist destination. The cluster comprises 10% of Trat’s mainland as well as the marine area of Koh Chang, Koh Mak and Koh Kut and 49 smaller islands.
Seven years ago, Dasta and GIZ introduced several CO2-reducing activities for the communities and tourism operators in the cluster, including community-based solid waste management, training in the tourism sector about climate change, energy and resource efficiency and organic production. Results are visible three years on at Koh Mak. About four years ago, owners of the 35 resorts and about 20 restaurants formulated a joint agreement to make Koh Mak a low-carbon destination.
According to Dasta, destinations focus on reducing CO2 emissions, conserving forests and planting vegetation. Growing coral reefs and seagrass and releasing giant clams and clownfish into the water are examples of maintaining natural balance in the ecosystem.
Proposed low-carbon projects for Koh Chang include planting trees in mangroves and other locations, promoting cycling, sailboat and yachting routes and consuming local seafood and farm produce in order to curb the use of fuels for the transport of goods from elsewhere.
According to Sitisak, this project requires collaboration between all those involved, as well as the application of universal standards.
“All must be responsible. Entrepreneurs can increase green areas and use environmentally friendly designs. Even letting fallen leaves rot can cause CO2,” he noted. Local entrepreneurs and villagers who attended last month’s brainstorming meeting agreed to co-operate, but have yet to figure out the best concept and slogan to promote Koh Chang as a low-carbon destination. However, Thanan admitted that the mission is not easy because the west side of Koh Chang is populated by outside investors and chains of hotels, unlike on the family-owned Koh Mak.