Having read recent articles in the media regarding the Rawai Sea Gypsies, this month’s article is only vaguely fishing related, being about the plight of the people who taught me all I know about the Andaman Sea and still continue to educate and amaze me, The Rawai Sea Gypsies.
Many readers may have noticed that recently they have been receiving a very poor press for damaging coral and selling undersize fish. We are being told the damage to the coral is the Gypsies fault and the diminishing fish stocks are because they take undersize fish. NONSENSE !!!!
Firstly this is their ancestral home and they have stayed here, living off the sea, for millennia, prior to the environment problems we suffer now, and even before there was a Thai population on the island.
It does not surprise me that when their “prime” land is under threat from “money hungry” developers they are now being given a bad press in order to minimize their rights to to the valuable land which they have inhabited for over 200 possibly 2,000 years, an un-provable fact because unfortunately their language cannot be written and therefore they have no reliable records. Unlike normal Buddhists the Gypsies bury their dead and have a graveyard dating back around 250 years which I would submit is credible proof of their history in Rawai.
I personally have been offered some of the land they occupy by no less than three individuals showing 3 different Chanoots all covering the same piece of land that I was considering. Namely a large building just beyond the Rawai “Gypsy” Village which I wanted to develop into a dormitory unit for international university students who wished to study the Andaman Sea, the nursery of the India Ocean, as part of their Marine Biology course,
Having drawn a blank on purchasing the land / property which has been lying vacant for a considerable number of years I approached the Marine Biology department by letter, suggesting that they, with my assistance, take over the building and working in conjunction with the Gypsies use it as a residential block for students from all around the world to study their chosen subject. I never received a reply!!!
I thought environmentally was a excellent proposal, because, as I intimated in the letter :-
1. It would teach the Gypsies, and their many visitors, conservation and how to run a sustainable under sea environment while making them more financially secure, less vulnerable to exploitation.
2. It may also help to educate the diving population not to destroy their fish traps, which I do accept catch coral fish. But please remember the metal in the Gypsies traps lasts only approximately 5 months but the frame, made of Mangrove wood, is the basis of many of the local coral reefs. These man-made but natural hollow structures are colonized by the coral and are ideal for the protection of many juvenile corral species. The same traps, which divers destroy in the name of the environment while literary taking the food from the Gypsies mouths. The same tourists who cause more environmental damage, just by getting here.
3. If you are an impoverished section of society you make a living where you can and while I do not condone the deliberate destruction of coral, the guilty party is not the Gypsies but the company who paid them to make a meager living, while running away with a handsome profit by showing non-swimming tourists a walking tour of “one” of our many coral reefs.
4. To the Department of Marine Conservation I would say. “You cannot change the way the Gypsies operate as they have done for centuries by legislation, with similar laws and regulations that relate to the fishing fleets, which have an immeasurably greater impact on the coral and the diminishing fishing stocks.”
5. Why not educate the Gypsies to be more environmentally friendly. My proposal would keep the village as a major tourist attraction with The Gypsy Village intact as a “living” historical monument. The Gypsies could earn a living by looking after students, taking out investigational teams and finding samples, etc.
They might not be well educated but these beautiful people know the local waters and what is in it better than anyone on the planet.
6. Does anyone really believe the decline in fish over the past decade is due to the Gypsies? I think not, how about all the fishing nets the Gypsies and I have pulled onboard to save other vessels “speed boats” from damage, the same nets the diving companies clear from the coral at the beginning of every season plus all the bags and refuse deposited from the same source.
As well as being accused of destroying coral, under orders from their employers, the Gypsies they have also been accused of selling undersize and protected “reef” fish at their market. Is anyone seriously considering banning their fish traps which are the mainstay of the Gypsies financial and food source? To me all these accusations, at this particular time is an attempt to demonize the Gypsies when their land is under threat from powerful developers, to me the timing of this attack seems to be much more than mere coincidence.