Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands
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Coastal region and small island papers 8
Indigenous people and parks


Today there is wide recognition of the need for local-community involvement in the conservation of cultural landscapes and natural heritage. With their unique knowledge, skills and traditions, local communities have much to contribute to the management of these areas. Their involvement ensures ‘wise use’, while supporting the continued vitality of indigenous cultures. This is especially important when such sites are inscribed on the World Heritage List of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and are subsequently included on global tourist itineraries.

One case in point concerns the Moken communities that occupy the Surin Islands, located in the Andaman Sea, off the southwestern coast of Thailand. The Moken, popularly referred to as ‘sea-gypsies’, are traditionally a nomadic sea-faring people who have frequented these coastal waters for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. In 1981, the Surin Islands were designated a marine national park, and have more recently been included on a tentative list of World Heritage sites in Thailand. Concerns have been raised that the traditional hunting, gathering and trading practices of the Moken may disturb the ecological balance of the national park. At the same time, the Moken are an integral part of this cultural landscape and the need to preserve their way of life and fulfil their aspirations is also fully recognized.

To address these issues, a field project was initiated in 1997 to explore sustainable development options with the Moken community in the Surin Islands. The project seeks to strengthen dialogue between park officials and the Moken to enable them to become active partners in managing the area and safeguarding its heritage value through the sharing of knowledge, skills and tools. This publication presents the results of a series of stakeholder workshops, conducted to design the project activities, and discusses various challenges facing the Moken and the national park authorities.

Key players in this initiative are the Chulalongkorn University, the UNESCO Bangkok Office, the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission and the interdisciplinary and intersectoral platform for ‘Environment and development in coastal regions and in small islands’ (CSI). This field project represents one of 23 CSI projects, distributed around the globe, which provide for collaborative on-the-ground action. They are supported by training and capacity building through university chairs/twinning arrangements, and reinforced by a multi-lingual, internet-based forum on ‘Wise Coastal Practices for Sustainable Human Development’ (user name = csi, password = wise).

Acknowledgements are due to all the participants who, in concert and through their active involvement, created the conditions for a dialogue which is anticipated to continue well into the future. Particular thanks are due to Salama Klathalay, Tone Klathalay and Dake Klathalay of the Moken communities in the Surin Islands; Mr Sompong Jeerararuensak, Superintendent of the Ko Surin National Park, and his staff, for their active support and input to this project; to Ms Sumalee Kositnitikul of the Bangkok Arts and Crafts College, for contributing handicraft samples and reading materials on ecology and substance addiction; to Mr Maarten Kuijper of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, for his overall assistance with the project; and to Mr Geoffrey Keele for the initial compilation and editing of this publication. Finally, particular acknowledgement is due to the project coordinator, Dr Narumon Hinshiranan, without whose commitment the project would never have been possible.

Richard A. Engelhardt
Regional Advisor for Culture in Asia and the Pacific, UNESCO, Bangkok

Douglas Nakashima and Dirk G. Troost

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