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 3


There are many stakeholders aside from the Moken who have an interest in the future of the Surin Islands. However, past efforts by several agencies in support of the Moken have been undermined by inadequate coordination.

This chapter looks at these stakeholders and discusses the efforts that were made to bring them together through constructive dialogue. It also reports on the stakeholder workshops held to further this dialogue.

The Marine Parks Division of the Royal Thai Forest Department is currently in charge of managing the islands. Other groups also play a role; the Department of Fisheries, for instance, is in charge of the seas in and around the Surin Islands and therefore has a major voice in conservation decisions.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) is an important player in determining the type of development undertaken in the area. Along with the TAT, it is essential that local tour operators are co-opted into the decision-making process for the project to succeed.

Other concerned stakeholders include the Office of Environmental Policy and Planning and the Department of Local Administration. The Chulalongkorn University Social Research Institute (CUSRI) administers this project and the Faculty of Forestry, Kasetsart University, has also taken an interest.

Currently, there is a European Union funded project in Satun, Thailand’s southern most province near the Malaysian border, which is working towards the sustainable development of the Tarutao National Marine Park. The islands in this park are the home of the Uruk Lawoi, one of the many Chao Lay communities of the Andaman Sea coast. Other NGOs that have taken an active interest in the Surin Islands project are the Wildlife Fund Thailand and the Hill Area Development Foundation. Both organizations have expressed support for the project’s objectives and intend to contribute to its development and success.

Despite such widespread interest from the various stakeholders, there has been a real lack of constructive communication between them, until now.

In November 1998, with financial support from UNESCO, the Surin Islands Project held two workshops that brought together the various stakeholders who were interested in coordinating their efforts to ensure the future of the Moken and their traditional environment. These are described in the following pages. 

W  O  R  K  S  H  O  P

Identifying participatory development options for the Moken of the Surin Islands

6 November 1998
National Research Council of Thailand, Bangkok

The first workshop, entitled ‘Identifying Participatory Development Options for the Moken of the Surin Islands’, was held in Bangkok on 6 November 1998. It was a brainstorming session for government officials, academics and NGO workers to identify the crucial issues to be addressed to determine sustainable development options for the Moken. (For the workshop agenda and list of participants, see Annex 1).

No Moken were present in this workshop which aimed to open up lines of communication between the non-indigenous stakeholders and to develop an initial framework for future cooperation.

Four principles were discussed that would help determine the best possible options for Moken sustainable development. 

Principles of Moken sustainable development

Capacity building and empowerment

The appropriate form of development will enable the Moken to rely on themselves and their own community for physical and moral support. Moreover, any developmental plans should involve as much local participation as possible in order to provide the chance for future joint management.

Human dignity and cultural pride

Development should strengthen the Moken’s ethnic identity and promote pride in their cultural heritage.

Sustainable use of natural resources

Development should encourage the Moken to maintain the sustainability of their resource use practices, especially as they become more sedentary and are subject to increased socio-economic influences from outside.

Quality of life

Development should ensure that basic needs are being met and the quality of life upheld.

Recognizing the importance of these general principles, the participants subsequently set out to identify the numerous problems and development issues facing the Moken. 

Underlying issues of Moken sustainable development

Conservation or development?

Cultural conservation and development should go hand in hand. The Moken should be able to take part in determining the kind of ‘development’that is appropriate for them.

Research needed regarding the Moken and the use of natural resources

Further research is needed that can be applied practically to Moken resource use and advances the possibility of joint management of natural resources between government authorities and indigenous communities. Concepts of human-nature interactions differ greatly between government managers and resource users. For this reason, correspondence between management priorities and mechanisms might be difficult to achieve. Nevertheless, further research may help uncover options and choices that will be useful in determining appropriate forms of joint Moken - government management in the Surin Islands.

Moken’s quality of life

From the Moken’s point of view, what do they feel is an appropriate standard of living and what do they need in order to achieve this?

Moken boys spend 
much of their time 
playing, swimming and
diving. This is a way of
learning about the 
marine environment 
and building skills 
crucial to their daily 

Moken’s impact on marine and territorial resources

What is the impact of the Moken’s daily activities on the Surin Islands’ natural resources?

Park regulations and enforcement on the Moken

The problem of the Moken violating national park regulations is a difficult one to resolve. When should park regulations be strictly enforced and in what cases may certain levels of tolerance be appropriate? To what extent should the Park Authority apply disciplinary measures on a non-literate indigenous population? Moreover, what measures can be adopted to prevent the reoccurrence of these problems?

Middlemen and entrepreneurs

What will be the most effective way of preventing the exploitation of the Moken and the marine environment by middlemen?

Alternative occupations

Effort should be made by relevant agencies to find alternative occupations for the Moken, such as selling fresh fish to the park kitchen, being hired as park labourers, tending turtle nests, mariculture and organizing eco-tourism activities. Alternative occupations should build on traditional skills and encourage cultural pride.

Impact of tourism on the Moken

There should be research on the impact of tourist activities on the Moken’s way of life and on the possibility of their participation in these activities, such as guiding visitors on snorkelling or hiking trips.


A zoning system should be used in the management of the national park, and the Moken should be able to subsist in ‘special use zones’, with due consideration of the Moken habit of occasional resettlement.

Moken arts and crafts promotion

The Moken should be encouraged to earn extra income by producing traditional crafts such as mat and box weaving. The major concern is the supply of raw material such as pandanus leaves, the harvesting of which is currently not tolerated by the Park Authority. Craft skill development training may be provided for the Moken, but a further point to consider is whether this will undermine the traditional style, color, patterns and technologies of Moken crafts. Would the harvesting of Pandanus leaves be acceptable to the authorities if it can be demonstrated that it is sustainable? Another solution could include the use of alternative materials, although this may create dependence on an outside source.

Indigenous museum

The suggested establishment of an indigenous museum will promote a sense of cultural pride and build community strength.

Population control

The migration of Moken groups from Myanmar and the subsequent increase in the Moken population living on the islands, are problems that are difficult to resolve.

Nationality and identity card

The Moken do not have nationality or identity cards, so their citizenship status is ambiguous. Moreover, there is no census record of the Moken in the Surin Islands.

Community strength

The Moken could be organized to establish a cooperative or form a savings group, and participate in national park management planning.

Health services

The Moken are in need of better health services. They should be instructed in appropriate health care, especially maternal and infant care. Campaigns should be mounted to raise Moken awareness of the damages wrought by substance abuse.


Will non-formal education provided by the Thai authorities have a negative impact on the Moken’s traditions and cultural identity? The courses offered should be directly relevant to their way of life. The children should be encouraged to learn from Moken elders so that traditional wisdom and practices are passed on, and not disrupted or discontinued by the introduction of other forms of education.  

Using the first workshop as a springboard, more concrete strategies were developed during the second workshop, held in the Surin Islands from 21–26 November 1998.

The project coordinator buys
pandanus mats and other
crafts from the Moken. 
Craft-making may be an
alternative source of income
for the Moken as marine
resource exploitation has
become more restricted 
in the protected area.

W  O  R  K  S  H  O  P

Towards the strategic goal of sustainable development for the Moken: Commitment and support

21–26 November 1998
Surin Islands National Park, Phang-nga

The purpose of this workshop was to bring the various stakeholders together, to meet with the Moken, to share ideas and identify the aspirations and needs of the indigenous population. (For the workshop agenda and list of participants, see Annex 2).

Twenty-five participants attended the workshop and various activities were organized to familiarize participants with the Moken way of life, such as village and school tours, snorkelling and hiking expeditions led by Moken guides and a cultural show by Moken children. A ‘Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats’(SWOT) analysis in which the Moken people actively participated, was also conducted (see Annex 3).

Setting the scene

A major concern facing the Moken is that, like so many indigenous groups, they are not recognized as Thai citizens and therefore are not allowed to own land or attend public schools. This is a very complex issue that will not be resolved in the immediate future. However, to help alleviate some of the problems that arise from the Moken’s ambiguous status, both the Local Administration and the National Park Authority should try to develop and draft policies on tribal minorities to raise awareness among their local staff about the Moken and their needs.

It was also decided that the Park Authority, which is in much closer proximity to the Moken than the Local Administration, would be in a better position to begin keeping and maintaining records on population growth, migration, health and other issues affecting the Moken.

The Moken hunt and gather for subsistence as well as for trade. The Park Authority worries about these practices, which are against the national park decree. As far as the park authorities are concerned, the resources that are being extracted by the Moken should be for their use only. They actively discourage the purchase of marine products from the Moken – by middlemen as well as by tourists. This rigid stance of the authorities motivated by the existing park decree, is not necessarily justified from a view-point of ecological sustainability. Even though they live within a protected area, the local population could be given the right to harvest natural resources for subsistence and trade, so long as this is done in a sustainable manner. Furthermore, it should be noted that as middlemen are a crucial factor in the Moken’s exploitation of valuable shells and sea cucumbers, they too are ‘stakeholders’ and should be involved in this project.

While participants felt that the Park Authority may have valid environmental reasons for restricting Moken settlements, they nonetheless insisted that several sites should be allowed. This is because the Moken still move their settlements to escape epidemics, alleviate disputes or in response to a bad omen. Periodic movement is significant for former nomadic groups like the Moken and it facilitates local ecological recovery as foraging patches are allowed to revive. Over the past ten years, the Moken have shifted their settlements to five different beaches on Ko Surin Nua and Ko Surin Tai.  

Any attempt to consolidate the Moken villages into one settlement will definitely have a profound and negative impact on both the Moken and the local environment. Consequently, the government agencies involved in this project should investigate multiple areas in the islands where the Moken can establish settlements.

The Moken village does not
represent a permanent
settlement, since the Moken
tend to move whenever
serious illness and death
strike. Mobility is also a
social mechanism in coping
with conflicts. This pattern of
semi-permanent settlement
should therefore be
encouraged instead of

Occupational development for the Moken

The Park Authority hopes that the Moken will remain a significant part of the Surin Islands and eventually become partners in national park protection. At present, however, the Park Authority still carries the burden of providing the Moken with alternatives to their hunting and gathering activities in order to prevent environmental damage. The Park Authority usually hires some Moken as manual labourers during the peak season. However, since the tourist season lasts for only six months (November to April), the income from these activities is limited. The daily wage paid to the Moken is about the equivalent of US $ 1–2 in addition to free meals from the park kitchen. This wage comes from voluntary contributions to a special fund established by the Park Authority. Formally, the Royal Forest Department cannot hire any Moken if they lack Thai identification cards or other important legal documents.

Other relevant agencies and organizations should provide support for the Moken by offering arts and crafts skills development training and providing market outlets for the craftwork. The Park Authority already allocates space in the convenience shop for the display and sale of Moken crafts. To gain exposure in external markets, the Office of Rural Development could coordinate with the Provincial Office to set up a Moken craft booth at various festivals and annual fairs.

Moken men thatching 
their roof with palm 

Using intimate 
knowledge of both 
marine and forest 
resources, the Moken 
have the potential to 
take tourists out on 
ecological hiking trails.

Based on activities in this workshop, it was found that the Moken had limited experience in guiding and presenting information to tourists. When the Moken led a snorkelling excursion for the workshop participants, they swam far ahead of the rest of the group. On the forest trail, the Moken tended to walk very fast as well, and they did not have the language skills to present information about the geographical significance of the islands and the uses of forest plants in their culture. The Moken will need further language training before they can manage tourist activities on their own. In the meantime, the Park Authority can help organize tourist activities (eco-tourism, cultural tourism) with the Moken, using park rangers as guides and presenters.

The Moken could also generate income during the turtle-nesting season by maintaining turtle nests. This would provide an income for the Moken, as well as assist with the environmental management of the islands. The park can coordinate with the Wildlife Fund Thailand (WFT) to provide funding for Moken turtle conservation activities.

The Park Authority should also coordinate with the Tourism Authority of Thailand and the Association of Hotels and Tourism to draft guidelines for tourism management in ‘special areas’ such as national parks. In addition, tourism in national parks should offer basic services and simple facilities in order to avoid exploitation by developers. There should also be a serious campaign to discourage tourists buying products made from wildlife or plants found in protected areas. If, however, it can be demonstrated that specific resources (e.g. Pandanus leaves) can be harvested sustainably without detriment to the environment, then the park’s stance against sale could perhaps be reconsidered.

An assessment of the problems facing the Moken was needed before a framework for the project could be drawn up. During the five-day visit to the islands, participants conducted many interviews with the Moken, park staff, local authorities and individuals from both the Department of Fisheries and the Royal Forest Department.

The Moken make use of
renewable resources,
such as bamboo which
grows very fast 
during the rainy season.

Education, learning and social values 

At present, Suraswadee School in Ko Surin Nua offers courses that aim to enable Moken children to speak, read and write the Thai language. The children are also taught introductory mathematics and about the local environment and basic health care.

The biggest challenge for the educators is how to provide education to Moken children without disrupting the transmission of traditional wisdom and knowledge within the community. Moken elders should be encouraged to take an active role in the school, so that children will be proud of their cultural heritage.

Dr Narumon Hinshiranan of CUSRI has developed a reading guide for Moken children, which will work as both an educational tool and a means of reinforcing Moken culture. The book contains short stories, myths, poems and illustrations depicting the history of the Moken. Moreover, these tales are written not only in Moken, but also in Uruk Lawoi and Thai as a means of strengthening ties between the Chao Lay and wider Thai society. 

Sanitation and health 

Officers from the Khuraburi Malaria Control Unit visit the island every year and conduct a blood check of all the inhabitants. At the time of the workshop, medical examinations revealed that a malaria epidemic had recently affected a quarter of the islands’ inhabitants. Occasionally, the Moken receive physical examinations from naval medical units and voluntary doctors. Health problems persist, especially among adult males, due to physical hardship and substance abuse. Excessive drugs caused the death of one Moken man while he was visiting the mainland. The training of Moken health volunteers to provide emergency aid and other health advice may also help alleviate some of these problems.

Infant and maternal care is another serious problem. Moken mothers lack knowledge about proper infant care; most of them nurse their babies with sweetened condensed milk mixed with water. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) may be able to suggest suitable infant and maternal health care programmes. In addition, Suraswadee School may be able to provide milk and other nutritional food items to supplement the children’s diet. 

Other problems to be addressed 

A major problem among the Moken is substance abuse. Suraswadee School has started a campaign against drug addiction involving the youths, but adult education is important as well. The Park Authority should have access to educational videos and posters explaining the deadly effect of substance abuse. NGOs may be able to provide assistance. The Park Authority should seek help from the Narcotics Control Unit and exert restrictions over fishing vessels, as they are blamed for trafficking drugs in the area.

A Moken family in front 
of their hut.  

There are other problems affecting the community which cannot easily be solved , for example, population pressures stemming from the migration of Moken groups from Myanmar. Because the Moken are a semi-nomadic people, they often travel across national boundaries and occasionally settle down in another country’s territory. However, if too many groups settle in the Surin Islands, this may seriously disrupt the islands’ delicate ecological balance.  

Educating the public about Moken ways 

It is also very important that the wider Thai community, as well as tourists visiting the area, are educated about the Moken way of life and develop an understanding of the balance between cultural and environmental needs. Surin Island stakeholders, namely park officers, tourists, tour service providers, TAT, middlemen, and the Moken themselves, should join together to support the development of a sustainable lifestyle for the Moken. The mass media should be encouraged to offer a genuine portrayal, thus providing a positive image of the Moken, and not depict them as an exotic back ward race far removed from the Thai majority.

The Park Authority has suggested the creation of a Nature Interpretation Programme which is culturally sensitive towards the Moken. The myths, names and traditional tales of the Moken will be used in these programmes. Furthermore, a park exhibition will include the unique cultural aspects of the Moken who have long been a significant part of the Surin Islands.  

Recommendations on commitment and support

In the final session of the workshop, the participants gave the following recommendations on the type of commitment and support needed to facilitate the environmental and cultural sustainable development in the Surin Islands.

Moken totem poles at 
park headquarters.

The Surin Islands Marine National Park Authority was recommended to:

The Surin Islands Project Coordinator was recommended to:

Universities and research institutes (Andaman Institute, Kasetsart University and the Chulalongkorn University Social Research Institute) was recommended to:

The Office of Environmental Planning and Policy was recommended to:

provide data on World Heritage Sites.

The Department of Fisheries was recommended to:

Selling model boat and 
mats at Moken village.

Fisheries building at Sai 
Ane Bay used as the 
school for the Moken 

The National Elementary Education Office was recommended to:

The Tourism Authority of Thailand was recommended to:

The Department of Health was recommended to:

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were recommended to:

The Sub-district Office was recommended to:

B  R  I  E  F  I  N  G     S  E  S  S  I  O  N

Commitment and support towards Moken sustainable development

11 March 1999
Faculty of Forestry, Kasetsart University

In March 1999, stakeholders met at Kasetsart University for a briefing session to update each other on the activities undertaken thus far and to reaffirm their commitment and responsibilities to the Surin Islands Project.

In order to ensure that these problems are addressed, the participants committed themselves and their organizations to the future of this project. Each stakeholder took on a number of important tasks to help alleviate some of these urgent problems. (For a list of the participants, see Annex 4).

Dr Richard Engelhardt reiterated the importance of this project as a flagship that could be considered a ‘wise practice’ for protected areas inhabited by indigenous people. The ‘International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People’ is another valid reason for encouraging the participatory effort in the project.

The project co-ordinator summarized the past activities and reflected on certain points. For example, the ‘eco-tourism’ attempts (trail and snorkelling activities led by the Moken) have fallen short of success because of their inexperience in displaying their culture and traditional knowledge to strangers. Yet the SWOT analysis reflected that the Moken’s ‘strengths’ lay in their being friendly, gentle and honest, and in their maritime skills (see Annex 3). The Surin Islands Project could thus consider focusing on this point and begin by developing the Moken’s potential based on their strengths instead of trying to correct their weaknesses. The Moken should be recognized as a significant asset to the management of the Surin Islands. Their traditional knowledge of the marine and territorial environment should be explored and incorporated into the management of the national park.

All over the world, there have been many successful examples of how indigenous people maintain their sustainable livelihood in protected areas. Surely some of the ‘lessons learnt’ can be adapted for Thailand. Examples are:

After various examples were presented of indigenous people living in protected areas, the Surin Islands Park Superintendent made a short report on the park’s commitment and support to the Surin Islands Project.

Job/income support

The park is now shouldering a heavy responsibility of locating the money to hire the Moken. The money cannot come from the government budget because the Moken do not have Thai citizenship; it is thus illegal to hire them.

The biggest problem for the Moken is not so much earning an income to sustain a living, but saving what they have already earned. As hunter-gatherers who have been used to daily subsistence living, they are not familiar with the concept or practice of saving. The money is rapidly spent on packaged food, tobacco and liquor.

Emergency medical assistance

Emergency assistance for the Moken also comes at a cost. In one case, a Moken man was bitten by a snake and the Park Authority took him to the Khuraburi state hospital by boat. That one-way trip cost 5,000 baht worth of diesel. The superintendent suggested that an ‘emergency fund’ be established, perhaps from island boat and tourist taxes.

The Surin Islands Project, Phase II

The first phase of the Surin Islands Project has been a success due to the strong commitment and support of several parties, including the Royal Forest Department, the Department of Fisheries, the Department of Health, the Department of Local Administration, the Office of Environmental Policy and Planning, as well as the involvement of NGOs such as Wildlife Fund Thailand and the Hill Area Development Foundation, and of academicians, including art professors from the Bangkok Arts and Crafts College who produced samples of possible crafts to be made by the Moken.

The second phase of the Surin Islands Project should soon be launched to keep up the momentum of the first one. Some possible small projects are as follows:

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