Local Youth Monitor their Mangroves through Innovative Technology

29 July 2012 | Article
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Climate change is transforming the very landscape we once knew. With rising sea temperatures in addition to flooding and erosion along the coast of the Gulf of Thailand, every member of coastal communities has to unite in ways to protect themselves from inevitable disasters. Climate change doesn't just bring about catastrophic disasters, but leads to negative impacts on marine and coastal resources, and in turn community livelihoods.

The local communities have been working to rehabilitate blue swimming crab resources, and are now keen to place an emphasis on the crabs' 'homes', i.e. the habitats and ecosystems in which the crabs live. Taking better care of local mangrove forests is the first step in this process. Communities in Trat Province, Eastern Thailand are addressing such needs by monitoring and protecting their mangrove forests. Through community mangrove management, communities and other stakeholders are tapping into local knowledge using innovative new technology.

Enter Shoreline Video Assessment Method or S-VAM for short, a mangrove monitoring strategy that is described by its inventors as “community-driven, scientifically validated, with practical outcomes for management.” Developed by Dr. Norm Duke and Jock Mackenzie from MangroveWatch and with the help of James Cook University, this strategy trains partner organizations all over the globe, such as Sustainable Development Foundation (SDF), so they in turn can train local communities.

S-VAM surveys mangrove forests using a number of tools including a video camera and a GPS unit. Through documenting the conditions of the mangroves and the coastline, communities assess change, gauge management success, and identify threats. By training the communities, they have the tools to inform their own management solutions.

The mechanics of using S-VAM require careful coordination and good teamwork. The detailed training took place over two days, covering different areas of the local mangrove coastline. On the first day, April 18, 2012, the training was for Moo (village) 1 Ban Mai Root and Moo 6 Ban Ruam Suk, with both villages located on opposite sides of the same long canal, so monitoring their mutual coastline was done as a joint effort. A couple of days later after the initial training, villagers at Moo 4 Klong Manao learned the basics of running the equipment. Ajarn Piroj Sangchan and his team from the East Node Community-based Research Coordination Center (under the Thailand Research Fund) and a team led by Ajarn Weerasak Pruksa from the Faculty of Geo-informatics at Rambhai Barni Rajabhat University, helped with the GPS training and kindly loaned the GPS machines that were used during the actual surveys. In both exercises, it was mostly local youth responding to the call of being the next mangrove protectors.

“Educate the youth because in the future, they are the ones who will watch over the local mangroves and who will have new ideas to improve their condition,” declared Natsini Intaraprasert. A young woman herself, Intaraprasert is the sub-district head of Mai Root sub district, Klong Yai district, in which all three of the surveyed villages are located. She believes in the power of youth in managing coastal resources through community efforts.

“I think it is important to save our environment for the future. We must prepare to face greenhouse effects and global warming. Climate change is already here. We have to prepare to adapt for the future,” Intraprasert said. “S-VAM is important because it helps us to take action to protect mangroves. We will still be able to see our mangroves in the future only if we take action to care for them today. S-VAM helps us to monitor our mangroves, to be able to compare past and present conditions.”

S-VAM is a perfect activity for youths and children to participate in. Requiring cooperation and teamwork, the S-VAM procedure comprises 5 core roles. Just the thing for a group of young friends who want to help out with community management of natural resources. The 5 core roles are i) handycam operator ii) GPS operator iii) still photographer iv) observer/narrator and v) and boat driver.

“My teacher brought me here for a summer project,” claimed Somchai Suksatit, who is 16 and in his 3rd year at the local Mai Root High School. “It was so much fun, I got to use a GPS unit for the first time, which was not hard at all, really very easy.” Despite having a lot of tasks as the GPS operator, such as ensuring there is a constant and clear signal, monitoring the track log, and recording regular waypoints, Suksatit demonstrated that youths and children are more than capable of playing a role in such complex tasks and should be encouraged to be active participants in their communities and their communities' projects.

After videoing the shoreline and collecting other data, communities would normally pass the information on to a nearby university or academic institute to help with the subsequent steps of interpretation and analysis. But SDF would like to develop an alternative approach and is keen to work with S-VAM's founders to see whether it might be possible for the local communities to assess and analyze the collected information by themselves. This process of recording and monitoring mangrove condition is usually repeated every 6 months, partly in order to ensure continued progress reports, but also to provide information about the differing condition of the mangroves in the dry season compared to the rainy season. This ongoing activity will establish constant mangrove monitoring and hopefully help encourage more and more youth and community members to participate in the overall project too.

Supaporn Sakronyen, 28, a teacher from a nearby community that works with older teens on vocational training, rejoiced that the activity was a lot of fun. She was the still photographer, whose role was to take pictures of any seemingly interesting or different aspects of the mangroves and coastline, such as any settlements, birds, fallen trees, and young or unusual plants. “It was fun, I learned new things!” exclaimed the teacher who was accompanying some of the youths. “Mangroves are so important for our future, they provide a really good environment for young crabs to grow in.”

And in just the same way that it is important for us to protect and care for the 'homes' that crabs grow up in and are sustained by, we must likewise ensure that future generations are nurtured by learning through a combination of guidance and participation.

 

By Lean Bayle Deleon, Advocacy and Public Relations Officer, Sustainable Development Foundation


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