In the far southern coast of Myanmar (formally Burma) lies a group of around 800 tropical islands, collectively called the Myeik Archipelago. This is an area of ecological and social significance to Myanmar, and a proposed marine protected area (MPA) site. I was lucky enough to visit the archipelago last week with my supervisor Dr. Amy Diedrich to see first hand this soon-to-be protected area.
I have long heard and read about the natural beauty of these islands, however, of particular interest to me are the people that live there. My research looks into the social dimensions of MPAs, specifically the socioeconomic factors that are important to consider when planning MPAs to maximise impact. This trip was a reconnaissance visit to the archipelago, in preparation for my fieldwork during the second half of the year.
Through the support of Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and the Myeik University, Amy and I stayed on the island of Thayawthadangui, home to two locally managed marine areas and a number of multi-ethnic communities. Thayawthadangui is also home to two communities of Austronesian ‘sea-gypsies’ known as Moken people. These semi-nomadic people live both in Thailand and Myanmar, and have historically been subsistence fishers. Famous for their traditional one-tree dugout canoes known as Kabang, and their incredible ability to free-dive, these communities are also extremely poor and directly threatened by the impacts of depleting marine resources.
Given the above, ensuring local livelihoods needs are taken into consideration when implementing this proposed MPA is of great importance. The next step for me will be to revisit this area in May to undergo stakeholder consultations for the proposed MPA through focus groups with FFI. This will ensure stakeholders are engaged in the MPA planning process and will maximise the potential for resource users to positively benefit from the MPA.