Voices from Chana
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Voices from Chana

With help from Greenpeace, a local community is fighting to protect their environment

Rainbow Warrior is sailing around Thailand for the entirety of June. Photo: Baramee Temboonkiat @ 2024
Rainbow Warrior is sailing around Thailand for the entirety of June. Photo: Baramee Temboonkiat @ 2024

The Rainbow Warrior is used to promote Greenpeace campaigns and is a symbol of protecting the environment and human rights. It was launched on April 29, 1978, against whaling in Iceland and the ship later visited Thailand to promote action against incinerators in Phuket in 2000.

In 2005, the Rainbow Warrior and Greenpeace activists opposed the use of coal at Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate in Rayong. In 2008, activists also urged the Thai government to end its reliance on coal and utilise clean energy instead.

This year, the Rainbow Warrior is sailing around Thailand throughout June to highlight threats facing Thai oceans and to demand ocean justice and climate action.

Greenpeace Thailand organised a public event titled "Rainbow Warrior Ship Tour 2024: Ocean Justice" at the Museum Siam from June 1-2 to raise public awareness of the importance of Thailand's ocean biodiversity and to highlight activities that threaten the ocean and its inhabitants. The Rainbow Warrior's next stop was in Pathio District, Chumphon from June 8-9 and in Chana district in Songkhla this past weekend for a public event.

At Museum Siam, a panel discussion "Diversity Is Nature" focused on threats to the ocean and environmental issues. One of the speakers, Khairiyah Rahmanyah, was an activist from the Chana community in Songkhla which is trying to protect the ocean. The Chana community received attention nationwide in December 2021 due to the hashtag #SaveChana after authorities cracked down on their rally at Government House.

From left, Sakanan Plathong, Khairiyah Rahmanyah and Wipavadee Amsungnoen. Photos: Somchai Poomlard

"On May 7, 2019, a cabinet resolution mandated turning Chana into an industrial estate without any public hearing. This sort of incident had never happened before. Even a sham hearing was not organised. People in the Chana community went to city hall in Songkhla and questioned how the cabinet came up with the mandate, but received no response. We decided to rally at Government House. We wanted to discuss with people in power how people in the community could contribute to the development of Chana," Khairiyah explained.

"An industrial estate should not be a priority. People should be a part of the development discussion. The eastern seaboard is an example that, despite an increase in GDP, the quality-of-life is declining. People in Chana tried to communicate that the community is abundant with resources. It should not become an industrial estate."

As a young activist who was against the project in her community, Khairiyah had the opportunity to participate in the High Seas Treaty in New York. An ambassador questioned how Thailand was connected to the high seas.

"I told the ambassador that we live in the same world. Protecting the Gulf of Thailand which is on the other side of the world can contribute to the balance of nature. Therefore, movements by the Chana community do not protect only the Chana seas, but protect the world sea as well," said Khairiyah.

"People in the eastern areas do not dare to consume local seafood because of pollution. However, the sea in our area is a source of food for people in Songkhla and is also exported to five other countries -- Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, South Korea and China."

The exhibition 'Ocean Justice' at Museum Siam. Photo: Somchai Poomlard

Another speaker, Sakanan Plathong, a lecturer at Prince of Songkla University, added that marine creatures are interconnected across the oceans.

"Sea turtles lay eggs in the Similan Islands and swim back to the Nicobar Islands in the Indian Ocean. If beaches in Thailand disappear, sea turtles will have no place to lay eggs. The suffering will not be limited to Thailand, but will impact the entire world," said Sakanan.

"Additionally, there is a proposed Land Bridge mega project that aims to develop a logistics network connecting Ranong to Chumphon. The project will be located at the Kra Buri estuary which provides nutrients to Ranong coast. This can affect the ecosystem. The areas that will be affected by the Land Bridge project are biodiverse and can be a world heritage, but no study was done on what the effects of development would be."

To save Chana's sea, we have to gather information about resources that can be found there to prove an abundance of natural resources.

"An academic who supported the construction of a deepwater port claimed that Chana has only two species of fishes. This is impossible since the area has a 29km beach. Therefore, people in the community decided to collect information on marine creatures they caught each day. They photographed creatures and the record demonstrated there were 177 marine creatures in the Chana seas which brought us over 100 million baht per year," said Khairiyah.

Despite the crackdown at Government House, the Chana community still fights for their sea. However, instead of holding a rally, they try to communicate with other people.

"We communicate to the public through Facebook. We have created activities where visitors can come enjoy food and tour places in Chana. We recently held an activity called 'Look Talay' where young visitors learned how to make gyotaku, the traditional Japanese method of printing fish on fabrics or paper," she said.

The exhibition 'Ocean Justice' at Museum Siam. Photo: Somchai Poomlard

"Visitors also learn about aquatic animal species and can taste grilled fish. As a result, not only is the Chana community trying to fight for itself, but other people can speak for us and understand why the Chana sea should not be an industrial estate," Khairiyah explained.

Wipavadee Amsungnoen, ocean campaigner at Greenpeace Thailand, said that when they participated in the High Seas Treaty in New York, videos regarding children and people in Chana were released internationally. Viewers received the message well and one person held a sign saying "We Stand With Chana" at the event to show the Chana community has not received justice.

"Comments on social media showed that people felt empathy for the unjust treatment of the Chana community. They called for justice because they felt that what happened to the Chana people could happen to them. The sign 'We Stand For Chana' does not specifically refer to Chana but is a stand for justice," said Wipavadee.

Wipavadee explained the main issue of environmental conservation is that local communities have never been a part of the discussion or policies concerning development projects.

"Instead of having a top-down policy, development policy should start from discussions with people in communities since they want to participate in shaping their future. I hope the government will prioritise ocean justice and allow communities to manage their resources and have a say in their own future."

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