New Waves of Marine Conservation: A Look at the Third Decade of Marine Ecology Camp

The sound of waves colliding with the boat creates ripples, reflecting the distance far from the shore. This time, the boat carrying a group of young sailors embarked on the Andaman Sea from Phuket province. It sailed into the ocean with the excitement of the children and the hope of the conservation community in Thailand. Despite the numerous journeys the boat has undertaken, this particular voyage stands out as a mission creating “new waves” in the true marine conservation efforts for the Thai seas.

More than 20 children have participated in the environmental field trip held in Phuket province. They are a group of new-generation youth from the Marine Ecology Camp project, which has entered its 30th year. Based on the belief that “conservation must begin with education,” the program has been developed by Walailak University, Marine and Coastal Resources Research and Development Institute, Department of Marine and Coastal Resources, and Chevron Thailand Exploration and Production, Ltd. They have opened up opportunities for new generations interested in marine science to join the camp, aiming to enhance their knowledge and skills related to marine ecosystems. The camp also focuses on promoting research processes to raise awareness of the importance of the ecosystem. Over the past three decades, the camp has produced a significant number of professionals with expertise in marine science for Thailand in various professions.

Asst.Prof.Dr. Amonsak Sawusdee, Director of the Center for Academic Services, Walailak University, and alumni of the Marine Science Camp project, reflect on the journey to the 30th year, stating that “The uniqueness of this year’s camp is the reintroduction of field activities, coupled with online learning. The shift to online learning became necessary due to the COVID situation over the past two years. Seeing all the youth today reflects the success of the marine science community in inspiring youth who have participated in the camp from generation to generation and expanding the network. This year, there are 58 students from 17 universities across the country, with over 20 selected to participate in the field activities in Phuket. As a representative from Walailak University and an alumnus of the 6th generation of the camp, I am proud to witness the determination and excitement in the eyes of these young individuals who are growing to be a part of our marine conservation efforts.”

For the online lecture series held during November 4-26, the camp invited expert speakers from across the country to provide knowledge in various dimensions related to marine science professions. The topics covered management and restoration of marine ecosystems, techniques for adjusting and applying photography in scientific settings, and special talks on the management of Thai fisheries resources according to international standards. As For the hands-on activities from December 3-10 at Marine and Coastal Resources Research Center (Upper Andaman Sea), the program was filled with new experiences for the youth, including boat exploration and sample collection, species classification, water quality measurement, and learning about various ecosystems such as mangroves, rocky shores, sandy beaches, and coral reefs. The participants also had the opportunity to present their projects, marking the first step towards becoming researchers.

The underwater currents swirling around the colorful coral reefs beneath the waters of Coral Island (Koh Hae), Phuket, have brought excitement and unforgettable memories to over 20 youth participants in the camp. Diving to explore the coral reefs was one of the highlights of this camp, providing an exhilarating experience for all. Piyaporn Rattanawan or Cartoon, a first-year student in the Faculty of Fisheries, Kasetsart University, said excitedly, “This camp gave me the opportunity to try diving for the first time. Before coming to this camp, I was unsure if I would really like this field. However, the moment I went down to see the coral reefs, it became clear to me that I wanted to pursue a marine science career. Even though the fieldwork was a bit challenging, I wasn’t getting tired because I genuinely love it. Additionally, when the camp took us to visit the sea turtle rescue center, I was already fond of sea turtles. During the presentation, I chose the topic ‘Little Turtles Should Leave the Shore,’ leaving a lasting impression. After returning from the camp, I could clearly see the path I wanted to take, aiming to study further in this field to contribute to the well-being of the marine environment.'”

Naphanat Pholoywongsakul, or Top, who has just graduated from the Faculty of Information Technology, King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology Ladkrabang, said, “I didn’t study in this field, but the starting point was having the opportunity to go diving, including participating in underwater cleanup, and rescuing shipwrecks to restore marine life. This made me realize the need to enhance my knowledge to contribute to proper marine conservation. Then, I found this camp that aligns with my goals. Besides the online learning sessions that provided a different perspective on the environment, we also had the opportunity to visit the oceanographic research vessel ‘Chakthong Thongyai’ in Phuket, which is usually used for sea exploration and sample collection. We saw the navigation system, the onboard lab, and various equipment, which was a rare opportunity. As a representative who did not directly study in this field, I would like to invite friends who love the sea or those who want to see a better future for the ocean to join this camp.”

“The oceans are facing increasing threats to their ecosystems, so we need a new generation of marine scientists to join and continue the conservation mission,” Suthep Jualaong, Director of Marine and Coastal Resources Research Center (Upper Andaman Sea) stated “The sea is a valuable resource for Thailand in terms of the economy, livelihoods, and tourism. However, current threats are causing gradual deterioration due to both direct and indirect human activities that impact the interconnected marine ecosystem. Therefore, alongside conservation efforts, another crucial key is to nurture individuals with accurate knowledge and understanding in marine science disciplines. Today, I am proud to witness the 30th-year milestone of this project and see the expanding network of new-generation youth who have a passion for protecting our oceans. I believe that this camp will be a significant step in the ongoing conservation of the Thai seas.”

As an energy company that believes in the power of human energy, Chevron has been dedicated to supporting education and environmental projects consistently. Pornsuree Konanta, Chevron’s Vice President of Corporate Affairs, stated, Chevron has been supporting Thailand’s energy stability for over 60 years through our petroleum production  in the Gulf of Thailand. We also have operational facilities along the coastal provinces in Songkhla, Nakhon Sri Thammarat and Chonburi. Therefore, the Thai seas are like a second home to us. Throughout the 30 years of supporting the Marine Ecology Camp project, in collaboration with strong and expert partners like Walailak University, Marine and Coastal Resources Research and Development Institute, and Department of Marine and Coastal Resources, we have witnessed the remarkable success in cultivating a new generation passionate about marine conservation. The project has produced over 840 experts in marine science, and from this humble beginning, we hope to expand the impact for long-term sustainability, create new knowledge, and enhance Thailand’s research capabilities in the future.”

The ship sailing back to shore from the mission of hope embraces the determination of these youth who are growing into adults ready to pass on their dedication and conservation mindset. The journey of the Marine Ecology Camp entering its 30th year will continue to move forward, inspiring to create “new waves” that will protect the Thai seas for the generations to come.