In the southern part of Thailand lies the island of Phuket. Known more for its drunken tourists and anything-goes mentality, people often overlook the island’s natural beauty. If they do explore the crystal-clear waters, underwater caves or white-sand beaches it’s usually with a tour group. Walk any street in Phuket and you will see the tour companies hawking their packages for half-day and full-day tours to “isolated islands” known only by the locals. The problem is that nothing could be further from the truth. One ends up paying an inflated price to sit on a boat with dozens of other tourists only to go somewhere with dozens of tour groups.
The issue is more than just being ripped off. There is an increasingly negative impact on the environment near these tourist traps. Gas-powered boats ferry people to dive spots, garbage accumulates and the ever-present threat of large construction projects looms. While I am well aware that this does prove beneficial to the local population through tourism dollars, a sustainable methodology is definitely possible.
On a recent trip to Phuket during the Chinese National Holidays, I couldn’t bring myself to go on one of these environmentally degrading tours. After researching (h/t Trip Advisor!) I found John Gray’s Sea Canoes. Around for about 30 years, they were one of the first groups offering tours of the area’s underwater caves. Their focus on environmental protection, however, is what really set them apart. In discussing their origins, John Gray noted “… developers' lack of environmental awareness for an area that obviously should stay pristine was truly criminal. In rapidly expanding destinations, some land must be set aside for Nature.”
In keeping with this, the organization trains both staff and clients on conservation of the region’s natural ecology. They use environmentally friendly boats, frequent routes other groups do not and have guides with an in-depth knowledge of the area. John Gray’s Sea Canoes also serves as an activist group for the protection of the Andaman Sea’s ecosystem.
This is not a promotional piece but an example of what one company can do in the face of a perceived status quo. John Gray and his organization should be praised for their work in countering the throngs of tour groups littering the Andaman Sea to keep paradise paradise.
For more information on John Gray’s Sea Canoes, go to http://www.johngray-seacanoe.com/index.htm.