Not far from Phuket, families can experience unique encounters with one of the world’s most endangered animal species; dugongs.
These lovable ‘Cows of the Sea’ are sadly endangered, mainly due to loss of habitat and losing their seagrass grazing ground to coastal development. Anantara Si Kao Resort has developed a new eco-tourism experience to help.
Si Kao is in the southern Thailand province of Trang, a coastal town about an hour’s drive south of Phuket that is famous for its dugong population. It’s the main tourist attraction here, but, sadly, their numbers are decreasing; latest estimates report there are no more than 200 left in these waters.
A few marine conservation groups are doing what they can to save this dwindling population, and they now have the backing of Anantara Si Kao Resort. In addition to supporting local conservation efforts, the resort’s sustainability manager, Mark Isenstadt, takes guests on a Dugong Experience day trip, in which you can learn all about dugongs, their habitat, behaviour, threats and what we can all do to help.
The long-tail boat tour starts with a lesson about sea grass, which is a lot more interesting than it sounds because Mark is a passionate storyteller. Sea grass forms the main dietary component for dugongs, and, sadly, the world’s sea grass beds are disappearing due to coastal development. But that’s not the only threat to dugongs – as Mark explains, many are caught in fishing nets or injured by boats in the busy waterways that surround Trang and the islands in the Andaman Sea.
A marine reserve has been established at Koh Libong, which is where the tour takes you next, to see these delightful ‘sea cows’ that once fooled short-sighted sailors into thinking they’d seen a mermaid. The boat idles slowly through the marine reserve as the keen-eyed skipper looks out for dugongs, and while it’s hard for kids to stay quiet, the quieter you are, the more likely it is that you’ll spot them.
After an hour or so of dugong-spotting, the tour takes you to a small fishing village for lunch before the next part of this adventure, this time using another traditional Thai form of transport: the tuk tuk. The tuk tuk takes you to the base of Point Dugongs, a tall limestone karst with a viewing platform at the top, which you reach by climbing through a series of caves. There are not many places you can climb a mountain from the inside – it’s an adventure in itself passing through caverns, making your way to the top along narrow paths and around large stalagmites and stalactites.
The view from the top is spectacular – the perfect viewing point for dugong-spotting – and it shouldn’t be long before you spot one or two in the clear water far below.
While it’s an amazing outlook, it’s also clear from this height that the marine reserve is just too small. Local conservation groups are trying to have the area increased, and a big part of this fight is educating local villagers on the benefits. Anantara is helping with this too – the resort recently opened a Dugong Education & Conservation Centre, where locals and school groups come to learn about dugongs – how they can help save them – and perhaps benefit from dugong-related tourism.