The cleanup recommenced yesterday (May 14) after a two-week break, explained Andrew Hewett, General Manager of The Adventure Club dive centre, based on Phi Phi Island.
“We collected another 937 kilos [of waste], including 16 tyres yesterday,” he said.
The campaign began on Mar 24, Andrew explained.
“The Thai government declared that there would be restrictions on travel and business operations to combat the growth of the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result of this all businesses on the Phi Phi islands were closed and much of Thai and foreign workforce that were unable to leave the island were isolated for the coming months,” he said.
Social distancing measures were quickly enforced. Travelers and local Thais limited interaction and social gatherings. Many foreigners that were stranded on the islands were from the diving industry and unsure of what the restrictions on travel would mean in regards to renewing visas and ensuring that they were not going to get into trouble if they were unable to extend in time, he added.
“Fortunately the Thai government recognised the issues at hand and made the necessary extensions to visitors to the Land of Smiles, regardless of whether a tourist or long-term expat.
“Meanwhile it was obvious that this huge workforce remaining on Phi Phi island had nothing but time on their hands so a project was formed by a diving operator on the island to manage volunteer divers to create a remarkable cleanup operation in Tonsai bay around the pier area,” Andrew noted.
So on Apr 20, with the permission and support of the local police force and the Phi Phi Island Tourist Association, The Adventure Club initiated a cleanup operation at the pier.
“In respect of the rules on social distancing only three groups of five persons per hour were permitted to work at different positions at the pier. Three divers in the water with two persons supporting each group on the surface.
“Each team works for one to two hours and then is replaced by another team. This team rotation continues throughout the day. The project is overseen by the manager of The Adventure Club, Tero Kempas, whose job is to ensure that the crews are always maintaining good social distancing and operating safely,” Andrew explained.
The main objective of the campaign is to attempt to make the pier area as pristine as possible. Since the pier is the main arrival point for all of the supply boats it means the divers have their work cut out for them, he added.
All manner of materials were brought up: bottles, bags, plastics, concrete blocks. Over the course of nine days the team was able to raise 13,197 kilos of waste, which included 322 tyres.
Yesterday (May 14), those numbers were boosted a further 937 kilos collected, including 16 tyres.
Funding for the work is coming from the Phi Phi Tourism Business Association, the Phi Phi Island Protection and Conservation team, and the Ao Nang Subdistrict Administrative Organisation (OrBorTor), which Andrew noted is the major financial contributor to make the project happen.
The cleanup is part of two different projects under the name “Clean PP Today”, he explained.
The first part targets cleaning up all wastewater gutters running along the streets. “This is the main expense. Salary being paid for the Burmese guys to get the job done,” Andrew explained.
The second part focuses on the cleanup at the pier, requiring bin bags and garbage transportation.
Andrew pointed out that the local community has been exceptional by supporting the volunteers with food, water and refreshments.
“Although the current global COVID situation has shut everyone down, this project has given the Phi Phi Island community an opportunity to come together and make a difference,” he said.
“Thanks to nearly 100 diver and non-diver volunteers from over 24 countries, devoting their time and energy, when everything settles and travel is resumed, visitors to the Phi Phi Islands are going to find them more beautiful than ever.”
Phumipat Phutthipanjapong, owner of Visa Travel Team and a member of the Phi Phi Tourist Business community, praised the efforts by everyone involved. "We are very grateful and we are sharing the same world. Community means everyone. Not just Thai or Foreigner,” he said.
Ilze Grïnvalde, pro diver volunteer, has been enthused and energised by the project. “The cleanup work is bringing a full package of positive emotions. First of all, it’s the kindness between people, no matter what nationality, age, occupation or social status we have.
“It’s the feeling of being useful – helping the environment, working together as one team, having the same goal and being able to make a difference and, hopefully, influence the future behavior of people towards respecting nature and the sea.
“It is the excitement of having the possibility to be underwater, which for us divers is the most important, calming and needed thing in the world. I feel very inspired to see how well organised this is, how we have people in this community who not only care but are capable of pulling things together,” Ilze said.
“It gives me the feeling that I am spending the time in lockdown in a meaningful way. It helps me not to go insane with overthinking things, or falling into laziness, self pity or boredom. It gives the purpose for the day and a chance to enjoy seeing people being motivated, dedicated, and excited about doing a good job.”
Seeing the extent by which the community is pulling together for the project is inspiring, Ilze noted.
“It’s incredible to see how the attitude between locals and farangs are becoming more welcoming, supportive, and understanding. I am impressed how Thai government and local people are helping us with so many things – the visas, the food, the medical support.
“Understanding and helping by reducing prices, being opened and willing to help with extra requests and needs. If there is one thing this unusual situation is giving us – it’s the chance to be united. And it’s a wonderful feeling. I am very grateful to be able to spend this time here, in Thailand, in Koh Phi Phi. It has definitely made me a better, happier, and more supportive person than before. Thank you, Thailand, for that.”
Caroline Lecky, the co-owner of Blue View Divers, felt exactly the same. “I feel great to be able to do something meaningful during this time. As divers, we must give back to the ocean during this time, as the ocean gives us our livelihood. We feel a certain responsibility to clean the oceans and beaches of this beautiful island.
“It feels good to be busy, and rewarding at the same time as the pier area of Tonsai Bay has collected a lot of debris over the years which was impossible to clear until now due to safety issues with ferry and cargo boats when the pier is in use.
“It was well organised which meant the social distancing rules that were in force did not impair or impact the work. Working in small groups and in two-hour shifts, meant that many people got to take part without any large gatherings. It was truly amazing to see how much was collected this way.
“Dive cleanups usually involve large groups of divers and support team, I don’t believe a cleanup has been organised in such a way in Koh Phi Phi before, nor been so effective (since the tsunami cleanup),” she wrote.
The feel-good factor does not stop there: “The support from the local groups on Phi Phi has been overwhelming. The donations for food, refreshments and drinks for all the volunteers has been amazing.
“There are local Thais joining with the divers and local officials helping to coordinate surface support. They are efficient, extremely helpful and organised in sorting, weighing and transporting the trash collected. Local businesses not directly involved have been so kind – the sense of community spirit here is overwhelming and it’s a privilege to be part of such a great project.”
For Tero Kempas, Manager at The Adventure Club, the cleanup has brought much more than relief to marine ecosystem in the area.
“It’s been a real highlight in the middle of all the sad and crazy COVID-19 stuff. It’s wonderful to see how many people want to help and be part of something truly amazing, something big,” he said.
“I mean I’ve been here for nearly 16 years and nothing like this has been done since the tsunami dive camp clean up. Not that nobody wanted to clean the pier area, but it’s been literally impossible in the middle of the non-stop boat traffic Phi Phi pier normally faces all year around. It’s great to see all the volunteers’ smiles and enthusiasm towards the project every day.”
The cleanup campaign has also brought a much-welcome relief to the effects of the COVID situation and being under lockdown, he added.
“It’s been so much fun to be honest. It gives us all something else to think of, less time to think and worry all the madness that we’re going through right now.
“The clean up also gives us a chance to see our old and new friends without having to feel kind of guilty about it. As we cannot work right now this gives me the feeling that we can still do something meaningful, that we’re not just killing time and getting bored.”
As for the community pulling together for the campaign, Tero said simply, “This is something that has honestly surprised me the most. Locals stop you on the street to ask how things are going and how many tyres we have picked up each day and thank us for the effort.
“We have received so many donations of different kinds… all kinds of Thai food for lunch, energy drinks, iced coffee, fresh fruits and even doughnuts from local restaurants and entrepreneurs who wish to be part of this project. That’s just wonderful!
“All the volunteers have been so impressed by all the locals’ support and involvement. This project has brought a lot of Phi Phi people together. That’s almost as rewarding as cleaning the sea itself!”
Andrew himself noted that special mention for making the project a reality must go to Tero Kempas, manager at The Adventure Club, all the international and Thai volunteer divers, the Ao Nang OrBorTor, the Phi Phi Tourist Association, the Phi Phi Island Protection & Conservation team and the Department of National Parks.
He also gave special mention to the following restaurants and groups for donating food, fruits, snacks and refreshments: Aqua restaurant, Bakery Hut, Chao Koh group, Only Bar, Khun Niyom restaurant, and P’Jeab for her mango sticky rice.
A video of the volunteers’ efforts can be seen at https://youtu.be/fzfnY3GmLss
Those wanting to support the project can contact Andrew at The Adventure Club PADI 5 Star Instructor Development Dive Center on Phi Island. Tel: 081-9700314, 081-8951334. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Website: www.diving-in-thailand.net The Adventure Club Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/TheAdventureClubPhiPhi