Thailand gives some coastline to Sea Gypsies

Thailand’s government signed a historic agreement last week granting some southern coastal mangrove forests to the Moken, an ethnic minority. The condition is that they pledge to protect the mangroves and marine resources as part of a deal that advances human rights and environmental sustainability.

The Moken, or Sea Gypsies, are a semi-nomadic tribe who live in Thai coastal provinces and inhabit over 800 islands in the Andaman Sea. They number less than 3,000 people. The Moken have been living in the region for centuries.

The Thai government signed the agreement with three Sea Gypsy communities in Phuket, Ranong and Krabi provinces. It covers 484 villages. Groups that helped the Moken negotiate the agreement included the Community Organizations Development Institute, the Chumchonthai Foundation and the People’s Movement for a Just Society.

The deal represents three ongoing progressive trends in Thailand. First are the continuing efforts to recognize and integrate ethnic minority and tribal communities into Thai society, both legally and in terms of access to services. Second is a heightened awareness and policies for protecting marine resources and the environment. Lastly is a willingness to recruit local communities as stewards of natural resources and the environment.

The government’s granting of ownership rights for the mangroves to the Moken is limited in that they cannot be transferred. This is to prevent any tribe members from selling the land to others for profit or development, as the goal is preservation.

Mangroves are essential in protecting coastlines from erosion and as breeding grounds for many species of fish.

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