Y13 Students from the DP Environmental Systems and Societies class investigated the Koh Sak island with Dr. Wayne Philips from Mahidol University. Research topics were unique for each student, with some researching microplastics on the beach, and others researching biodiversity underwater on the coral reefs. All of the hands-on investigations are linked to environmental issues such as water pollution, ocean acidification, tourism development, and biodiversity loss.
The first thing we saw were two private party boats on the Southern beach of Koh Sak, with bouncy castles next to them. Imagine having a large party boat blasting bass-heavy electronic dance music and blocking you from your primary source of energy. A mixture of urine, alcohol, plastic, and other strange things flow into your surroundings. People come and latch large bouncy castles onto your body. Suddenly, someone’s fin slaps you in the face. That’s the life of coral under those party boats. Corals build the foundation for other fish and marine species to live on. Our ocean’s biodiversity heavily depends on their survival. Yet, a majority of the corals we saw under the water were bleached. Even without any knowledge of coral ecosystems, if you see it, you can probably tell that it has died. There have been conservation efforts such as designating a part of the reef as a protected area; however, it is evident that more can and should be done towards their preservation and restoration.
Another noteworthy observation was the magnitude of plastic pollution. Due to the direction of the wind and the tides, plastic debris washed up heavily on the Southern beach. This ranged from the ordinary plastic bottles and straws to chairs, fishing nets, and… syringes. As these plastics are exposed to the sun, wind, and rain, they photodegrade into smaller microplastics with toxins that enter and accumulate up the food chain. Note: you are part of the food chain.
Usually, you would see anywhere from a thousand to three thousand people packed on the more popular Northern beach. This is evident from the countless piles of beach chairs and parasols neatly stacked in the shed. Due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the beaches were clear of people. The soft white sand on the Northern beach glistened in the sun, reminding us that this was ‘the original normal’ which the first men on the moon, US Navy forces, and the royal family adored when they visited many years ago.
Special thanks to Dr. Wayne, Mr. Leif, Ms. Shannon, Khun Pakboong, and Ms. Cindy for assisting students throughout this trip!