Ao Nang, in Krabi province, is, or should be, a common heritage for both Thai and foreign residents, and for the thousands of tourists who annually come to throng the beaches and the surrounding islands. It is a heritage for its natural beauty, for its limestone cliffs that here and there emerge from the sea, for its flora and fauna both on the ground and underwater and, why not, its still simple and friendly people.
But like any self-respecting heritage, Ao Nang also needs care, attention, awareness in the face of his daily problems, especially those related to environmental protection. We all know that tourism, one of the main sources of wealth of the Krabi province, brings income and well-being, but inevitably, in medium to long terms, if it is not kept under control and if certain rules of civilization are not observed, it is likely to lead to environmental degradation, with consequences that can be imagined both in ecological and in tourism terms.
All of us living in this attractive location, both foreigners and Thai, and all those who spend dozens of hours in a plane to come and enjoy its beauty, are somehow also responsible for its protection and should behave in a proper way, one aimed at keeping Ao Nang always clean and livable.
Loving Andaman Sea, a non-profit association founded three years ago by Paolo Semperboni, an Italian citizen residing in this province since 2007, has taken the onerous task of contributing to the awareness of the people who live and visit Ao Nang. Paolo is married to Monica, a nice thai girl who shares a love for the environment and actively supports her husband in his many initiatives.
Until now the activities of Loving Andaman Sea were limited mostly to the organization of cleaning days in the beach of Ao Nang or in the surrounding beaches, often in collaboration with another non-profit organization, Project Abroad, that brings together young volunteers from all over the world to be used in various charitable projects in the province of Krabi. But with the last event, the passion of the organizers took a further step forward, managing to raise awareness, actively involving and finally convincing all local authorities. This happened on November 12th on the occasion of the third anniversary of the birth of Loving Andaman Sea. The organization of the usual beach cleaning was followed by a bare-foot amateur running race on the Ao Nang sand one mile (1609 meters) long open to locals and foreigners, called “A mile to Ao Nang.”
In reality, the first step towards this initiative got underway a few months ago, when Loving Andaman Sea distributed a questionnaire amongst residents and tourists in Ao Nang in which he asked to answer various questions about the location, including its environmental situation. The information and suggestions were not only numerous but extremely significant, and when the summarized results were shown to the local authorities, they became conscious and started thinking of a way to fix the situation. So when Loving Andaman Sea began planning the beach-cleaning day and the adjoining race, the entries were numerous and immediate: the Ao Nang Sub-district, the Provincial Police, the National Parks Authority, the Tourist Police, the Ao Nang Traffic Police of the Immigration Police did not need to be begged to give their patronage and their active cooperation, while some hotels in the area, along with some banks and various businesses, have enthusiastically sponsored the event.
And so November 12th arrives, where in addition to the response of the authorities, we saw a significant presence of ordinary people, eager to contribute in some way to this wonderful initiative. About 400 people, including children of an elementary school and elements of the various police corps, responded to the call of Loving Andaman Sea. Amongst these, one hundred runners of all nationalities divided into categories turned up regularly barefoot at the start of “A mile for Ao Nang”.
The day began early with the usual opening speeches and words of welcome from the Deputy Head of Ao Nang Sub-district, Mr. Suchart Kittithonkul who emphasized, among other things, the importance of maintaining a clean environment with the aim of making Ao Nang the most attractive tourist destination in the south of Thailand. To this wish followed the guarantee by the General of Police of Krabi province, Pol Maj. Gen. Nanthadej Yoinuan, of the local police commitment to make Krabi an always safer province for visitors, ending with a short speech by the Immigration Police Commander Lt. Col. Suppharurk Phankosol who underlined the importance of an environment as clean as a worthy frame for a memorable holiday.
Words were followed by facts and at the signal given by Mr. Suchart and Pol Maj. Gen. Nanthadej, hundreds of people carrying a black plastic bag launched in search of the slightest element of dirt along the beach. Everyone showed an admirable commitment, but I would like to emphasize in particular that of the representatives of the police, and especially that of the school children, a mass of pink shirts that spread on the beach full of good will to return to the base with those bags, almost bigger than them, full and heavy, ready to refresh themselves after the fatigue with a rich and well-deserved ice cream.
But to quote only the police and the children, I would feel like insulting all those other participants who responded to the request for Loving Andaman Sea with great enthusiasm, beginning with Mr. Vishal Pawa and with Project Abroad volunteers, ordinary people, residents, tourists who helped raise more than 300 kg of garbage under a hot sun that has by no means turned the collection of waste in a simple walk on the beach. All under the eyes of hundreds of curious tourists, lying on their towels and relaxed on the sand in search of a tan that would soon come.
In the end, hour after hour, sack after sack, as the sun began to sink, getting smaller and lengthening the shadows,albeit slightly, its heat almost overwhelming, as the tide began to rise making the beach steadily smaller, also arrived the time for the competition. A hundred men, women and children were present at the starting point, taking in the full spirit of the initiative. Walking barefoot on sand that still retained the heat accumulated during the day, they set upon the 1,609 meters that separated them not so much from a trophy or from the attractive prizes offered by the various sponsors which, nevertheless, have been of satisfaction for those who have managed to conquer them, but from the ability to say to themselves: “I was there and I worked, albeit in a small way, to keep clean a small, precious corner of the world”
In the end it does not matter who won or the best time established to run this one mile barefoot race on the sand, wonderfully organized with the help of the firm S. Langsuan Benjarong, a race that, according to the organizers, is an innovative competition. What matters is that Ao Nang comes out cleaner and maybe a little more known. What matters is the presence of the authorities who granted an official status to the whole day. What matters is that many people have probably become aware of the fact that beaches, seas, parks, cities and our land, in a word, must always be kept in the best ways to prevent that the environmental resources are squandered, resources that at the end of the day are not only the entertainment for our holidays but, in the long term, are our own life.
If from November 13th Ao Nang looks better and has serious hopes to further improve, it is thanks to all those who participated, to the sponsors and other authorities, but above all to the great will of Loving Andaman Sea, an organization of which perhaps up to three years ago its absence was unnoticed, but of which since three years ago, their constant presence is instead noticed.