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A place for indigenous people in protected areas, Thailand

The seas of South-east Asia are home to unique peoples called sea gypsies, who have travelled the region for centuries living on boats and in temporary settlements along the coasts of the southern Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia all the way up into the Mergui Archipelago of present-day Myanmar.


In Thailand, some 3,000 sea nomads remain dispersed over numerous islands off the Andaman coast in an area that has recently been added to Thailand’s tentative list of World Heritage Sites. These people belong to three distinct communities, the Moken, Moklen and Urak Lawoi, each with its own set of cultural traditions and language. Much of their territory has been lost to tourism development.

Many of the remaining islands have been designated as marine protected areas. Subsequent strict conservation measures and escalating tourism development have deprived the last of these communities from the sustainable use of the various resources and further contributed to their marginalization. Yet it is not recognized by the authorities that these people, through generations of living in close contact with the marine environment, have developed complex knowledge and interactions with its diversity. Issues concerning the participation and representation of local and indigenous people in decision making processes and management need to be addressed.

Since 1998, UNESCO in partnership with the Chulalongkorn University Social Research Institute (CUSRI) have undertaken field project activities related to issues concerning the place of Moken people in Surin Islands Marine National, Park, Phang Nga Province.  The project activities have been extensively published in document in English and Thai.

Supported by NOAA ,one of our current activities is to conduct field research on socio-economic monitoring (SocMon)  with the Moken people and the Urak Lawoi people, Lipe island, Tarutao National Park, Satun Province.