Sea Change

In September 2012, I took an assignment with Greenpeace in Thailand to document environmental threats to a fishing family and the larger community. The Bangkok Post has finally run the story and the photos. Here they are, along with the text I wrote to introduce them.

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“Devote thyself single-mindedly to the Faith, and thus follow the nature designed by Allah, the nature according to which He has fashioned mankind. There is no altering the creation of Allah” — Surah 30:30

The Hankla family in Tha Sala in southern Thailand is in trouble. Hailing from a long line of fishermen, Manit Hankla is worried that industrial development in the area by the likes of Chevron and other energy companies as part of Thailand’s Southern Seaboard Development Program will destroy the fragile ecosystem the fishermen depend on. Two districts around Manit’s home of Tha Sala in Nakhon Si Thammarat have been targeted for coal-fired power plants, despite studies showing at least 1,150 MW of wind power potential in the area. As a leader in the fishing community, Manit and others fear that if the coal plants are built, the fish in the area would disappear, coastal areas would be eroded and that the water would be polluted by commercial shipping.

More than 60 percent of the local population relies on the bounty of the sea, which gives the province an annual income of 300 million baht as well as more than 5,000 jobs. Drawing on his deep Muslim faith, which commands him to care for the earth, and a concern for his children’s future—he hopes his son Muussin will follow in his wake—Manit has emerged as a strong leader and voice for the fishing community of Tha Sala, a role he hopes to use to help stop the coal plants.

“The sea is home. We have fought to save our sea with our hearts because it means everything to us. We are concerned because if our sea gets polluted, it means we are dead,” Manit said.

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