Saturday, January 14, 2017


At 5:00, we loaded the kids into the vans for their ride to the airport.  It's always a sad day when you have to say goodbye to the Land of Smiles.  Ajarn Wayne is accompanying them home, whereas I'm staying back for five days to conduct research in Chantaburi Province near the Cambodian border.  I'll be on the same flights on Friday.

A Day with Thai Students

This is the third consecutive year that our students have met with Thai undergraduate students from Kasetsart University.  The Thai students had several activities planned including kratongs, a fashion show with traditional Thai dancing garb, a Thai dance lesson, soap making, and lunch.  It's really late and the students are leaving in a few hours, so I'm not going to include much narration... just photos.

What a warm welcome we had from the Thai students.  They put a lot of effort in preparing everything to make us feel comfortable in their culture.

We spent the first 20-30 minutes just getting to know each other.

Emily is pouring hot wax into a plastic cup to make a candle, which will be used in the kratongs.

Each of four teams of students made their own kratong.

As luck would have it, Elliott and Brandon were selected to join Kaylee and Sydney in the fashion contest.

We enjoyed a traditional Thai dancing performance while we really enjoyed our Thai lunch.

This is our dancing lesson.


We left Phi Phi on the morning ferry and went straight to the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary.  The sanctuary just opened two years ago and had only two elephants originally, but then took in three more in the past two months.  It's such a sad story to hear about how these animals have been abused, so this was a very illuminating visit and it received high marks from the students.

This is one of the newly saved elephants.  We were told she appears depressed and has little energy.  

She's around 68 years old (the elephant, not Ashley) and has very long eyelashes.  Notice the notch in the margin of her ear caused by the mahoot's hook and the wounds in front of her eyes, which were deliberately caused to enable the mahoot to control her.

She allowed us to be close to her throughout our encounter.

Another two elephants who have bonded to each other approached us.

This one has damage to her rear left leg from being chained throughout her life and a gunshot wound to the left shoulder.

She was curious about our group.

Both elephants readily accepted food from us.

Hli posing with the elephant.

Zoe bringing a wedge of watermelon.

The animals wandered away and swam across the pond as Zoe watches.

This was another surreal experience.  These elephants are not enclosed by fencing and can wander around as they please.  To be this close to these magnificent animals was a real privilege.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Last from Phi Phi

The last few days in Phi Phi are encapsulated in this blog post.  We had a gastrointestinal virus go through the group causing bidirectional problems, if you know what I mean.  All but four of us have been afflicted at some point.  On the day of the Ko Ha dives, I stayed back to tend to the needs of four members of the group who were down with the virus. The last day of diving included the second of two dives to assess chaetodont species richness as a means of assessing reef health.  Finally, we planted the coral fragments that last year's class put in the nursery.

At Ko Ha (Thai for five islands) is a fantastic dive site known as the Cathedral. It is my favorite dive anywhere.  It consists of an elbow tube that leads to a room inside the island with a window to an adjacent room.  We swim through the elbow tube, through the first room, up through the window to the second room.  There is air above, so this is safe and not a cave dive that would require specialized training.

This photo is from within the tube looking at a diver entering.

The view from within the first room.

The view from within the second room.

The kids snorkeled at Ko Ha between dives.

A nice school of bigeyed snappers.

The kids holding up their dive slates so they can mark which chaetodont (butterflyfish and banner fish) species they see at this dive site.  This is an easy way to evaluate reef health because this fish group can be used as a surrogate for all fish species.

This looks like Sydney marking her slate.


Here is a pair of Andaman butterflyfish.

This is a pair of rip butterflyfish.  Many of the species in this fish group pair-bond.

Andrew unfurling the class banner for our underwater class photo.

It takes a lot of coordination to take a reasonable group photo underwater.  How would you do this without lots of bubbles?

Here are some of the students going down to the dead reef to begin planting coral fragments.

Lu and Zoe.



Sydney again.  You can see here that we zip-tied the base of the coral fragments to dead coral.

Emily reaching into the basket to get another fragment to plant.


Z - O - U !

The students are feeling pretty comfortable diving and enjoying the hands-on conservation activity.  Count the smiles as they get back on the boat...












The diving is finished for this class.  We're worn out, but very satisfied with a great reef conservation program put on by Andrew Hewett and his staff at the Adventure Club.

Back on Phi Phi at the end of the day, some of the students got tattoos.  Yes, really.  In fact five of the 14 got a tattoo.  I only have permission from two of them to spill the beans.  Here's Alyssa getting an elephant tattooed on her leg by... is that Ajarn Wayne?

Zoe getting her tattoo applied by a long bamboo needle.  Ouch!