Nervous to began his first unofficial day at Thailand’s third largest newspaper, the Siamerican’s first assignment wouldn’t call for any back breaking labor worthy of protest or complaint–that is unless you consider laxin’ out in the tropical sun on a dive boat, snorkeling in the aqua marine waters off the coast of Phuket and Phi Phi, and casual conversation with dive instructors and marine conservation enthusiasts labor; either way, his yacht assignment for Tuesday was not to be shrugged off lightly, as his first day back to formally wearing journalist spectacles in more than three and a half years involved meeting Pierre Yves Cousteau, the youngest son of legendary scientist, captain, aquatic explorer, and film maker.
29 year old Pierre’s first visit to Thailand was primarily for the purpose of promoting his non-profit organization, the Cousteau Divers, seeking connections and potential partnerships with stakeholders and key players within the marine tourism industry, namely the recreational dive industry, science and academic community. To kickstart his position as sub-editor, the Siamerican was assigned to do a light feature storey about the Frenchman’s day of diving sponsored by the Phi Phi island based, Adventure Club.
And so the Siamerican was running on a little over four hours of sleep anticipating a big day on the boat. And to start matters off on the wrong foot – literally – when boarding the diving vessel known Reef Ranger, he slipped and watched his Nokia E63 phone fall out of his shirt pocket, dropping in between two boats, down to its final resting place on the ocean floor at Rassada Pier. Declared as ‘bad luck,’ by fellow journalist from an island competitor newspaper, disappointment lingered and the question arose: Was this incident a foreshadowing of more tragedy in the day to come?
The dives – led by Adventure Club GM, Andy Hewett and his co instructors, Bonny and Antoine accompanied Cousteau along with his Singaporean partner, Suwei Shaw and resort owner and co sponsor, Michael Ma – were at three select sites, namely Shark’s Point (Ko Muzang), Ko Pida Nai island and an artificial reef or coral nursery, which Andy, under the umbrella of the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources (DMCR), co-directed in sinking, placing and the continuous culturing and maintenance efforts. It was reported that one leopard shark was spotted around Pida Nai island, though hardly any other ‘big fish,’ yet another indicator of the overfished, exploited marine resource.
During the 40 to 90 minute dives, the non-divers of the crew, including the Siamerican and three other journalists, Singaporean Anusha, Thai Norachai and Aussie Martin, as well as radio DJ, Andrew, along with four more Thai crew men and women representing the Adventure Club stayed at the surface waiting; an ample opportunity to snorkel, swim, nap and reflect.
The day was proving insightful and replenishing, and other than divers’ tales of freak accidents and nature fights back attacks out at sea, certainly no tragedies had yet unfolded on this trip. Finally, as the last dive was completed at the coral nursery off of Phi Phi Don island, the boat required a temporary mooring on the beach there to unload the diving equipment before the final haul back to Phuket, prompting the final recount of a very real tragedy which had overcome this beach in three waves, exactly 76 months back.
Andy, a British resident of Phi Phi island for some 15 years recalled how he and his family narrowly escaped death on boxer day of the 2004 South Asian Tsunami which some 900 people on Phi Phi island alone were reported to have perished. He recalled the six month intensive reconstruction period following the Tsunami and told a heroic tale of how the strength and goodwill of united, caring volunteers persisted in cleaning up the beach, showing us a slideshow with live captioning relaying the underwater rubble clean up which civilian volunteers helped to clear and clean, offered little official assistance, but relying on their own will to prevail.
Having seen much of the path of destruction left behind by the fury of Poseidon in his own post-tsunami volunteer experience in Thailand’s epicenter, Phang Nga, the Siamerican knew exactly what Andy had witnessed, smelt, touched and felt, more or less. Seeing images of all the human-created rubble buried in the ocean floor by the Mother of all mothers, a new sense of meaning for the day was regained.
As the boat head back, seeing the burning sun sink off behind the other side of Phuket in the distant horizon, the Siamerican reflected back to the day’s beginning when a supposed tragic-luck saw a material possession instantly rendered useless down to the bottom of the ocean floor. Tragedy? Perhaps there will be. It is then when which we are forced to see the truth—after it has already sunk into the sand. Is such phenomena labeled tragedy only beneficial with hindsight–a prerequisite to tap into the human will and strength that comes with unity? Perhaps it is possible to equally benefit us with foresight, tapping into those entities to prevent the inevitable.