Wednesday 10 November 2010

Koh Samui -- Turning the blue waters, er, green.

Sands Restaurant, in a sheltered cove near Lamai that is home to the new Banyan Tree on Koh Samui, is a very pleasant spot, with all the usual ingredients of paradise: calm blue water, coconut trees (in the millions as this was till recently a coconut plantation) and four colourful wooden fishing boats riding at anchor just off the golden beach.

Cliches abound, so where am I possibly going to dredge up an interesting travel story here?

Then the hotel's Khun Marsh introduces me to Halik (pictured), an Indonesian from Sulawesi. Has he been shipwrecked and washed up on shore here? No, the marine biologist is Banyan Tree's CSR Manager and resident marine researcher, here to help the new property establish their well-known CSR program in which guests donate US$2 per night, which is matched by the hotel. 'We would like to do conservation by ourselves, and hope to establish a lab here,' the affable chap says.

His priorities are to release giant clams and turtles into the waters here.

Giant clams are considered a delicacy and thus are an endangered species in Asia. 'They filter water, eat plankton and make the water clear,' says Halik. Clearly there are already some in the water here, then, as the water sparkles beautifully.

Five turtles were released last month already. Their homing instincts have always intrigued me in that they can always return to the same beach where they were released, even if they've swum across thousands of kilometres of ocean to another continent. 'They record all the magnetic field and sand texture and water temperature ... that's how they know where they are.' Oh, I see. No I don't -- that's bloody incredible, jing jing!

Once the hatchlings reach 55-60 days, they are ready to launch, and guests at this Banyan Tree can join Halik in releasing them.

'My job is my passion,' beams Halik. And why not. He's got a great little office overlooking this golden cove and is able to put into practice all the things he wished he could do when he was working for an NGO previously.

'Since primary school I used to watch movies about coral reef -- my brother was a scuba diver.' Now here he is on Samui where 300 coral species thrive. 'The Coral Triangle is the centre of worldwide marine diversity, and Thailand is just outside it,' he says.

Guests are able to borrow flippers, mask and snorkel for free, and wade into the waters here. 'This is quite fantastic,' enthuses Halik. 'Barracuda, even a 1-metre long grouper ... I don't want to tell my colleagues otherwise my grouper will go missing,' he laughs. There's also a school of rabbit fish -- delicious!'

Speaking of delicious, all this talk is making me hungry. Let's order ...

'Would you like to try the giant clams?' asks Khun Marsh. He and Halik dissolve into good-hearted laughter.

Stu travelled to Koh Samui with assistance from Bangkok Airways

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