By: Naiyi Jiang
Over the summer, one of our staff writers participated in a Thailand study abroad experience through a program called Loop Abroad. Read on to hear all about her trip for this latest installment of Students in Sustainability!
This summer, I spent three weeks studying abroad in Thailand. This trip was filled with so many surprises. Each week, our studies took on a different theme, as we were moving to different places and working with the local conservation teams.
On the first week of the trip, we were in Chiang Mai, where we learned about the tropical forest and how social factors are affecting the conservation work there. However, before we got into the lecture part of the day, we zip lined within the tropical forest. It was astonishing to see the greenery because the humid air gave a water-like coat look to the plants, which made them look intact and lush.
Then, we learned how to identify and classify the damage level of a tropical forest, along with how to do nursery-style plant management techniques of planting the seeds and taking care of them. One thing that shocked me was that at the second stage of tree growth when the tree expands its root system and begins to mature, the conservationists move the trees into special dirt made up of peanut shells, coconut husks and dirt. The purpose of this is to give some space for the tree root to pull the nitrogen in. This shows how conservationists utilize the resources they can and make the results unique.
Thailand is also a very religious country. Most of the people there believe that everything has its own spirits, so the nursery worked with the elders in that community to set up a ritual for the forest they helped to restore. This ritual is a way they can prevent people from cutting down the trees. So, after that week, I realized how much real-world environmental problems vary in different places. There is no certain template that can be invented and applied to everything. The best way is to go there and work with the community and the culture.
During the second week, we stayed on an island called Ko Tao. It was my first time trying to open water dive. Under the ocean, it is a whole new world. You cannot tell where any edges are: it’s just endless blue. Everything is so quiet and you feel free.
I also participated in the trip’s ocean conservation dive, where I witnessed the sight of the actual dead coral reef. It almost traumatized me. Algae are all over the reef, and there’s no life around. No fish go there and eat the algae, so it looks gray compared to the other side of the reef. The conservationists there are so passionate about doing research and designing projects to save the coral. I now know about the difficulties the conservationists have, like dealing with fishermen overfishing and tourists littering. On the island, there is not much regulation to control how much and what types of trash people pour into the ocean, which creates a bad discharging system. I admire the conservation team because this team is made of people of many different ethnicities, but they all stay there working on how to help this small island in Thailand to become better. Their work proves that there are no boundaries when it comes to saving the environment.
We spent the last week of the trip with Asian elephants that had been saved from street begging and the tourist industry at a place called Surin. Elephants are wild animals, so their home should be in the forest; however, due to the tourism industry, elephants are forced to work and be trained so that they can perform shows and let tourists ride on them. Tourists may think they are such kind and mild animals, but what they do not realize is how much those elephants suffered under the training procedures. Most of the elephants in the programs are disabled or have mental issues, so the professors there are very dedicated to working with the elephants and try to heal them. In that program, every elephant has a mahout, or elephant keeper, with them to take care of their daily life needs, like taking a shower, feeding them food and planting the food they eat.
During the time I spent with the elephants, I felt how smart they are. I learned that different elephants have certain personality traits that just belong to them. It’s also fascinating to see the elephants eat: you would not believe how strong and flexible their trunk is! They can grab a handful of leaves and tear them down from the branches very easily.
Whether it was a natural site I visited or an actual creature I saw, this trip inspired and motivated me to learn more about this field and how I can be like one of the many awesome people I met in the future.
Photos courtesy of Naiyi Jiang