Moken, Guardians of the Sea
The aim of this project is to play an active role in removing plastic pollution from the marine environment by creating a social and sustainable plastic recycling enterprise in Ranong Province, in southern Thailand. This initiative helps to offer employment and income opportunities to the vulnerable local Moken and Burmese minorities, and raise children’s awareness of pollution and recycling by setting up an education project within their schools.
The “Moken Guardians of the Sea” project was selected in 2019 by the International Union for Conservation of Nature for its MARPLASTICCs (Marine Plastic and Coastal Communities) project supported by the Swedish government. The project’s development is financially supported by a grant of 50,000 USD. A year-long social impact study is being carried out to audit the project.
The Moken are an ethnic group of semi-nomadic fishing people who live on several islands in the Andaman Sea, off the Burmese and Thai coasts. Traditionally, they travel and live for part of the year on their boats, called kabang, making a living from fishing and shellfish-gathering. But their traditional way of life has been under threat for several years. Intensive fishing is considerably reducing the amount of fish and crustaceans available to them, and plastic pollution in the sea hinders them in their work. The 2004 tsunami took a heavy toll on their population. This catastrophe also highlighted the particular status of the Moken in Thailand: most of them have no identity papers, so they are unable to access legal employment, social security benefits or even the public healthcare system. With no documents, most Moken people end up having to work for wages far below the minimum required.
For nearly 10 years, the Fondation Jan & Oscar has been helping the Moken living on the Lao islands, by playing an active part in their children’s education. But with this project, the foundation wants to go further still. Indeed, we are finding that the first generation of educated children is having difficulty continuing to higher education and integrating into the workforce. We need to help them access vocational training that makes sense in the context of their island-dwelling and seafaring way of life, or provide them with an additional income if they wish to keep their traditional fishing activity alive.
The foundation saw the serious marine pollution suffered by the Thai seas and coasts, especially due to plastic, as well as the direct impact of this pollution on the Moken’s fishing activity, with litter often ending up in their nets. So we decided to join forces with the Moken and launch a project to provide solutions to these various problems. The “Moken, Guardians of the Sea” project aims to reduce the amount of plastic waste entering the sea while promoting the necessity of a circular economy. The Moken fishermen can now sell the plastic they retrieve from the sea or islands directly to our social enterprise at a fair price. Young Moken who wish to do so can also receive training and work at the collection centre, sorting the plastic in exchange for a fair wage. We would like to see a genuine Moken network develop on the Andaman Sea islands, on the periphery of Ranong: Koh Lao, Koh Chang, Koh Phayam, Koh Sinhai, Koh Sai Dam and Koh Surin.
The social enterprise Ranong Recycle for Environment
Ranong Recycle for Environment is a social enterprise created by the Fondation Jan & Oscar to offer new income sources to underprivileged populations in Ranong Province, starting with the Moken, while contributing practical solutions to combat plastic pollution in marine environments. We buy the plastic at a fair price from the land-based collectors in Ranong Province and the fishermen living on 5 islands in the Andaman Sea. They go directly to our riverside collection centre in the town of Ranong. The enterprise also has a vehicle to go and pick up waste in the locality of Ranong. We wish to create various collection points where individuals can drop off their waste, at schools, government buildings, and temples in the town of Ranong.
The plastic is sorted at our collection centre by around 15 people: natives of Myanmar as well as young Moken girls from Lao island who are living at the centre. The sorted plastic is compressed into bales by the social enterprise’s team of 4 Thai and Burmese men. This way, we provide employment with a fair wage, training in recycling and sometimes housing to the people working at the centre, young Moken or Burmese immigrants. We also offer them the opportunity to take English lessons and want to assist the Moken with obtaining their national identity cards, which can often be a real obstacle course, as well as work permits so Burmese people can be employed legally.
The plastic bales are then converted into small flakes, which our partners will use to make new products or useful materials. The amount of plastic waste collected at our centre is currently around 10 tonnes a month!
The Swiss company #tide Ocean Material has developed a new procedure for transforming PET plastic flakes into granules and yarn, which can be used to make sustainable new products.
The Spanish clothing label EcoAlf, through its Upcycling the Ocean project, has been turning plastic waste from the sea into fashion pieces for several years now. Today, it is teaming up with the Fondation Jan & Oscar to bring an end to marine pollution in Thailand.
Article about the project published in the Bangkok Post :
The Fondation Jan & Oscar has invested 100,000 USD since the project began in 2016.
The Fondation Madeleine has donated 5,000 USD to fund the waste bank.
IUCN contributed 50,000 USD to help fund the project.
IUCN and Jan & Oscar Foundation are joint owners of all outputs produced under this contract. All events and outputs must acknowledge IUCN and MARPLASTICCs. Any use of IUCN’s and MARPLASTICCs name and logo must have the prior written approval of IUCN. All information generated from the project may be used by both IUCN and Jan & Oscar Foundation for non-commercial purposes. Procedures for dissemination and use of project outputs shall be agreed in writing by IUCN and Jan & Oscar Foundation
Produced by Jan & Oscar Foundation with the support of IUCN, MARPLASTICCs and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency.