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Global Ideas

Sea-gypsies and scientists saving a disappearing world

Since Myanmar opened up in 2011, the Mergui Archipelago has come under pressure from tourism and fishing. An alliance of local sea nomads and international scientists is trying to save this island paradise.

Watch video 07:26

Myanmar: Protecting the treasures of the Mergui Archipelago

Project goal: Developing a network of marine protected areas
Project partner: Fauna & Flora International
Project volume: US $150,000 per year over five years
Place: Mergui Archipelago
Key species: Manta rays, sharks, sea turtles

For decades, no tourist disturbed the tranquility of this island paradise - the home of the Moken people. Also called sea gypsies, the Moken traditionally live on - and off of - the sea throughout the Mergui Archipelago in the south of Myanmar. During the country's military rule, the area was closed off to the outside world. But since the country opened up in 2011, the situation has deteriorated: Garbage, drift nets and illegal fishing are destroying the Moken's world.

Now, environmental non-governmental organization Fauna & Flora International has teamed up with these sea nomads to develop three marine protected areas run by the people in the region, in coordination with the national fisheries ministry. The group has put together a team of locals trained as divers, and international scientists. Through diving expeditions, they are investigating the coral reefs along the 800 mostly uninhabited islands. With the economy and the tourism industry growing since the country's opening, changes to the coastline, the environment and the ocean will be inevitable. Figuring out just where to find and protect vital biodiversity has turned into a race against time.

A film from Carmen Meyer and Holger Ernst

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