I went to Belize on a kayaking/snorkeling trip last year and I couldn’t help but compare that experience to the one I recently had in Thailand. I took only a day trip in Thailand to see Phi Phi Island and we had the opportunity to snorkel. I had to laugh when we jumped in the water because the area we were in was the place where The Beach was filmed (you may or not be familiar with the storyline but two of the characters involved in the utopia are attacked by a shark and the whole perfect structure starts to fall apart.)
After a good laugh at the potential irony, I just wanted to enjoy the scenery. Jeff and I took off on our own because there were no instructions. Everyone just jumped off the boat. As we swam around a huge group of fish swam up and I was delighted. It wasn’t until I popped up to fix my mask that I saw people throwing food (I suspected squid) off the side of the boat by the handfuls. The food was provided by the tour guide. We moved away from the group and saw a snake, parrot fish, beautiful coral and we were on our own. I followed the rules that were given to me during my trip to Belize. On that trip our guides wouldn’t let us in the water until we understood the impact we would have on the environment. We were told not to touch the coral or the fish. We were asked to apply sunscreen well in advance and try to use natural brands if possible. We were instructed not to chase a fish or animal that we wanted to see but to just observe. I know that when I saw my first sea turtle I had to resist the urge to swim after it making the encounter seconds longer. We were taught about the fish and our guide would stop to quiz us to see if we could identify the fish we were seeing.
We only spent 30 minutes in the water but Phi Phi Island but it felt sad. We went to another island later in the day (I don’t remember the name) but Jeff and I decided to sit on the beach after we went snorkeling and a sanitary pad was floating by instead of fish. Jeff also felt ill from the boat ride, so he was looking forward to being out of the water and off the boat. Two other people puked on the way to the islands. It was a high speed boat ride. I loved it! We sat and watched a family play in the water. The dad brought a sandwich bag down to the water and he started to catch fish in the bag. His son was so excited to see that they could catch a fish. He decided to walk the fish up to his mother who was ill so she could see it. The boy decided on the way up that he should stick his hand in the bag and touch the fish. I think the boy was about 6 or 7. On the way from his mother back to the ocean he just picked the fish up and took it out of the bag. It fell on the sand and he struggled to grab it. The little fish was not close enough to bounce back into the water and just struggled in the sand. A woman walked past the kid and said, “Fishes belong in the water. Help it get back to the water.” The kid eventually manhandled the fish back into the bag. He was poking the fish as he walked it back to the sea. He eventually let the fish swim out of the bag. I was screaming in my head the entire time. I kept hearing what my guide in Belize had said. He was so focused on preserving the environment and it made such an impact on me. You might ask why I didn’t go and tell that kid what I knew. There was a language barrier there and I didn’t have the vocabulary.
My fear is that the opportunity to see these fish in this area could be lost. I know so little about the tour company in Thailand and maybe ours was the only one where there was no mention of our impact on the environment.
Readers: Have you felt this way on trips to developing countries? Do you feel like they are promoting tourism and economic growth over the preservation of resources that they so desperately want to show off to the world? Do you think the model is sustainable, or not?