For centuries the Moken, or Sea Gipy’s, roamed the islands, worshipping spirits and reciting long epics of a mythical past. They collected mollusks, crabs and sea cucumbers, speared fish, hunted and dove deep to find valuable pearl oysters.
Today, about 2,000 Moken are believed to inhabit the archipelago, significantly reduced through migration, intermarriage with Burmese and deaths of males from rampant alcohol and drug abuse.
Tania Miorin, who manages an environmental and tourism project in the village and Lampi Island Marine Park, said the key challenge is to protect the environment and maintain traditions while providing income to local people.
“We are trying to educate the local people about the environment and the benefits tourism can have but you have to give them incentives to protect the park.”
The project, run by the Italian group Instituto Oikos, includes the development of eco-tourism, putting a draft management plan into practice and training park staff.
Lampi Island, Myanmar’s first and only marine park and the size of Phuket, is a “Lost World” of thick forests, the region’s best mangrove forests and an abundance of wildlife including Hornbills, pythons and flying foxes. Heading across the island’s protected waters we witness a giant black Manta Ray leap out of the water.
On our final full day we head south, stopping at the stunning Pho Ni Island for the best snorkelling yet and Red Monkey Island for a refreshing swim.