Aquatic Animal Hatchery Learning Center
Songkhla Lake, Thailand’s largest lake, is a vital resource for communities in the area. It covers an area of 974 square kilometres, measuring 20 kilometres from east to west and 75 kilometres from north to south. The basin around the lake covers an area of 1,040 square kilometres.
Songkhla Lake was once renowned for the abundance of its aquatic creatures, with over 700 species of fish, shrimps, crabs and so on. The economic foundations that helped to sustain over 150 communities living around it.
Fishery statistics show that in the past decade, the number of crabs has continued to decline since overfishing didn’t allow nature sufficient time to replenish itself. Rules and regulations weren’t strictly enforced since crabs were an important economic catch. Ten years ago, a kilogram of blue swimming crab cost 90 baht. Now a kilogram bought at a fishing boat is 350 baht (three to four crabs), and the price shoots up to 500 baht-per-kilogram at the market. It’s alarming to consider what would have happen if the condition of the lake was allowed to worsen and the number of fish and crabs continued to diminish. Not only would the fishermen’s livelihood be at risk, the future of their offspring would have been in danger too.
That was the turning point for Anan Manil, Chairman of P. Sap-anan Traditional Fishermen Group, and his friends.
P.Sap-anan Traditional Fishermen Group was formed with 200 fishermen who relied on traditional fishing gear and who lived in Singhanakhon, Sathing Phra and Ranot districts. Anan serves as the president of the group.
Initially, the group used the same system as any other crab banks: Members would bring female crabs with eggs spilling out from their ovaries to the group where the eggs are “stirred”. Later the group trains the members to stir the eggs by themselves and donate them to the group for hatching. The juvenile crabs will be released back into the sea.
The idea is to “deposit” natural assets with nature for them to grow. They will soon return as “interest” for the fishermen.
Initially, the villagers adapted the experience from shrimp farming to the crab nursery, such as filtering coastal water, sterilisation and hatchery. But new knowledge has greatly improved the survival rate of the crabs. The stirred eggs are now hatched in a pool of high-quality saltwater collected from the sea around 10 kilometres from the shore, with 28-34 ppt level; unlike filtered coastal water, it has no sediments. After a period in the nursery, juvenile crabs are released into the sea far from the shore where the ppt level is suitable for their adaptation. The result is a higher rate of survival, meanwhile, the fishermen receive a first-hand education on the biology of the crabs during each stage in its life.
Recognising the determination and early success of the project, PTTEP, who has developed a seaport and storage facility base to support the company’s petroleum exploration and production projects in Singhanakhon district, Songkhla, supported P.Sap-anan Crab Bank’s development into the full-scale Learning Centre and Crab Hatchery Ban Hua Khao by building a two-storey building for the group. The upper floor houses a workshop, while the lower floor is a living exhibition space, together with a hatchery and a nursery. Visitors will learn about the process from the hatchery with living creatures.
In just one night of the process at a hatchery, it produces an enormous number of crabs. Each day the fishermen catch 10 to 50 female crabs of different species such as blue swimming crabs, musk crabs and three-spot swimming crabs. A female crab weighing 100 to 200 grams lays 700,000 to one million eggs. The healthier the crab is, the healthier her eggs are, with the ratio of hatching at around 600,000. A female crab weighing 200 to 300 grams lays 1.8 million eggs, with the hatching ratio of one million. This estimate is based on folk wisdom which is adapted in conjunction with academic research.
Even though the Learning Centre is supported by various organisations, the villagers still need to sustain its operation by themselves. A sizable budget is required, so the Manil family has opened a restaurant to bring in more income. The signature dish, of course, is crab cooked by Krasuay Manil, Anan’s wife. Besides nutritional and culinary benefits, the restaurant also aims to build a spirit of conservation among customers. Before sitting down for a meal customers are taken on a tour of the center to learn about the creatures’ life cycle and the need for long-term preservation. It is a small gesture, but it can contribute a great benefit in the future.
When any organisation asks for baby crabs to be released, the Learning Centre doesn’t give them unconditionally.
“If we give them out without asking for anything in return, they won’t realise the value of the crabs. We’re not a standard crab bank where members simply deposit female crabs in a nursery tank and let the hatching happen naturally. We run this place as a learning center to understand the biological process and try to spread that knowledge. Each month, 10 to 20 agencies in the southern region, all the way down to Pattani, approach us and ask for juvenile crabs to be released, and each time we give as many as 500,000. But before that, we want to instill an understanding of conservation among those who are about to release the crabs, because every single juvenile crab is important.”
What Chamnan means is more than protection of marine resources.
“I once protested against PTTEP projects. But the company was ready to listen and cooperate with the villagers for the benefit of the country. My family has a better living from our efforts to replenish the abundance of the sea. When we go out to sea, we return with crabs and bring more income. The difference is obvious. Before, the fishing season started at the end of June and continued until early October. But today, because of the increasing number of crabs, fishermen can bring their boats out from February to October.” Anan Manil, as president of P.Sap-anan Traditional Fishermen Group, asks us to look back at the past and how the success of the present came about.
Meanwhile, PTTEP trusts in the commitment of the villagers. It has also set a long-term goal that in five years, the Crab Hatchery Learning Centre at Ban Hua Khao will cement its operation and philosophy to become a model from which know-how and expertise can spread to smaller crab banks that have the potential to develop into learning centers. More hatcheries will ensure that crabs will always swim in Thai waters, just as the fishermen of Songkhla Lake have proved possible.
Currently, PTTEP implements this project in collaboration with public sector and academic institutions, including the Department of Fisheries, the Department of Marine ad Coastal Resources, as well as local administrative organizations, to work towards the goal of comprehensive conservation of marine resources for the future, and continue to sustainably create value for the communities.
To date, the Project has won more than 12 world-class CSR awards.
Since 2020, PTTEP has implemented the Aquatic Animal Hatchery Learning Center Project by applying the technological expertise in systemizing and standardizing the hatching knowledge for local fishermen's networks as well as deploys renewable energy technology, planning to expand to 17 provinces in the Gulf of Thailand. Five learning centers have also been established in Songkhla, Pattani and Nakhon Si Thammarat province. In addition, the project supports a network of 33 marine and coastal resources conservation groups, with a total of 1,600 members and also contributes to the establishment of 25 conservation lines, covering a total area of 18 square kilometers, and continues to provide knowledge on crab hatchery.
In 2020, more than 13,000 visitors visit the Learning Centers. The fishermen's revenue is increased to Thai Baht 57,000 or USD 1,900 per household per year. About 200-400 million juvenile crabs have been released back to nature each year.
PTTEP has carried out analysis on Social Return on Investment (SROI) of this project by measuring the social impact of the program with the financial quantification calculation (monetization). This method is intended to measure the value of the financial impact of the program that compares to the value of the impact to the cost of the program that has been invested into.
It appears that the value of the SROI ratio is 2.29: 1