Crab Hatchery Learning Centre… Preservation for the Sea
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.
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 some 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 sea port 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 grammes 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 grammes 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.
A sizable budget is required, so the Manil family have opened a restaurant to bring in more income.
The stars of the menu, of course, are crab dishes 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 centre 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.
“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 centre 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 centres.
More hatcheries will ensure that crabs will always swim in Thai waters, just as the fishermen of Songkhla Lake have proved possible.