Thai wellness resort Chiva-Som has launched a pioneering project to preserve mangroves.
Demonstrating ways in which hotels and resorts can work for sustainable destinations and preserve the environment for future generations of travellers, the Mangrove Ecosystem Preservation & Science Education Centre ‘Krailart Niwate” is a major environmental conservation project preserving the last remaining urban mangrove ecosystem in Hua Hin, Thailand.
Located in the Khao Klailart mangrove, two kilometres south of the resort, the project is the culmination of many years of research, investment, construction and replanting. Phase 1 opened to the public in December 2015.
Chiva-Som also recognises the importance of collaboration with the local community. Working with local inhabitants and scientists, academics and students of Silpakorn University , the project aims to promote a scientific understanding and appreciation of nature, and is the first ‘green’ ecotourism education centre in the region. The reconstructed wetland project supports improvement of municipal waste water quality under the advisory of a mangrove specialist at the Thailand Environmental Institute .
Over 2,000 mangrove seedlings of indigenous species have been planted in the forest, and the reforestation activities are continuing throughout this year. The resort sponsored the construction of a 1,000 meter elevated interpretive boardwalk throughout the mangrove as an ecotourism education centre to attract tourists and raise awareness of the importance of mangrove ecosystems and their role, and to maintain and protect the species diversity of plants and wildlife. They are supporting ongoing research activities with an investment of THB 7 million (GBP 135,000). The mangrove project won ‘1st Place in Sustainable Development in Tourism for Coastal Preservation at the Skål International Awards 2014’.
The resort has acted as ‘steward’ of the mangrove since 2007, leading rehabilitation projects and rubbish clean-ups and conducting mangrove reforestation. The team has also organised annual study camps to help local students gain first-hand knowledge of mangrove ecosystems, as well as other environmental issues including climate change and environmental degradation caused by human activity and commercial development. Recognised as Junior Ambassadors, the students learn about the symbiotic relationship between plants, animals and water, helping them to understand the stability and fragility of the ecosystem, and develop respect for nature. The new Mangrove Ecosystem & Science Education Centre project is a natural extension of these activities.
It highlights a report out today in which the Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe claimed healthy mangroves could help curb climate change. Citing a government project to protect mangroves, he said, "Mangroves swiftly absorb carbon dioxide and inject oxygen into the atmosphere, maintaining an ecological balance vital for the environment.”
The next phase of the Chiva-Som project is the construction of an education centre which begins in 2017. The Silpakorn University Faculty of Architecture designed the carbon neutral structure as a showcase for sustainable design and construction, incorporating LEED  principles for certification with solar power for electricity generation. As well as being open to the general public, the centre will invite schools to observe science presentations by university professors and other experts on a regular basis, with the objective of promoting science learning at an early age. In Thailand many underprivileged schools have one generalist teacher covering four or five subjects a day, so by exposing the children to professors the aim is to motivate younger students to study in university. The entire project including the Science Education Centre is budgeted for THB 20 million (GBP 390,000) and will be launched later in 2017.
Commenting on the project and Chiva-Som’s approach to responsible business and sustainable destinations, a spokesperson said, “At Chiva-Som, we believe that a strong commitment to sustainability is required to compete in today’s increasingly globalised world, and good CSR practices should not be about how a company donates funds on philanthropic efforts, but rather how it generates revenue through responsible and ethical business practices, policies and initiatives to help grow and sustain our business while providing direct benefit to our stakeholders, ie. our staff, our guests, the local community and the environment.
“We also believe personal wellness goes hand in hand with environmental wellness, and we are committed to nurturing a healthy, safe and vibrant community to help sustain our organisation and grow into the future with a socially responsible and environmentally conscious approach.”
The resort notes that tourists often overlook the fact that the travel and tourism industry inherently has a substantial effect on the environment. As the industry expands with more travelers visiting more destinations, energy and natural resources are being consumed at greater rates with a growing waste footprint. For long-term sustainability, these issues could be the most important aspects to address for the survival and development of the industry.
Fortunately as awareness raises, more companies are making their business decisions based on the ‘Quadruple Bottom Line’; Financial Sustainability, Environmental Preservation, Socio-cultural Development and Community Wellness.
Chiva-Som believes the travel and tourism industry needs to remain vigilant of the effects it has on the local environment, as well as the atmosphere. They suggest energy and natural resource audits of hotel operations should be undertaken to determine exactly where these resources are being utilised, and how to implement new efficient technologies and conservation measures. They note that building retrofits have proven to significantly reduce resource consumption, carbon emissions and operating costs of existing operations with often shorter than expected payback periods. To augment energy and waste reduction efforts, they believe it is imperative to engage staff and travelers through in-house awareness raising initiatives to secure their collective commitment.
Picking up on the sustainable destination theme and highlighting it as sound business sense, Chiva-Som say, “Businesses should consider adopting and preserving local ecosystems that could be threatened by expanding commercial development. Adopting such ecosystems actually promotes and develops ecotourism in the area thereby attracting more environmentally conscious tourists to the region.”
Highlighting the need for all destination stakeholders to be involved they say, “While the private sector has the responsibility of sustainable development of the travel and tourism industry, it is vital to engage local stakeholders as well as travelers to appreciate nature and to understand how to coexist with it rather than control it.”