By Manish Chandi
Samit, yes this is thought provoking, but for those of us who were witness to Burmese poaching more than a decade ago, and then the operation leach, there were definitely many numbers of poachers even then...only fewer coast guard, police or naval vessels...and that too those which couldn't approach shore due to foreshore reefs. So in effect, the number of Burmese(or even Thai fishermen, who used to frequent the islands for fish and saltwater crocodiles,
though today the Thai's have reduced their visits) In those days and even before the police didn't have any sea worthy boats, ...they had to hire them/dinghies from fishermen, and also deal with the lack of diesel availability which was a scarce good, and that which in turn had to be poached off STS buses, and the like. Then there were nexuses between police personnel, local poachers/local smugglers and Burmese (there are many murky stories there)...so not many got caught. During previous surveys across the islands where i was also present, we would come across poachers who had fished, gone back and come back again in the same season....only the anti-poaching operations were non existent, and more over lacked infrastructure...(many a tale that can be told in private here).The toll that these poachers have had on the reefs is something that hasn't been understood biologically as yet..sea cucumbers help generate 'clean' sand, and
this could have a more indirect effect on 'sandy white beaches'...that i myself am unaware of, and thus ignorant about then to claim any further effect on tourism.
You have mentioned that this was traditional territory to collect marine produce for centuries. Any references to this effect will be useful. As far as i am aware, this has not been a traditional territory and that too in such large numbers, as Burmese began coming to the islands in motorized dinghies only mid-1970's...thats about the time when Karens also began motorizing dinghies
with kirloskar engines in the islands. Burmese did come to the islands in row boats and sailed over infrequently in the British days, to trade and collect. In any case, by being a stickler in this instance on property rights, how about the islanders from whose reefs Burmese 'traditionally' collected produce from ??..anyway, consider this argument for arguments sake. There are
references to Chinese junks and Malay pirates who came for 'beche de mer' and swiftlet nests etc, but obviously in much far less numbers. I would be happy to know of any references you may
have on this ancient trade of 'centuries'.Today, of course, there's no doubt that Police Interceptor boats, the Coast Guard, the Navy and the like's of Mr Sawless Xess have taken a toll on Burmese incursions...additionally the media has become vigilant, and the defence forces and police are happy to announce their success at anti poaching operations which needs to be lauded, given it's virtual non existence some years ago.