Al­berta cou­ple works to pre­serve Thai beach

Vancouver Sun - - Travel - BY YVONNE JEF­FERY

Julie Seibt, her hus­band, Ken, and their fam­ily were caught in the 2004 tsunami that swept through South­east Asia. But they got in­volved with the re­con­struc­tion in Thai­land, es­tab­lish­ing the Build a Boat Re­lief Fund to help lo­cal fish­er­men re­build or re­place boats de­stroyed in the waves. And now, they’ve fallen in love with a 700- me­tre stretch of beach half a world from their home in Cal­gary.

You might think that’s a big bonus for the Seibts — sun and sand, af­ter all, sound pretty good to those of us head­ing into a Cana­dian win­ter. But it’s also a big bonus for Koh Jum, the is­land off Thai­land’s south­ern coast to which the Seibts have moved.

They’ve sold their Can­more home and are now res­i­dents on a 6.4- hectare piece of beach­front prop­erty that’s go­ing to look a lot more nat­u­ral and a lot less pop­u­lated, be­cause of their ef­forts.

Seibt says they moved to Thai­land with the goal to pre­serve the beach­front be­fore it’s too late.

“ On an is­land un­touched by elec­tric­ity or mass tourism, this beach — with its rich coastal for­est — was slated for de­vel­op­ment and a 350- room ho­tel,” she says in an e- mail.

Not any­more. Her hus­band Ken has es­tab­lished Koh Jum Beach Vil­las, a de­vel­op­ment that will put 27 2,000- square- me­tre lots on the beach, walk­ing the fine line be­tween mak­ing the land’s pur­chase pos­si­ble and pre­serv­ing its ecol­ogy.

Seat­tle- based Jeff Di­et­rich has joined the cou­ple in Thai­land, of­fer­ing years of trop­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence and a de­gree in en­vi­ron­men­tal science to en­sure the project fol­lows en­vi­ron­men­tally aware prin­ci­ples. He of­fers a glimpse of what makes this project spe­cial.

“ Ken and Julie . . . fell in love with the peo­ple and the is­land and came back with the idea to buy a small piece of land to make a home,” he says. “ This stretch of beach was avail­able, al­though a de­posit was al­ready in the works ( but not paid) from a Scan­di­na­vian de­vel­oper that wanted to put in a high- den­sity tourist project that would have eco­log­i­cally se­verely com­pro­mised it. Ken in­vited friends and fam­ily to pool re­sources to­gether in or­der to save this stretch of beach and de­velop it mind­fully.”

The is­sue, says Di­et­rich, is that un­de­vel­oped beach land in Thai­land is be­com­ing scarce. Twothirds of this stretch of beach was a l re a dy b e i n g fa r m e d w i t h co­conuts and cashews. The rest was a rare out­post of un­de­vel­oped coastal beach for­est, full of in­dige­nous na­tive trees, shrubs and plants. But with the beach lo­cated in a com­mer­cially zoned area, the fu­ture didn’t look es­pe­cially eco- friendly.

“ The goal of the de­vel­op­ment is that low- den­sity vil­las will be placed in park- like open spa­ces,” he says. “ From a boat on the sea you should only be able to catch h i d d e n g l i m p s e s o f v i l l a s amongst the for­est.”

B u t t h i s c a m e w i t h s o m e is­sues.

“ The lo­cal sur­veyor who came from Krabi left af­ter 10 min­utes and com­plained that we hadn’t bull­dozed the prop­erty be­fore his ar­rival and that he couldn’t do the sur­vey­ing,” says Di­et­rich. “ We had to dis­cuss ex­ten­sively with the lo­cal of­fi­cials our vi­sion of pre­serv­ing the ex­ist­ing trees.”

Ad­di­tional eco- friendly fea­tures in­clude mulching in­stead of burn­ing or­ganic mat­ter, such as fallen leaves and co­conuts, grow­ing lo­cal plants in their own nurs­ery, and us­ing a sol­vent- and pes­ti­cide- free wood preser­va­tive. The de­vel­op­ment is fol­low­ing lo­cal cus­toms, such as start­ing con­struc­tion only dur­ing spe­cific phases of the moon and build­ing only odd num­bers of stairs.

JEFF DI­ET­RICH/ CNS

Or­ganic ma­te­rial such as these co­conut husks is shred­ded and turned into mulch and com­post in­stead of be­ing burned.

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