Vancouver Sun

Alberta couple works to preserve Thai beach

- 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.
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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