Lee Led Community

Leeled Community is a successful example of community-based tourism (CBT). Key success factors are local participation, step by step capacity building, multi-stakeholder supply chain partnerships, and responsiveness to market and community needs.

Leeled is a Thai coastal community located in Ban Don Bay, Surrathani, Southern Thailand. In 2003, this area was experiencing serious negative impacts as a result of extensive commercial shrimp farming causing destruction of mangrove forests, and over-fishing by trawlers. Unrestricted access to coastal areas, poor regulation and weak law enforcement were contributing towards the rapid depletion and destruction of coastal resources. Moreover, commercial trawlers were encroaching on the territory of local small fishers, reducing their catches and livelihoods security.

Leeled’s CBT project was initiated as a partnership between the EU – Royal Thai Fisheries Department CHARM project (Coastal Habitats and Resource Management) and the Responsible Ecological Social Tours Project (REST), a local Thai NGO which is recognised as one of Thailand’s foremost pioneers in community based tourism.


In early 2004, pursuing similar objectives in regard to sustainable natural resource management and participatory community development, CHARM and REST entered into a partnership to develop and implement CBT as a strategy to improve the sustainable co-management of coastal habitats and resources in the CHARM project areas of Phang Nga and Ban Don Bays, Southern Thailand. CBT in Leeled has developed into the most defining and important achievement of this partnership.

REST worked with community members to facilitate the establishment of Leeled Community Based Tourism for Coastal Conservation Group, and provided a holistic training package covering CBT development, management and marketing; guiding and hospitality; waste management and green product development. REST’s team also facilitated a historic partnership between Leeled CBT Group and the Australian small-group tour operator, Intrepid Travel, which lasted for 6 years and allowed the community to develop and hone their skills once per week, for 6 months per year.

Since 2004, Leeled has harnessed tourism for Coastal Resource Management: establishing and funding conservation zones and proactively monitoring over 1250 hectares of mangroves, including 445 hectares of new growth – equalling over one million new trees. CBT also built the capacity of community members, created income and jobs and supported local culture by reviving the lost tradition of Jungle Theatre.

In addition to food, homestay and activity costs, each visitor to Leeled pays 100 Baht into a community and conservation fund, which has so far raised well over 10,000 Euro, paying for hugely useful activities, such as establishing and monitoring a coastal conservation zone, sponsoring youth work and social welfare for community members. Funds are managed by community members, based on their priorities.

Leeled’s CBT program has been self-sufficient and sustainable for over 5 years, attracting over 7000 tourists and students. Moreover, Leeled has become a national and international study site for coastal conservation through tourism, attracting more than 30 educational institutions, from around Thailand, and around the world.


Concrete improvements have been achieved for the environment

A) Environment:

Mangrove Conservation

The most striking result of the project, which is now famous across Thailand, is the successful protection and restoration of Leeled’s mangrove system. At the start of the project, the CBT committee volunteers literally went out to sea and constructed a wall from bamboo posts, 1 km from the mangroves, to prevent illegal fishers from entering the conservation zone, and using trawling equipment which rips up the mangroves and destroys the breeding grounds for fish, shellfish, etc. Every day, until present, volunteers in the CBT Club have taken their boats out to monitor the wall, repair it and chase away illegal fishers as necessary, at significant personal risk.

As the conservation zone was established and monitored, the mangroves began to replenish naturally, as well as to increase in area. Year by year, visitors were more impressed as they took the CBT boat trip into the mangrove forest and learnt that this area had been revived and increased through the work of the villagers, and the moral and financial support of tourists enjoying the CBT program. As well as seeing new mangrove growth, tourists learned about local fishing practices, and why traditional fishing practices were more environmentally friendly than trawling.

By the time of writing, September 2011, the conservation zone has revived 5085 Rai or 813 hectares of pristine mangrove forest. It is estimated that over 1,000,000 new trees have grown in this area, as they have not been disturbed by large-scale fishing. An additional 2783 Rai or 445 hectares of completely new mangrove forest has grown inside the conservation zone. Amazingly, this has not required any tree planting – simply not disturbing the area. Thus, Leeled CBT for Coastal Conservation Group have become the stewards of over 1250 hectares of mangrove forest.


Increased fish catches due to a more pristine mangrove environment

Another direct result of a better protected mangrove environment is that this nursery for marine life has been able to perform its role in the ecosystem. The quantities of fish have increased. This has had a huge positive impact on the security of the small fishers of Leeled. It is very important that the poorest people in Leeled community, without the funds to buy their own seafaring boat, survive by fishing and foraging inside and close to the mangrove forests. These families were invited to join the CBT project in 2003 / 4, but many declined the offer because they were too poor to be able to share time to participate in the project activities. By 2005, small fishers (who do not use damaging fishing equipment) were benefiting from higher catches, meaning more income and more security for Leeled’s poorest citizens.

Table 1: Increase in catches – tones per year, Leeled Sub District, 2005 – 2011.

Year / type of fish 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011
Prawns for shrimp paste 978 1,085 1,245 1,128 1,098 1,022 1,460
Fish 68 73 78 80 74 76 75
Fresh water prawns 12 14 16 17 16 18 22
Crab 37 43 48 45 40 42 37
Total 1,095 1,215 1,387 1,270 1,228 1,158 1,594

Source: Leeled Sub-District Administration

Note: The area of mangroves has increased each year, and the positive effects of this can be observed between 2005 to the present. However, it must be noted that fluctuations in fish catches are also affected by the amount of rain each year, which changes the salinity of the water and thus makes the mouth of the Tapi river (where Leeled is located) a more or less appropriate environment for different marine life. For example, in 2011, there has been a lot of rain, making the water less saline, which is conducive to a high prawn catch, but not to crabs which prefer saltier water.


Take a look at this link… for an idea of how abundant the fish catches are now…


Waste Management

Tourism goes hand in hand with additional consumption and additional waste.

This issue is a problem in many other rural tourism destinations. However the REST team noted that the idea that waste is created by „outsiders‟ is often an obstacle to encouraging community members to take responsibility for waste management. Therefore, REST developed a specific strategy to catalyze waste awareness and management – at the whole community level – from the second year of the project.

Tourists receive advice about where to dispose of litter. Occupational groups have been assisted to use biodegradable packaging (e.g. palm and banana leaves).

In addition, Leeled has 2 areas which received special attention:

1) Commercial shrimp farms: Community rules were developed and are monitored by community members, forbidding commercial shrimp farmers from disposing of organic waste in the mangrove system or public waterways.

2) Household waste:

  • There committee which is responsible for campaigning for recycling. Wet waste is recycled as organic fertilizer and organic cleaning liquid. Dry waste is recycled. Waste which cannot be recycled is disposed of in the city, rather than throwing it in the canals, which used to happen.
  • Campaign to use less chemical fertilizers in local orchards.
  • Householders have been assisted to redirect black water away from the river and canals, for example through areas of coconut orchard.
  • Use of organic gas made from cattle stool.

Green Products

The REST team and Raks Thai Foundation assisted local community members to develop environmentally friendly products, which could be sold as souvenirs:

  • Products made from Nippa palm (which grows quickly and profusely), including bowels, picture frames, place and drinks mats;
  • Shrimp paste;
  • Coconut oil
  • Products from waste shells

B) Social and Cultural Benefits

New, transferable skills and knowledge through capacity building

  • Training have developed skills such as safety and hygiene, tour guiding and interpretation, hospitality, accounting, organizing tourism and study trips for tourists, students, and professionals on study trips;
  • Better understanding and community-wide commitment to follow fisheries laws and fish legally, including not using illegal equipment;
  • Communication skills learned by tour guides which are now enabling local people to represent themselves more successfully and access government support at district, provincial and national levels.
  • Local people know how to make their own organic fertilizers.

Attitudinal change among local fishers

Several new community committees have been established to restore the mangroves and protect the environment, as well as manage how community members can use the resources for their own benefit:

  • Leeled advisory council on coastal resource management;
  • Leeled Mangrove committee, responsible for protecting the mangroves and allow permission to use mangrove resources;
  • Forest conservation volunteers (funded now by the Thai military);
  • MCS Group (Monitoring, Control, Surveillance) to monitor the conservation zone and report / control illegal fishing activities;
  • Marine life conservation club.

The results of these initiatives are that Leeled’s fishers who used to use illegal fishing equipment have changed their behaviour, and changed their fishing equipment. The improvement in fish catches as a result of protecting the mangroves has been so clear that many have changed from illegal fishers to conservationists. They no longer catch small fish, but release them back to sea. Local fishers with seafaring boats fish 3000 metres away from the shore.

Access to better support from the Thai government

The popularity of Leeled has helped convince the Thai government of the potential of CBT and allocate more resources to Leeled. Including:

  • Project to develop the capacity of the village – provincial level;
  • The Leeled Sub District Administrative Organisation (SAO)
  • The Provincial Administrative Organisation (PAO)
  • The Provincial Office for Human Development
  • The Provincial Tourism Office – through providing complementary booths for Leeled’s CBT project at provincial and national fairs and organising study tours to learn about successful CBT development.

Revival of Traditional Culture – Regae Pa – Jungle Theatre

This traditional performance had almost died out. Its revival was suggested as one of Leeled’s ‘Good Things’ by elderly performers who wanted local youth to retain this dance performance. As a result, more than 30 local youth have joined in and learned about ‘regae pa’ performance. 3 local youth members have joined the senior troupe and practice regularly. Hundreds of tourists and visitors have enjoyed the performance, and some have even joined in. Leeled’s Jungle Theatre has also been filmed by Thai TV documentaries.


C) Economic Benefits

Tourism contributes between 10 and 30% increase in income to 40 active community members, as well as generating funds to support environmental and social work.

Table 2: income from community based tourism in Leeled community, Surrathani

Year Income Thai Baht Income EUR
2005 256,141 6247
2006 734,428 17913
2007 956,054 23318
2008 649,120 15832
2009 1,082,548 26404
2010 763,364 18619
2011 442,621 10796

In addition to direct income for participating community members, each visitor to Leeled contributes 100 Thai Baht (about 2.5 EUR) to the community and environment fund. Each year, the CBT committee is allowed to use 50% of this income, as follows:

  • 40% Used to support community institutions in the 8 villages of Leeled Sub District – e.g. local school, temples, health clinics
  • 20% Environmental conservation and management
  • 20% Revolving soft loan fund for CBT group members;
  • 20% Welfare for CBT group members;

Activities sponsored by the CBT group between 2009 and 2011 (Thai Baht) include:

  • March 2009: Donation to Children’s Day in 3 local schools: 1,500 THB
  • April 2009: Buy nippa palm leaves for youth project: 300 THB
  • August 2009: Support drinks for Buddhist festival: 1,500 THB
  • August 2009: Support local school maintenance: 2000 THB
  • August 2009: Support school maintenance: 3000 THB
  • November 2009: Support school maintenance: 4000 THB
  • April 2010: Support tree planting project in the province: 3200 THB
  • August 2010: Scholarship for students at the local school: 2000 THB
  • February 2011: Sponsor youth study of mangroves in 4 villages: 2000 THB
  • February 2011: Support youth study in additional villages: 2000 THB
  • February 2011: Sponsor Mangrove planting activities in village 4: 10,000 THB

The Leeled Welfare Fund can be used by CBT Club members as follows:

  • Health – contribute 300 Baht / 2 times per person / per year
  • Funeral contributions

The community also have an additional conservation area where shellfish began to breed in large numbers after mangrove conservation began to succeed. The CBT committee decided to use the income from selling these shellfish to fund community development activities across the sub-district, in order that all local people would feel that they were benefitting from the work of the CBT club. This money is used based on the decision of village leaders from the villages in the sub-district.