Livelihood Transitions and Changes of Sea Nomads or Urak Lawoi Fisher-folk in response to Tourism on Lipe Island, Andaman Sea, Southern Thailand

  •  Pilaiwan Prapruit    
  •  Buncha Somboonsuke    
  •  Ayut Nissapa    
  •  Magnus Torell    


The Urak Lawoi fishing community on Lipe Island, Andaman Sea in Southern Thailand have faced challenges in the transition of livelihood patterns as well as from other changes due to rapid development of tourism sector on the island. This study aimed to investigate the transitions at the island and the changes to the Urak Lawoi community by employing a qualitative approach. Data collection was designed to analyze level and patterns of livelihood transitions and changes to the Urak Lawoi using field observation, interviews, and structured questionnaires. A total of 128 Urak Lawoi households were approached and engaged in formal interviews. Data obtained were analysed using descriptive statistics. Historical evidence revealed that the Urak Lawoi were the first inhabitants of the Lipe Island located just on the Thai side of the national border between Thailand and Malaysia. Looking back, there are four main periods affecting the lives and livelihood of the Urak Lawoi on the island; 1) first actual settlement of the Urak Lawoi on the island (at around 1897); 2) changes in social structure and decentralization that emerged in the period after the second World War; 3) intensive tourism on the island that followed major tourist promotions in the early 2000’s; and 4) present stage with increased competition over resources and space. Tourism development affected in many ways on livelihood of the Urak Lawoi. Some impacts are more visible while other impacts are more difficult to distinguish. Among the obvious negative impacts there were an increase in sewage accumulation, poor relationship with park officials, and drug addiction among youths. Impacts defined as positive included improved convenience of travel to the mainland, increases in income and (material) benefits, and more occupation opportunities in tourism-related enterprises.

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