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Pandemic respite for Thai 'sea gypsies' curbed by mass tourism November 23,2020   |  Source: AFP

Coronavirus has wrought havoc across the world, but for Thailand's "sea gypsies" it has brought welcome respite from the threat of mass tourism.

Since the pandemic began, life has been easier for Sanan Changnam and his people -- there's an abundance of fish to eat and real estate projects on their ancestral land in the tourist hotspot of Phuket have come to a standstill.

In the turquoise waters of the Andaman Sea, connected to the surface by a slender pipe stuck in his mask -- a "thread of life" allowing him to breathe -- Sanan stalks fish and shellfish, spear in hand.

A few kicks of his flippers and he skewers three groupers before rising to the surface.

With Thailand closed to foreign visitors for the past eight months, tourist boats have been stuck at the quay and fishing has been easier for the Chao Lay, or "people of the sea".

"We don't dive as deep as before, so it's less dangerous," Sanan, 42, tells AFP. His ancestors, former nomads who came from Indonesia nearly 300 years ago, took a spit of land in Rawai, a beach in the south of Phuket, long before the island became one of the country's most popular destinations.

More than nine million visitors came to Phuket in 2019 and the boom has had a huge impact, bringing declining fish stocks, shrinking fishing


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