Save Them…and Save Us: Fulbright’s Call to Everyone
Published Date : Jun 27, 2019
‘SAVE THEM..AND SAVE US: FULBRIGHT’S CALL TO EVERYONE’
Speech by Mr. Weerapong Laovechprasit
2019 Fulbright Thai Graduate Scholarship (TGS) Grantee
Vithes Samosorn, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Bangkok
June 7, 2019
Good evening distinguished guests, ladies, and gentlemen. Thank you very much for this honor.
My name is Weerapong Laovechprasit. I am a son of the fruit seller in a small fresh market in Rayong city, which is my hometown. It takes only 10 minutes by cycling to the beach of the Eastern Gulf of Thailand. So, since I was little, my mom and I would often go to the beach to refresh and recharge our life batteries whenever we felt exhausted and that made me gradually fall in love with the ocean breeze and marine creatures, especially dolphins -the oceanic icon.
Three years ago, I became a marine veterinarian at the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources. My patients were all endangered marine creatures ranging from tiny hatchling sea turtles to gigantic baleen whale. My responsibility was to treat them when they were sick, injured, or stranded either on the beach or in the ocean. I also had to work with fresh carcasses, stinky decomposed carcasses, and other remains through necropsy and histopathology to investigate the causes of their death. Until now, people always ask me “Do we have marine mammals in Thai ocean?” …The answer is ”ABSOLUTELY YES!”
Thailand’s ocean is extremely diverse. Technically, we have 28 species of marine mammals in our ocean. In fact, most people do not even know that we have dolphin and whale in Bangkok water too. Not only one but a family of sixty Bryde’s whale has been living in the Upper Gulf of Thailand for 300 years. More importantly, not many people are aware that, every year, Thailand loses more than 500 endangered marine animals. Considering the current situation, such number makes me feel frustrated. It was sadly because thirty percent of them died from anthropogenic activities – the entanglement in fishing gear and the consumption of plastic waste such as plastic bags, daily-used product packages, straws and even rubber bands. In addition to that, approximately 70 percent of the cases cannot receive the definitive diagnosis due to the lack of marine mammal pathologist and specialized diagnosticians in Thailand.
In my part, as a 2019 Fulbrighter, I am going to pursue my Ph.D. in veterinary pathology at University of Georgia, specializing in marine mammal pathology and diagnosis. My goal is to study Morbillivirus from the same viral family that causes Measle disease in human. In dolphin and whale, this Morbillivirus could spread in a devastating manner throughout the world resulting in massive stranded endangered animals in many continents. My research is also to find the best and fastest way to diagnose the disease and ultimately stop this epidemic spread of this virus.
Aside from being a proud Fulbrighter I have a humble request. As a veterinarian, an environmentalist, and a person, at this very moment, in this room, we are seriously confronting biodiversity collapse and species extinction. Countless species have gone extinct within the past decades. Nowadays, we have only 22 freshwater Irrawaddy dolphins left in Songkhla Lake, the only one place in Thailand that freshwater mammals can survive, and the number has gradually been decreased every year. Indeed, we all have a role in this phenomenon considering that a number of marine animals died as a consequence of our activities. I, therefore, wish to urge every single one of us to “Do Something” – do something within your capability. With minimal effort, we can manage the amount of waste we produce by reducing what is produced and consumed, reusing everyday items, and recycling materials. I believe the hope is in our hands, “To save them and save us”. Last but not least, I would like to sincerely thank you to Fulbright Thailand, the selection committee, and the Board of Directors for the exceptional opportunity. I am honored to be part of this remarkable family.