Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Mergui Archipelago

The Mergui Archipelago (also Myeik Archipelago) is an archipelago in far southern Myanmar (Burma). It consists of more than 800 islands, varying in size from very small to hundreds of square kilometres, all lying in the Andaman Sea off the western shore of the Malay Peninsula near its landward (northern) end where it joins the rest of Indochina. Occasionally the islands are referred to as the Pashu Islands because the Malay inhabitants are locally called Pashu. A five-star casino and golf resort, the Andaman Club now operates on Thahtay Kyun Island.

Geologically, the islands are characterized mainly by limestone and granite. They are as a general rule covered with thick tropical growth, including rainforest, and their shorelines are punctuated by beaches, rocky headlands, and in some places, mangrove swamps. Offshore are extensive coral reefs.

The archipelago's virtual isolation from most of mankind's unwholesome influence on the natural environment has given the islands and the surrounding waters of the Andaman Sea a great diversity of flora and fauna, contributing to the region's growing popularity as a diving destination.

On the islands themselves, various animals thrive, including deer, elephants, monkeys, tigers and wild swine. There are even unconfirmed reports of Sumatran rhinoceros on Lampi, one of the bigger islands.

Environmental threats to the region include overfishing and also blast fishing. Burma's current military government, the "State Peace and Development Council", has not done much to deal with these problems

The local people are an ethnic minority called the Moken, sometimes known as sea Gypsies, although this term actually covers several groups in Southeast Asia. They are a sea-dwelling people and they follow a traditional way of life, doing things such as fishing and building boats very much the way they have been done for centuries. They can be found living on their traditional boats during the dry season, but usually keep to land in the rainy season.

The area was only opened up to foreign tourism in 1997 after negotiations between Burma and dive operators from Phuket in Thailand. The archipelago's isolation is such that much of it has not even yet been thoroughly explored.

Owing to the archipelago's remoteness, a liveaboard cruise is the only way for visitors to go diving in areas with names such as Big Bank, Rainbow Reef or Silvertip Bank. Some islands have huge boulders, soft corals and sea fans. Others offer wall diving, caverns, tunnels and drop-offs.

Dive sites such as Shark Cave feature grey reef, bull, nurse and whale sharks. Black Rock has manta rays and schools of mobula (devil) rays. Photographers are attracted by frogfish, ghost pipefish, ribbon eels and cowries as well as many crustaceans such as lobsters, crabs, and shrimps.

The best diving conditions exist from December to April, with whale sharks and manta rays visiting from February to May.

Mergui Archipelago

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

No comments: