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Phuket: Guide de la Plongée en Thailande

Articles

Par Collin Piprell.  Photographies par Ashley J. Boyd
Autres articles: Richesse Thaï, Destinations Favorites

Rencontres

diver and whalesharkDive the clear as crystal waters of the Andaman Sea and see more and bigger sea-life, more live-aboards, faster boats, safer diving and new environmental measures. Phuket is the main base from which, in 1998, an estimated 250,000 divers and snorkellers set out to explore the coral reefs of the Andaman Sea. What makes this area so popular?

There are dozens of scenic island destinations within range of daytrips and liveaboard cruises from Phuket. Daytrips and shorter liveaboards, weather permitting, are possible all year long. During the peak season, comfortable liveaboards with great food and expert supervision roam from four days up to two weeks to exotic destinations such as the Similan Islands (which enjoy the reputation of being among the world's top ten diving destinations) and the Hin Daeng area of Trang province. A number of first rate dive shops offer affordable scuba accreditation all the way from absolute beginner up to master instructor.

What better souvenir than an Open Water ticket as a scuba diver? Or, if you're already qualified, a specialty course such as Underwater Photography?

Competition for the best big-sea-life site

Annually, for several years now and for reasons that remain unclear, local divers have been reporting more and more encounters with large marine life, especially whale sharks and mantas. A new twist this past season: as many reports of whale sharks have come out of live-aboards down to Hin Daeng, in Trang province, as there have been from Richelieu Rock, which has in the past been the most reliable hunting ground.

Ups and downs in the Similans

Whale shark sighting are up again this year in the Phuket area, but some operators report somewhat fewer in the Similans (not a prime area for spotting them at the best of times). At the same time, however, bowmouth guitarfish and manta ray encounters were up.

Beginner's luck?

Scuba Cruiser, Patong-based Scuba Cat's new speedboat, spotted six mantas on her maiden daytrip from Phuket to Hin Daeng.

Hanging offences

Like whale sharks, manta rays are gentle giants, plankton
feeders and harmless to diversSometimes you encounter manta rays that have picked up fishing lines or nets. Since a manta can only swim forward, these lines can eventually saw into the flesh, even amputating a proboscis, for example. Mark and Suzanne from Fantasea Divers found one specimen with line wrapped around its mouth, unable to feed. They managed to get either side of the creature and cut the line free.

On another occasion, about two years ago, a Phuket-based boat witnessed a day-boat full of snorkellers our from Tap Lamu tail-roping a young whale shark of 3.5 or 4m in length. The unfortunate animal was then dragged in alongside the boat so snorkellers could swim around it and take pictures. After a time, it was cut loose. One of the friendliest of the local giants already had good reason to steer clear of human beings in future.

Then, this past season, a whale shark only slightly longer was seen with a noose cutting into the flesh around its tail. Some months later, a similar shark was spotted way south of there on Hin Daeng, swimming erratically due to a noose biting deep into its tail. The animal (or animals) in question will eventually die as a result. A note for divers: treat whale sharks and mantas with respect, and don't hitch rides on them. It's a good policy not to touch them at all. Unless you see one that has run afoul of ropes or lines - then you should try to cut it free.

Up periscopes!

A BBC video team that spent three weeks with a South East Asia Divers liveaboard boat in the Andaman Islands got lots of footage of mantas doing aquabatics, as well as huge schools of dolphins at play. But they were to encounter even more exotic marine life. For three days they had elephants swimming around the boat. From the surface, all you could see were their trunks, protruding from the water much like the periscopes on submarines.

Rare souvenir ("Wanna see my scar?")

A few years back, a diver with an M/V Fantasea live-aboard cruise entered the water while a pod of pseudorcas (false killer whales) were hunting a school of three of four sailfish. One of the sailfish panicked and, in seeking a way out of the encircling pseudorcas, speared the diver three times with its bill, piercing colon and thigh and leaving her seriously injured.

Following first aid from an American doctor who happened to be on the boat, and two weeks of treatment at the Bangkok Phuket Hospital, she recovered and has expressed appreciation for the professionalism of both the hospital's and Fantasea Diver's staff. We must emphasize that this was a freak accident, possibly even a unique occurrence. Moral of the story: never corner a wild animal, no matter how benign you think it might be.

Other dimensions

Neudibranchs - shell-less snails - come in a bewildering 
variety of colours and shapes"We've been seeing more and more big stuff," says Matthew Hedrick, "but we've had excellent "critter diving" as well." M/V Sai Mai, one of Matthew's live-aboard vessels, has regularly visited one coral head off the Surins, for instance, where they've consistently found a red frogfish and up to four unusually large ghost pipefish, all within a few feet of each other. "We have one of the best, possible the best area in the world for encounters with whale sharks and other big animals such as mantas." So says Mark Strickland, underwater photographer and cruise leader with Fantasea Divers. "And now we have divers arriving with a mind set such that, if they don't see a whale shark, they're disappointed. But this ignores the many fascinating smaller attractions.


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