Par Collin Piprell. Photographies
par Ashley J. Boyd
Autres articles: Richesse Thaï,
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
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.
Scuba Cruiser, Patong-based Scuba Cat's new speedboat,
spotted six mantas on her maiden daytrip from Phuket to
Sometimes 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.
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
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
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
"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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