Mergui Archipelago and Burma Banks
If you were to ask a sample of dive guides working in the Andaman Sea, which scuba destination they thought was the best in the region, the Mergui Archipelago or Thailand's top diving destination the Similan Islands, 75% of respondents would say the Mergui, and maybe 25% the Similans. However, about half would probably say they didn't know because they have never been to Burma! Myanmar is that kind of place. Read on for details of the dive sites you can explore from our Burma liveaboard cruises.
Comprising some 800 islands north and east of Burma Banks, the Mergui Archipelago is the secret jewel in the Andaman Sea. Some islands have huge boulders, soft corals and sea fans. Others offer wall diving, caverns, tunnels and drop-offs. All have remained relatively untouched by the passage of time these last fifty years, and they maintain a out-of-this-world mystique of years gone by. When voyaging on a Burma diving liveaboard you really can forget your worries, on a journey of discovery, unhurried by time and untroubled by others, as you explore these fascinating and secluded islands.
Residents and visitors include grey reef, bull, nurse and whale sharks; schools of mobula (devil) rays and manta rays are frequently seen. The Mergui Archipelago, however, is equally attractive to macro enthusiasts and underwater photographers, with plentiful frogfish, ghost pipefish, ribbon eels, as well as masses of crustaceans.
Shark Cave plays home to a group of nurse sharks although the entrance is often crowded with grey reef sharks and sweetlips. Swimming through the cave you will notice the highly decorated floor (yellow sponges) and ceiling (marigold cup corals). Despite the sharks the devil is in the detail here with Durban dancing shrimps, lobsters, moray eels, cowries, sea slugs and more all adding to the entertainment.
Black Rock is an islet with steep walls past which swim a procession of exciting creatures including a variety of rays and sharks. Add to this excitement the wonder of an area of boulders featuring a profusion of soft corals and a shallow section of tube corals where all manner of crabs, urchins and other little creatures call home and you can see why many consider Black Rock to be the finest liveaboard diving in Myanmar.
The Burma Banks, just outside the Mergui Archipelago region, flatten out at just over 20 metres with little in the way of shallow features so nitrox is a popular choice. Scuba diving at the Burma Banks means beautiful expansive sea fans and some of the most pristine hard coral formations you will ever see. There is a timeless beauty to diving here and you get the feeling the underwater scenery has changed little for years and years.
Tower Rock in the northern Mergui region features breathtaking topography with large submerged boulders and walls of rock vaulting high into the water column. The walls are studded with corals and fans providing shelter for spiny lobsters, banded shrimps, oysters and clams. However the manta rays are the stars of this particular show flying effortlessly past the impressive seascape.
Burma has exploratory frontier diving in pristine environments, with new sites being discovered all the time. One of the main attractions is that you never know just what you might see!
• Map of the Mergui Archipelago
Whilst the Burma dive season runs from October to May, and the best diving conditions in the Mergui Archipelago exist from December to April, with whale sharks and manta rays visiting from February to May.
Great for: Large animals, small animals, underwater photography, dive value-for-money and advanced divers
Not so great for: Wrecks, beginner divers, snorkelling and non-diving activities
Depth: 5 - >40m
Visibility: 5 - 50m
Currents: Can be strong
Surface Conditions: Can be rough
Water Temperature: 25 - 28°C
Experience Level: Intermediate - advanced
Number of dive sites: >50
Distance: ~280 km north of Phuket (14 hours), 60 km west of Kawthaung (3 hours)
Access: Mergui Archipelago liveaboards from Phuket, Khao Lak and Ranong in Thailand
Recommended length of stay: 5 - 10 days
More detailed information available on the sites for scuba diving in Myanmar (on our www.dive-the-world.com website).
Dive The World Recommendations: Black Rock, Shark Cave and Tower Rock.
Other sites that can be visited as part of a Mergui liveaboard cruise:
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The Myanmar authorities inform us that in 2001 Indonesian fishing boats caught all the silvertip sharks at Burma Banks. In 2002 Thai fishing boats caused extensive damage to the fish stocks at the southern Mergui Archipelago dive sites, including Western Rocky, Rocky Peaks and South Twin Island. Fish stocks recover quickly and the Burmese Navy are now patrolling the archipelago's waters. The diving sites in the mid to northern archipelago have been unaffected by these foul practices, fish stocks continue to be healthy, and shark encounters are still common.