Saturday 3 December 2016

From on board: Silver Discoverer in the Mergui Archipelago, Myanmar

#expeditioncruising #silverseamoments.

The evocatively named Mergui (aka Myeik) Archipelago just to the west of southern Myanmar is a kind of 'no man's land' in the Andaman Sea.

Silver Discoverer sailed southward on her return leg to Phuket, stopping briefly for some diving, snorkelling, picnicking and Zodiac cruising among these mysterious limestone and granite outcrops.

Ethnic Moken family aboard 'houseboat'.

Well known for its nomadic seafaring inhabitants, the Moken or 'sea gypsies', this relatively unspoiled group of islands is covered with lush tropical foliage and vitally important mangrove forests that sustain the hard-pressed fish populations.

Someone counted about 800 islands in the group, very few of which sustain any sort of permanent population. The Moken traditionally live aboard their tiny boats most of the time, coming ashore only when the weather turns foul.

In recent years, these islands have gained attention from tourism operators, not all of whom have the best intentions. Already there is a 5-star resort and golf club on one of the islands and more are planned. With a history of tension, just how the rest of the group will fair remains to be seen.

Bird spotting among the mangroves

Small ship cruising, like that undertaken by Silversea and others, offers the opportunity to enjoy and explore the islands without altering them. No wharfs, land clearing, intrusive infrastructure or habitat disturbance is needed by shipboard visitors who come for the very reason the islands are as they are.

Marine parks have been established, but policing them is another issue altogether. The surrounding waters are heavily fished and the temptation for fishers to come ever closer to the islands is strong.

Beaches to impress even the Aussies.

The Lampi Marine National Park is one such reserve we visited aboard Silver Discoverer. The 48 kilometre long island is the core and hosts rich tropical lowland wet evergreen forest with trees taller than 26 metres. How they have evaded loggers so far is a wonder.

The beaches, bays and secluded coves offer a superb haven and the sand is really as white and soft as baby powder. We anchor off Shark Island and go ashore for a delightful swim and beach BBQ under the shade of massive trees. Even on these isolated islands, the impact of human carelessness is evident as the high water mark is strewn with plastic debris, most notably the dreaded single-use water bottles. Our team made a rudimentary clean-up, but it's an ongoing task.

Hey good looking! Lionfish.

Underwater the rich sea life is evident. Familiar reef fish and schools of bright yellow-striped snapper and fusiliers sweep past us as we fin along the rocky edge. Closer inspection reveals the tiny critters like colourful shrimps, vivid nudibranchs, rare cucumber anemones and miniature clown fish.

Like so many 'newly discovered' expedition cruise areas, the wisdom is to see it sooner rather than later.

The End: Port of Kawthaung at the southernmost end of Myanmar

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