Diving in Myanmar
Dive the Mergui Archipelago and the Burma Banks
In the Andaman Sea, to the north of the Thai border lie the largely undisturbed seas of Myanmar. Since the area was only opened up to tourism in 1997, divers who choose to liveaboard dive in Burma feel a great sense of privilege at witnessing the awesome sights above and below the surface of the Mergui region (also known as Myeik) that has remained untouched for years.
Many divers board Myanmar liveaboards to explore the Similan Islands, but if you venture further north into Burma's Mergui Archipelago, what will you find? Firstly you will have the opportunity to dive and cruise far from the average tourist's beaten track. Picture yourself onboard a ship cutting through the silence on flat-calm crystal seas, past uninhabited, secluded islands without another vessel in site. Burma scuba diving safaris offer rewards beyond its excellent dive spots.
Fish sightings you can expect in the archipelago include armies of barracud, dogtooth tuna, batfish, unicornfish and trevallies. Bigger pelagics such as manta rays and the awesome whale shark, and grey reef and white tip sharks may put in an appearance. Many of the sites are renowned for their big fish action and you hear people talk of sites such as Shark Cave and Black Rock in hushed, reverential tones.
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, 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.
However it is the smaller stuff which is beginning to win recognition and make divers realise there is more to diving Burma than merely the big fish and seclusion. Lobsters, crabs and shrimps of seemingly every shape, colour and size scuttle over the sea floor whilst cuttlefish, ghost pipefish, frogfish and octopus all enjoying the relatively boat-free Mergui diving environment.
Dive Site Descriptions
Black Rock - An 80 metre wide islet, Black Rock stands in a northwest to southeast position, with steep banks all around, and with a wall on its west and south west sides. Many divers' favourite Burma scuba diving spot in the Mergui Archipelago, Black Rock will have your your heart pounding from spectacular passes of whitetips, silvertips, and black-tip sharks.
Standing alone in the Andaman Sea 100 miles north west of the Thai-Burmese border town of Kawthaung, Black Rock acts as a natural fish magnet and is just as famous for its incredible schools of mobula rays. Then there's the majestic encounters with manta rays and eagle rays soaring above and around you off the deep north western corner, and huge marble stingrays and leopard sharks on the sandy bottom.
Diving down on to the boulder slopes to the south you'll find sprawling carpets of brown disc anemones (Corallimopharian Discosoma) and purple soft corals (Dendronephthya). Home amongst the lower boulders is the granddaddy of all great barracudas. Over 1½ metres long, this thick set monster is so huge it ignores divers, intent instead on receiving dental surgery from the cleaner wrasse. Its scars bare testimony to many a bruising encounter.
Soft corals are most dense in the deeper south west sections corner of Black Rock. This colourful area includes orange cup corals, feather stars, gorgonian sea fans, and tiger striped anemones that cover the large boulders. Spotted hawkfish can be found in the sea fans. Black spotted pufferfish seem too lazy to swim here, preferring to just rest on a rock ledge. Blue ringed angelfish swim around the rocks. This is a good spot for seeing reef sharks or even bull sharks.
Head to the shallower eastern section for mantis shrimp, red swimmer crabs and large hermit crabs. Moray eels including zebra and white mouthed morays can be seen plus a large number of cowrie shells. Also dotted on the rocks are the unusual white hairy urchins (Lovenia Elongata).
Explore the wall for blue, yellow, green and orange soft tube corals, and the banks for hunting big-eye trevally, pompano and banded sea snakes. Rainbow runners pass by in fast moving schools, whereas long fin batfish pass at a more leisurely pace.
Please do take note that currents can be strong and terminally downward, particularly on the deeper sides of the islet. Moving beyond the shelter of the rocks on the island's east and west tips can make it very hard to get back to the dive site again. However if you stay close to the rocks this doesn't have to be a difficult dive site.
Altogether, Black Rock is a truly awesome Burma dive site. Not to be missed!
Burma Banks - The most famous dive area in Myanmar, the Burma Banks are enormous flat topped sea mounts, rising to within 15 metres of the Andaman Sea surface, before plunging back down into the surrounding 300 metre deep waters.
The Burma Banks - Big, Silvertip, Rainbow and Roe Bank, plus Coral and Heckford banks - are located some 125 km west of Kawthaung and offer some adrenaline-rich open ocean diving, and shark encounters are virtually guaranteed. Nurse sharks are frequently seen, with occasional grey reef shark sightings - you are never sure just what you might see here.
Heckford Bank lies 20 km or so north of Roe Bank and is the deepest of the Burma Banks dive sites, topping out at 21-25 metres. Silvertips are quite common here. When you're in the water you'll be mesmerised by these impressive creatures, as they cautiously circle you. Tawny nurse sharks are also easily spotted, as they doze half-hidden under the overhangs created by the table corals that dot the flat seascape here.
Roe Bank reaches 17-21 metres deep and, like its neighbour to the north, is characterised by hard table corals, limestone rocks covered with black coral bushes and fans and coralline algae (Halimeda Micronesica), and interspersed with sandy patches, but also with massive growths of porites corals, smothered in colourful christmas tree worms, and white and pink wire corals. There are masses of fusiliers - yellowback, golden dash and neon - packs of striped brindletooths and powder-blue surgeonfish.
At Silvertip Bank, 18 km east of Roe Bank, you can look overboard through the crystal clear waters and often see great barracuda and potato cod cruising along the bottom, 15 metres below. The profile here has more variety, and you can make your way through the gullies checking out octopus, moray eels, bignose unicornfish and large red snappers. To the south east is a deeper slope to 40 metres, and here you can catch a glimpse of the skittish whitetip and black-tip reef sharks.
Burma Banks diving is in quite virgin dive territory and offered on only a handful of liveaboard cruises. Due to its exposed location, you can expect advanced drift diving in some strong currents, whilst checking out pelagics and larger reef fish species.
Cockscomb Island - Approximately 2 hours cruising time out of the Myanmar port town of Kawthaung, lies Cockscomb Island, where you can find a spot that is aptly named the 'Hidden Lagoon'.
There are several openings in the limestone rock of the island, just at the water's edge, where you can dive through at a depth of around 2-3m. You should consider this shallow section in your dive profile calculations if you also want to dive along the sloping reef that extends to either side of the swim-throughs.
Once you have entered the hole in the wall, the intriguing shafts of light will lead you into the lagoon. If you are the first to go through, make sure you turn around to see the silhouettes of the other divers that follow you in the turquoise waters.
You should surface inside the lagoon and have a good look around, since you are surrounded in a 360 degree direction by sheer limestone cliffs with very distinctive ragged edges where some trees have taken root. The lagoon itself has a maximum depth of about 12-15m and there are a few coral blocks to inspect, but since visibility is usually limited in the deeper parts, make sure that you stay close together with your dive buddy/group.
On the way back to the exit of the lagoon in very shallow water of only about 1 to 2m, is a large flat hard coral plateau worth exploring and the visibility is much better here too. You want to try and be the first to exit, to get an unobstructed view of the holes that lead into the open ocean again.
You can continue your dive now, by keeping the reef on your right hand side, since this is the prettier part of the slope at this island. Don't forget to accumulate your submerged times in and out of the lagoon and stick to your dive profile, on this fascinating Myanmar dive site.
High Rock - High Rock lies some 500 metres to the south of Quion Island, just 25 km from Kawthaung. It is a small islet with a single tree, and has a wall on its north and east sides, and a rocky reef on its south and west. This is usually the first dive in the waters of the Mergui Archipelago on a Burma liveaboard safari, as most of the islands south of here are closed to diving boats.
The sheer volume of fish life at High Rock hits you as soon as you descend. Blue line snapper form huge schools that obscure the reef wall from view. Glassfish are equally numerous, as are gold-striped fuseliers and yellow tail barracuda. Trevally dart into shoals of bait fish that move as one, safety in numbers their only defence. Large flutemouths stalk their prey and titan (giant) triggerfish guard their territory.
Striped soldier fish and squirrel fish congregate together in the many cracks and crevices, and barrel sponges dominate the seabed with common lion fish sheltering from the currents inside the rims. The number of bearded and humpback scorpionfish on the wall make touching anything a risky business. These poisonous fish are prevalent most places when diving in the Mergui Archipelago but there numbers are highest here. False stonefish can also be spotted here. Several grouper species such as white-lined and blue-lined grouper are common as are wrasse and leatherjackets. Freckled porcupine fish hide in the crevices.
The walls feature orange and green cup corals and a small overhang. There's a huge variety of invertebrates here such as lobster, hermit crabs, zigzag clams, black diadema urchins, oysters and squid. Yellow-margin, fimbriated, giant and white-eyed moray eels can all be seen in abundance, and different species are often even seen sharing the same hole. Look into the crags and you may be surprised to see Indian Ocean nurse sharks, residents of the Mergui, snoozing the day away.
Parts of the wall are draped in old nets of the Mergui fishermen, which are now encrusted in corals, but divers should be wary of entanglement. The nets are a favourite residence of yellow tigertail seahorses that like to wrap their tail around the nets.
High Rock is also an excellent night dive location too, when all the cup corals burst open in brilliant orange. This, together with the orange reflected eyes of the Durban dancing (hingebeak) shrimps, makes a spectacular sight as the whole wall appears alive and feeding in the nutrient rich water. Decorator crabs, hermit and round crabs can be seen. Moray eels swim over the wall, avoiding divers torches and parrotfish sleep in their protective cocoons.
Little Torres Islands - Here's a dive site to catch your breath and take in the finer parts of diving. Soft corals, red whip corals, mosaic corals, and table corals have all made the Torres Islands their home amongst the rocks. You'll see round batfish, long-nose and ornate butterfly fish and the awkward and clumsy, but beautiful azure moon wrasse.
Don't think that you won't see anything special here, as there are usually lots of leopard sharks and sting rays.
North Twin Island - North Twin is the slightly smaller, tree-topped, sister island of South Twin and lies 20 km to its north. Its waters are visited by pelagic fish such as Zambezi (bull) sharks, rainbow runners, and eagle rays. Manta rays also pay a visit here. Currents can be strong, and visibility is usually excellent.
Just off the south west tip of the island is the South Pinnacle dive site. It starts 3 metres below the surface and drops down to 35 metres. The dive site is made up of large granite boulders similar to those in Thailand's Similan Islands and offers the best of many diving opportunities around North Twin Island. Many swim-throughs offer the opportunity to explore this dive site from a new angle over and over again as, depending on the time of day, the light shines at new angles through the little tunnels.
The boulders are carpeted in purple soft corals and spiny sea urchins. Ember parrotfish, powder blue surgeon fish and blue-ringed angelfish swim between the rocks. Cuttlefish can often be seen in the shallower areas and hawksbill turtles are common, especially on morning dives when they can be found resting under rocky ledges.
In the deeper areas small coral bommies covered in seafans are scattered in the sand. Blue sea stars and sea cucumbers litter the sandy bottom. This is one of the few Burma dive sites where leopard sharks are regularly seen in the sand patches. Seahorses and ornate ghost pipefish like the shelter of the seafans.
Another common encounter here are the many different moray eels, including banded morays and even the occasional honeycomb moray.
1 kilometre to the north west of North Twin lie a series of sloping rocky ridges known as North Twin Plateau. This is a deep dive site that drops beyond 40m in places. The boulder ridges have sea fans, featherstars, and flower corals clinging to the substrate. Local inhabitants include several loose groups of teira batfish, malabar groupers and nurse sharks hidden under the overhangs. Pelagic species such as great barracuda and bluefin tuna are seen patrolling in open water.
Northern Rocky - Located 1 km to the west of MacLeod Island and 50 km from Kawthaung, this limestone rock resembles a ship's sail as you approach from the north. It is a rocky wall dive with jumbled boulders spreading outwards at deeper depths, down to around 35 metres. If you like the colour orange you'll love this Myanmar dive site as orange fan corals and cup corals cover much of the wall. Gorgonian seafans are also numerous, crinoids clinging to them, and hawkfish residing on them.
Entry is normally on the exposed western side, close to the wall. The area at edge of the boulders at the bottom of the reef is home to bent-stick pipefish which can be found in the sand and rubble. They are often together in pairs and look, at first glance, just like the sea whips that they stay close to. Stingrays can also be found buried in the sand. Under the rocky ledges it's possible to see marble rays as well as nurse sharks.
Other fish life here includes blue-ringed angelfish, oriental sweetlips and parrotfish. In the shallow areas nudibranchs are found all over the rocks as are bearded scorpionfish.
Currents and surge can be strong at Northern Rocky and visibility can drop to no more than 5 metres at times here but when conditions are suitable this is also a very attractive night dive site as the orange cup corals open up. Crabs, shrimps and moray eels can be spotted all over the wall.
Western Rocky is 10 kilometres to the west of Northern Rocky.
Rocky Peaks - 12 km to the north of Western Rocky lies Rocky Peaks, one of the Mergui Archipelago's most colourful dive sites. Mountainous limestone rocks, capped with soft corals and black diadema sea urchins, rise to within 5 metres of the Andaman Sea surface at Rocky Peaks.
There is no mooring buoy and as currents can often be strong, a quick descent is required to get shelter behind the rocks. The pinnacle has the best sea fan and coral coverage at deeper depths so a typical dive profile starts deep and slowly circles the reef upto safety stop level at the end of the dive.
The north and east sides sport thick forests of huge orange and pink gorgonian sea fans, lined up in row after row. They are surrounded by lionfish as well as the usual schools of fish that you can see diving in Burma, such as blue-lined snapper, oriental sweetlips, red soldierfish and wrasses. Here you can also see schools of blacktail barracuda, jacks, yellowfin emporer and lone remoras. Often there's whitetip and leopard sharks resting in the day time. The north west corner has a small fishing boat wreck.
At the south side of Rocky Peaks is a cliff face. Undulated moray eels receive dental work from ghost cleaner shrimps, and the ugly devil scorpionfish waits for unsuspecting strays. In the far south west corner at 25 metres is a swim-through archway. Check out the gorgonian fans in this area, as there are often lime green harlequin ghost pipefish and tigertail seahorses hiding there.
In shallower areas pore corals, lettuce and star corals are just a few of the species mixing with feather stars, sea whips, long spined sea urchins and magnificent anemones. Moray eels and cuttlefish can be found here.
This site is also known as Fanforest Pinnacle by some of the Burma diving operators.
Shark Cave - Shark Cave is 2 km north of Great Swinton Island, 75 km from Kawthaung, and is made up of 3 small islets, the centre islet being the largest at 100 metres wide. In sharp contrast to the bare rocks that identify this site at the surface, Shark Cave will surprise you with its abundance of marine life.
Another of the top Mergui Archipelago diving sites, Shark Cave is known for its resident docile nurse sharks. The ragged cave entrance is on the north west corner of the islet, and is 5-16 metres deep. Often found guarding the entance are several long-fin trevally and silver sweetlips. They come to hunt for the masses of juvenile barracudas, cave sweepers and silversides. The tunnel is 20 metres long and the ceiling is covered in beautiful marigold cup corals, and the floors with yellow Stylotella Aurantium sponges. Watch out for the strong surge as you make your way through, but you may just find some large rock lobsters.
Grey reef sharks can sometimes be met cruising through the tunnel. These sharks have been known to show aggression to divers so the best policy is to stick close to one side of the tunnel to give them space to get past. Groups of white tip reef sharks can also make a surprising appearance. A 1 metre square hole marks the entrance to the lower cavern where nurse sharks can be seen. It is accessible 1 diver at a time and real care is needed with buoyancy control. A torch is recommended in the tunnel area to see into the deeper crevices.
The reef on the north east side of the islet (to 25 metres) is rugged with black and white featherstars, and green tube corals and cup corals. Black and white banded sea snakes and black-blotched fantail rays hunt over the reef. Look closely for yellow ornate or harlequin ghost pipefish and tigertail seahorses. Bent stick pipefish can also be seen out on the sandy bottom. At night there are decorated sponge crabs, going about their daily chores. These rather drab-looking creatures are masters of disguise. Turn their back on you, and you could well think that you are staring at a lump of sponge. In the shallow areas magnificent anemones add colour, as do Clark's and tomato anemone fish and the western clownfish.
The southwest wall bottoms at 30 metres and has many fine crevices crammed full of life. Take a careful look and you'll see Durban dancing shrimps and red and white banded boxer shrimps on the ledges, mantis shrimps, sea slugs, cowries and an amazing amount of moray eels - snowflake, white-eyed and fimbriated. If you're really lucky, you could see the feeding habits of cuttlefish. They hunt in pairs; one acts as a look-out, as the other frantically searches in the crevices with its tentacles to pull out any food it can find. The Mergui Archipelago is an excellent place to see cuttlefish.
The small rocky outcrop to the north is called Square Rock. This insignificant chalk white rock drops vertically down to about 15 metres before jumbled rocks spread out wider, reaching the sandy bottom at 26 metres. This site is dived in a circular fashion if currents will permit, and there is a smaller sister pinnacle just to the south. Currents can be fierce here with strong up and down currents.
Square Rock's walls have green and orange Antipathes black corals, orange cup corals, green tubestrea corals, and white Anthothelidae sea fans. Check out the bases of these to try and spot the minute banded pipefish. Schools of silversides and fusiliers are always present in the water column. Have a look out into the blue for passing jacks, mackerel or tuna.
In the cracks in the wall are hidden nocturnal grey bamboo sharks, a small species about half a metre in length, as well as rock lobsters and frogfish. Under rocks at the bottom of the walls, mantis shrimp, seahorses and ghost pipefish can be found, as well as whitetip reef sharks and small nurse sharks occasionally. This reef is full of scorpionfish, some small and well camouflaged, and some huge specimens almost half a metre long.
The southern outcrop, often just called The Pinnacle, is slightly deeper at 30 metres, and hosts olive green Theonella Cylindrica sponges and anemones with their attendant anemone crabs and saddleback anemonefish. Like the rest of the site too, there are innumerous scorpionfish here. At the safety stop, you're likely to see porcupinefish and occassional schools of rainbow runners, darting past. Currents can also be strong here.
This Mergui scuba diving site is also known as the Three Islets, the Three Stooges, In-Through-The-Out-Door and Colona Rocks.
South Twin Island - South Twin is a grassy, tree-topped granite island, 1 kilometre long, lying in an east-west direction approximately 10 nautical miles due west of Loughborough Island. There are 2 small bays on the south side. Topographically similar to the Similan Islands in Thailand, the island has deep, large rock structures forming gullies, long swim-through passages and overhangs.
In the shallows you'll find fine table corals hidden amongst the boulders and home to anthias and damsel fish. There are tiger cowries here and the elusive ribbon eel. Look carefully, as they are really very small, only showing maybe 3 centimetres above their holes in the sand. Male ribbon eels are black and females blue with bright yellow fins. Immature juveniles are all yellow. There are also colourful magnificent anemones and carpet anemones all being defended by plucky little anemone fish.
The deeper boulders are covered in brown disc anemones as well as purple soft corals, white bushy sea fans and crinoids. Acropora coral clings to the rocks in small patches. Various nudibranch species can be seen on the the rocks including twin magnificent and fried egg nudibranchs. Whitetip reef sharks can be seen under the boulders as can tawny nurse sharks. Solitary chevron barracuda can be seen patrolling the blue and large schools of rainbow runners often race by. Emperor angelfish and parrotfish are common as are schools of snappers, oriental sweetlips and fusiliers.
75 km from Kawthaung, South Twin is also a popular site for night dives as that's the time when you really get to see how colorful this reef is. The visibility is usually excellent and currents are usually gentle, making it a great dive site for divers of all skill levels.
Stewart Island - Stewart, or Ba Wei, Island lies north west of Cavern Island in the Mergui Archipelago and its main feature from a diving point of view, is a smaller islet at its southern end with a spectacular large hole in it that makes for great photo opportunities, even above the water.
You can descend down the steep walls on either side of the small island and make your way to the other side through one of many large swim-throughs that are filled with large schools of snappers and fusiliers. Be aware of the strong surge and currents that can be present when you attempt the cross over.
The walls are covered in clams and sponges, making for a vibrant and enchanting scene. The wall is peppered with many caverns in which you can find juvenile nurse sharks, Here and in the smaller holes and crevasses, watch out for little crabs and all sorts of shrimps, including boxer shrimp and Durban dancer shrimps scuttling this way and that. Around the sandy bottom at about 25m, look out for patrolling black- or white-tip reef sharks on the hunt for tasty morsels of food.
As you can imagine, a dive site in Mergui like this, which has interesting features like swim-throughs, crevasses and caverns, plus all manner of crustaceans and other macro-life, is a popular spot for a night dive, conditions permitting.
Tower Rock - As its name suggests, this a magical dive site with towering walls descending into the depths. Below the water you'll find a lunar site of boulders, made up from the taller reaches of Tower Rock in years past. The walls are laced with whip corals and sea fans, oysters and clams. White banded cleaner shrimp and ornate spiny lobster hide amongst the crags, whilst blue faced angelfish and yellow striped fusiliers dance their way up the walls.
Tower Rock, nearly 200 km north of Kawthaung, is manta ray country, so prepare yourself for some special close encounters with schools of these massive creatures. Also ever present are schools of devil rays gliding past overhead. If your itinerary allows for it, plan to dive here in the afternoon to almost guarantee a meeting with them. But your chances are very good at any time of the day.
Keep your eyes peeled also for those reclusive blacktip sharks, often staying just out of vision behind the rocks, or enjoy swimming through the numerous swim-throughs that are created by the large boulders here.
This is a Mergui dive site which is best suited for advanced divers due to the strong currents that are sometimes present.
Western Rocky - The Mergui Archipelago's southernmost dive site, Western Rocky offers you an overwhelming choice of wall diving, reef diving, pinnacles and an impressive passage through the centre of the island. It is a small barren island, perhaps 60 metres wide with 2 smaller islets to the east which can be reached underwater from the main island or dived as a separate dive. Marine life ranges from the tiniest nudibranch to occasional whale shark visits.
Descending on the southern wall there is a large cavern that starts at 5 metres below the surface and drops to the seabed at around 25 metres. On the western side of the cavern is a large archway swim-though or window, through which sunlight streams. The cavern walls and ceiling are covered in zigzag clams, encrusting sponges and spinous sponges. Shrimps, crabs and lobster are numerous in the crevices and common lionfish are also present.
Just to the east of the cavern is the entrance to a tunnel that runs right through the centre of the island and exits on the northern side. The large passage entrance starts at 17 metres depth down to 24 metres, allowing divers to see daylight (just) for the whole 30 metres through the tunnel.
There is a large chamber inside but as the tunnel reaches the northern side it gradually narrows so that divers must progress in single file. The maximum depth in the tunnel is 24 metres and it splits into 2 exit passages that open to a fringing reef at a depth of 21 metres. The passage to the right is the larger of the 2 exits. The left passage may require removal of the scuba unit to squeeze through. A torch is needed to see into the darker ledges of the tunnel.
The tunnel is a prime example of how marine life prospers when out of the reach of fishermen. Everything inside the cave is big, most notably gigantic lobster and very fat nurse sharks. One nurse shark, about 3 metres long with a very wide body, may make it impossible for divers to continue through the tunnel, instead having to turn around and exiting the way that they entered.
If you exit the tunnel on the north side the prettiest section of the dive site is to the left, on the western tip of the island. Here anemones and pore corals proliferate with a myriad of fish life, including thousands of glassfish being hunted by trevally. Fimbriated moray eels are common and banded sea snakes can be seen.
The south side of Western Rocky is a wall dive with gorgonian sea fans, feather stars and sea whips protruding from the wall. There are some small rocks a short swim away from the wall, in deeper water where white tip reef sharks can be found.
The south wall also makes an excellent night dive. Red finger soft coral and orange cup coral provide the colour. Brown spiny lobsters and painted rock lobster are more numerous here than at any other Burma dive site and are often seen out of their crevices displaying their full length. Long haired hermit crabs, scaled hermit and giant crabs, plus sponge and decorator crabs are all present, as are wandering cowries and, if you are eagle-eyed, angler fish.
There are 4 small pinnacles to the east of the main island. These islets are worth a dive on their own or, in good visibility and when currents allow, can be reached from the eastern tip of the main island. Cuttlefish are common here as are big reef squid. Bearded scorpionfish are everywhere as are twin-spot lionfish and various moray eels including yellow margined, white-eyed and spot-faced morays. Pelagics like jacks, mackerel and chevron barracuda patrol the blue waters.
Western Rocky Pinnacle is located about 500m southwest of the main island. Starting at about 12m below the surface, this dive site consists of a large plateau from which finger-shaped reefs stretch out into the deeper water to a maximum depth of close to 40m.
As soon as you reach the top of the plateau you will notice the thick carpet of purple soft corals that cover most of this dive site; what a beautiful and rare sight! As you make your way over this lilac reef you will see that there is no shortage of life among the hard corals and rocky substrate. Numerous cracks and crevasses provide shelter to different types of moray eels whose heads stretch outwards, their jaws wafting oxygen rich water over their gills. You can also spot all manner of shrimps and other creatures that prefer to stay out of sight of predator animals.
At the section of the reef that extends out from the plateau from the north-western area to the south-eastern corner of the dive site, you will see large schools of snappers and also jacks and mackerel on the prowl.
Currents permitting, it is possible to swim all the way around throughout this dive, but you can also find shelter from the current, if needed, and still have plenty of reef to explore to last a whole dive. At the end of the dive just ascend to 5m, deploy your surface marker and drift along as you watch out for larger pelagics in the blue water, such as tuna or even a large ray.
How to Dive Myanmar
The diving here is by liveaboard safari. There is no other way to take in enough of the sites, which are sometimes spread far and wide, than to board a cruise from Phuket, Khao Lak or Ranong in Thailand. You can browse our Burma liveaboards to find one that's right for you.
There are a number of different options available here. Safaris that depart from Ranong and explore only the southern sections or northern sections of the Mergui Archipelago require at least 5 nights cruising. Boat charters that travel up the Thai coast through the Similan Islands before crossing over into Burmese waters, take at least 7 nights. If you really want to feel like you are on a complete Burma liveaboard safari then we recommend you take a dedicated Myanmar cruise to discover the whole of the archipelago. These trips require a minimum of 10 days.
Got a question?
Have a look through our Frequently asked questions
October to May sees the main Burma diving season and this is the only period when the liveaboards operate. At this time of year, the seas are calm, the skies are clear and even the most remote dive sites are accessible and enjoy great conditions. For optimum diving conditions in the Mergui Archipelago we recommend you visit between the months of December and April.
February to May tend to witness the most frequent manta ray and whale shark sightings, attracted by feeding opportunities represented by the plankton blooms that occur at this time of year. As you might imagine visibility is reduced since the water is so nutrient-rich. These nutrients bring in the plankton feeders and explain why the hard corals reach such impressive sizes and there is such an array of life, both large and small, at the dive sites.
Water temperatures do not vary hugely during the season from a generally cooler 26-27°C early in the season to a balmy 30°C around the end of the season. The visibility also tends to improve a little towards the latter half of the season.
Good for: Large animals, small animals, underwater photography, value-for-money and advanced divers
Not so good 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: Liveaboard from Phuket, Khao Lak or Ranong in Thailand
Recommended length of stay: 5 - 10 days
• Burma Dive Video Gallery
• Myanmar travel information
View a map of:
• Mergui Archipelago - Burma
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