Bio-diversity Spices Thai Diving
For Northwest Dive News
By BOB STERNER
As one of the most biologically diverse places on the planet, the
Andaman Sea offers new experiences for even the most well-
traveled divers. Some 500 coral species and 2,000 different fish
teem off Thailand’s west coast, where a single reef may provide
a home for as many as 3,000 different marine creatures and
plants.

Enormous whale sharks, lemon sharks and manta rays might be
seen on the same dive, or maybe an endangered sea turtle.
Leatherback, Olive Ridley, Green and Hawksbill turtles still next
along the Andaman coast, where local environmental groups are
working to preserve populations from over-development and
harvesting for combs and jewelry. The underwater riches are
further protected in the Similan and Surin islands, which are set
aside as marine sanctuaries.

Big critters sometimes are obscured by clouds of baitfish,
grouper, yellowtail, batfish or a forest of trumpetfish poised
vertically in their predation position. Lionfish languish along the
seafloor, passing all sorts of clownfish, scorpionfish, black
lobster and morays. Divers with good eyes might even see a
ghost pipefish or a seahorse or two. All are swimming amid an
underwater landscape so brightly colored that you might wonder
if someone slipped something into your coffee. Drift diving eases
taking in the scenery.

Although the sea life is the main attraction for dive operators, the
region does show signs of its long history as a crossroads for
marine commerce. Experienced wreck divers may occasionally
be able to make out the shape of a fluted anchor heavily
encrusted in coral or a pile of ballast stones that mark the final
resting spot for a ship that never made it to port. More readily
recognizable are the modern commercial craft that succumbed to
the sometimes stormy winds of monsoon season.

Enough rain falls daily from June through September to bother
divers who are afraid of water. October through May is drier,
but hotter, with land temperatures in the high 90s F, which
makes the year-round bottom temperatures in the mid-80s F feel
cool. While those accustomed to diving in cold climates may be
tempted to wear just swimsuits, a better choice would be at least
a full 1/8-inch / 3-millimeter wetsuit and hood. Hypothermia
builds during repeated dives even in these warm waters, and
visibility of 40 feet or more can northern divers accustomed to
pea-soup visibility into taking greater risks.

Phuket Island is the stepping stone to the Andaman Sea. The
island on Thailand’s west coast is packed with full-service dive
operators ready to gear up visitors and take them to local reefs. It
harbors several liveaboards that can transport visitors on multi-
day trips to pristine spots throughout Similan and Surin Marine
National Parks. While many are small and maybe a little more
intimate than one might like, the Mermaid II, the region’s largest
at 104 feet in length, is a comfortable ride for 16 guests tended
by four dive crew. Exquisite fresh Thai meals come flowing
from the galley and the captains move to new sites every night.

Staying in Phuket can have its charm too. Savvy travelers will be
able to book reasonable rooms for pocket change, thrive on the
bargain goods nad meals that line the bustling streets, and cool
off by catching a few world-class waves at Patong Beach. Less
intrepid travelers should line up their lodging and diving
arrangements before taking off on their Thailand adventure. The
island’s blend of Thai, Chinese and Muslim cultures will make
serous repetitive divers feel better about taking breaks from the
water to sightsee in mid-vacation and 24 hours before flying out.
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All Bob Sterner

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Islands dot Andaman Sea
Remoras on whale shark
Eel hides in coral
Baitfish swarm
Reefs teem with life
No fin kicks in fan
Drift through splendor
Lemon shark
Black Lobster