POST TSUNAMI DIVESITE REPORTS


Sadly, the media reported “total destruction” of Thailand’s coral reefs within hours of the disaster, well before anyone had a chance to check out what had really happened.
Since then we have been back to the Similan Islands and the Mergui Archipelago several times and it is obvious that all the negative press was totally incorrect.

Join Ocean Rover’s dive crew as they re-discover the divesites of the Andaman Sea. Scroll down to read up-to-date reports from the people who know the area better than anyone in the business. Or click HERE to read the unbiased impressions of independent divers on board Ocean Rover.

ABOUT THE PICTURES ON THIS PAGE

All photos on this Post Tsunami Divesite page were taken during Ocean Rover's most recent cruise, between 23rd Jan and 2nd Feb 2005. We are trying to show that the condition of Thailand's coral reefs since the tsunami is excellent. Some of the photos have the date embedded in the image, others not. To verify the date you can right-click on any image, save it to your disc and check the file properties. Photos graciously supplied by Michael Aw and Hans Tibboel.


THE FACTS AS WE KNOW THEM AT THIS MOMENT

Similan Islands: Isolated damage to shallow (2-3 meter) reef sections. Only one famous divesite, Christmas Point, suffered real damage. Most popular divesites such as Fantasea Reef are untouched. Some of the deep rock formations lost soft coral due to current.
Richelieu Rock: Zero damage.
Surin Islands: Still under survey but suffered most. Divesites at Ko Torinla are damaged.
Myanmar’s Mergui Archipelago: Zero damage. Ocean Rover was there when the tsunami hit Phuket.
Burma Banks: Zero damage.
Ko Tachai: Some damage in the shallows. Twin Peaks undamaged.
Ko Bon: No damage to The Ridge.

Read on for our dive crew's own comments.....

23rd Jan, Similan Islands, Thailand

Mark Strickland

Divesite: Morning Glory

Beautiful shallow hard coral reef at Similan IslandsThis was my first dive since the tsunami, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Any fears I had of reef damage soon disappeared, however, as this site more than lived up to its name. Moving from one coral head to the next, I carefully inspected my favourite places, all of which were just as beautiful as before. Vibrant soft corals and orange fans still adorned all the deeper bommies, each surrounded by clouds of colourful anthias. Hovering near a crevice was the same reclusive comet fish I’d seen here last season. Even delicate branching corals in the shallows appeared unscathed. Aside from a single fan coral that had become detached and apparently re-anchored by concerned divers, I saw no evidence that this reef was affected at all.

Divesite: Fantasea Reef

This is one of my favourite sites in the region, and it too was every bit as good as I remember. Of course the sturdy granite boulders had not moved, but hard and soft corals also appeared unaffected. Reef fish were varied and plentiful, among them clown triggerfish, several angelfish species, purple dart gobies, endemic Andaman sweetlips, and even a friendly zebra shark. There were lots of schooling fish too, including bannerfish, unicornfish, and about 20 oriental sweetlips hovering in formation. Currents were mild and visibility good at both sites. So far the diving has been great… can’t wait until tomorrow at Richelieu Rock!

24th Jan, Richelieu Rock, Thailand

Hans Tibboel

We dived this location on our way back from Myanmar during the previous cruise so we already knew that Richelieu Rock was not affected by the waves. Today's diving confirmed this.

Sunny weather, calm seas and slight current combined with good visibility made for some very nice diving today at Richelieu Rock. This reef just never fails to impress me and is studded with marine life from bottom to top. The soft corals and anemones are covering the rock and make it look in some places like a large natural carpet. We found a beautiful yellow tigertail seahorse, 3 ornate ghost pipe fishes, cuttlefish, octopi, school squid, five species of moray eels, Malabar and brown marbled groupers, Jans and red scribbled pipe fishes, spindle cowries, schooling chevron barracudas, big eye jacks and snappers, bearded and devil scorpion fishes, lots of lion fishes and tons of shrimps just to name a few.

Everybody liked it so much that we already now have decided to come here for another full day of diving when we come back from the Myanmar sites.

25th Jan, Three Islets, Myanmar

Mark Strickland

Today we spent the entire day at 3 Islets, a site that tops almost everyone's list for biodiversity in this region. As always here, today's dives included sightings of an incredible variety of marine life, including mating Pharaoh cuttlefish, many different crabs, shrimp and lobster, longsnout pipefish, several pairs of ornate ghost pipefish, marble rays, tiger-tail sea horses, juvenile blue-ring angelfish, lots of different nudibranchs, and so many others. Nearly as impressive as the diversity was the quantity of life, with dense schools of snapper and fusiliers, squadrons of big-fin reef squid, dozens of morays, hundreds of anemonefish, thousands of hinge-beak shrimp, and more scorpionfish than you could shake a stick at. To top it off, we enjoyed excellent visibility, something that doesn't happen so often at this site. All in all, it was a superb day of diving, and once again we saw no evidence whatsoever of damage from the tsunami.

Hans Tibboel

Healthy fan corals at 3 IsletsOcean Rover was at this location on 26 December when we received the satellite phone call from our headquarters to warn us about the tsunami. We immediately went on "red alert" but we noticed only some unusual currents and tidal movement, no waves of any kind. Subsequent dives showed us that the Mergui Archipelago was spared from the tsunami.

We spent the whole day diving here at 3-Islets and managed to get in 4 day dives and a night dive as well. Weather today was superb with lots of sunshine and flat-calm seas. Quite unusual was the visibility; this site is not known for its clear waters but today we had up to 30 meters vis.! The reef here is still in an excellent condition after the tsunami and no visible damage has been done to it. Some of the critter highlights today were several ornate ghost pipe fishes, tigertail sea horses, long snout pipe fishes, mating and egg laying cuttle fish, schooling squid, a friendly octopus and a bunch of nudibranchs. If it was up to me we could spend the rest of the cruise right here at 3-Islets!

26th Jan, Black Rock, Myanmar

Mark Strickland

Happy to let you all know that Black Rock's reef hasn't been affected at all by the tsunami and that the reef is in great shape. We had some excellent dives here today with manta's buzzing us on each and every dive. It was hard to look for small critters with those manta's all around us but most of our guests didn't seem to mind that too much. Had also a fantastic nightdive and found plenty of saron shrimps, squat lobsters, painted spiny lobsters, crabs and free swimming moray eels. A great day at a great dive site!

Hans Tibboel

It's been another excellent day of diving, with the whole day spent at Black Rock. Although small animals are often the highlight here, today we encountered multiple mantas on every dive! In fact, for 3 dives in a row, we were greeted by a pair of mantas from the moment we entered the water, and some folks saw up to 6 at once. Schooling fish action was also lively, with clouds of silversides and cardinalfish enveloping many of the deeper rocks. Resident snappers and jacks took full advantage of this, as did squadrons of rainbow runners and bonito. There were also plenty of critters, including many different species of nudibranchs, crabs and shrimp, plus the usual abundance of scorpionfish, lionfish and anemonefish. Several cuttlefish were seen as well, including a pair that appeared to be fighting. Visibility was very good, ranging from 15 to 24m (50-80 ft.). I did see two small gorgonian fans that were broken at the base, but it's hard to say if that was tsunami-related or perhaps caused by fishermen. Aside from that, the reef appeared just as healthy as I remember it from last season. As usual, I hate to leave, and would happily spend several more days diving right here.

27th Jan, Burma Banks, Myanmar

Mark Strickland

Beautiful fan coral at the Burma BanksToday visibility and surface conditions were excellent, which included dives at 3 different Banks. Our first dive at New Bank actually reminded me of the old days, with at least 4 medium to large nurse sharks showing up the moment we arrived at the bottom. We also saw several juvenile silvertip sharks--it's so encouraging to see another generation growing up. As normal for the Banks, many of the huge, ancient coral formations are just fossil remains, but there were plenty of healthy live corals too. None appeared to have suffered any recent damage, from the tsunami or any other cause.

The next stop was Big Bank, where I was surprised to see considerably more live coral than the last time I dived there, which was a couple seasons ago. The area around our old mooring was especially good, with lots of living coral heads and big fields of healthy cabbage and branching corals. There were also many red & orange gorgonians, adding a nice touch of colour. However, the best scenery by far was at Silvertip Bank's West Drop-off, where gentle currents had the abundant soft corals inflated to their full splendour, accented by layers of cabbage coral and surrounded by schools of fusiliers and blue-spine unicornfish. That dive alone made the day worthwhile for me, but the biggest highlight happened on our last dive, at the base of the mooring. This was a shark-attraction dive, a bit of an optimistic term since sharks have been rather scarce at Silvertip Bank in recent years. It's still a popular activity though, largely due to several large potato grouper that have become regular participants, providing plenty of entertainment for the guests.

Today was special, though, because in addition to the grouper, an old friend showed up--Max the nurse shark! Max has been a regular at these dives from the very beginning, over 14 years ago. We haven't seen much of her in recent times, though--it's been nearly 2 years since we last saw her. After such a long absence we feared the worst, assuming that she had fallen victim to a fish hook. Thankfully, she must have avoided that fate, and looked healthy and bigger than ever, at nearly 3m in length. In her own inimitable style, she immediately swam up, nuzzled me in the face, and proceeded to gobble down every fish we offered. Unlike the grouper, which rudely departs after eating its fill, Max stayed around after the food was gone, posing for photos and parading past the divers time and again. I know it's silly to get attached to a fish, and I'm sure that Max only likes us because we feed her, but I couldn't help feeling a warm glow of affection for her... it was great to see an old friend!

Hans Tibboel

Had a wonderful day today at the Burma Banks. Sunny weather, calm seas and great visibility combined with little current made it the perfect day out in the open sea. Because of its location this area was of course not affected by the tsunami last month. The ancient hard coral formations on the plateau and beautiful soft corals in the deeper parts are all in excellent condition. We dived a total of 3 different Banks and had some good shark encounters including juvenile silvertip sharks, tawny nurse sharks and white tip reef sharks throughout the day. It surely was another great day of diving.

28th Jan, Mergui Archipelago, Myanmar

Hans Tibboel

Good condition hard corals at Ko TachaiHad another good day diving here in Myanmar. We started the day at Fanforest Pinnacle where we swam with several leopard sharks, a white tip reef shark and had great schooling action as well. The fans and other corals at this site are as beautiful as ever before and not damaged by the tsunami. Dived the rest of the day at Western Rocky where we had fantastic visibility and good marine life. Cuttle fish romance, ornate ghost pipe fishes, giant and smashing mantis shrimps, nudibranchs, a few white tip reef sharks and flasher wrasses where some of the highlights today. Like at all the sites in the Mergui Archipelago, did we not encounter any tsunami reef damage here either.

Mark Strickland

Today was another picture-perfect day on and under the Andaman Sea, with blue skies, calm seas, and very clear water. Our first dive was at Fanforest Pinnacle, where we explored among vast fields of orange fan corals, often surrounded by schools of rainbow runners and small jacks. Several white-tip reef sharks cruised in the distance, while two zebra sharks rested in sandy valleys. We also saw a pair of cuttlefish hovering in the shallows. The fans looked as healthy as ever, with no sign of damage from the tsunami. The rest of the day was spent at one of my personal favourite sites, Western Rocky. Conditions were ideal, with just enough current to keep the filter feeders happy, without requiring much effort from us divers. Underwater scenery was nothing short of spectacular, with the entire western point covered in multicolored soft corals. On subsequent dives we also encountered big schools of fusiliers and small barracuda, as well as many different reef fish and invertebrates. Once again, there was no evidence of damage from the big waves.

29th Jan, Mergui Archipelago, Myanmar

Hans Tibboel

On this last diving day in Myanmar waters we dived 3 different sites in the Mergui Archipelago. Started off at Fanforest Pinnacle where we saw again a couple of leopard sharks, cuttle fish romance, lots of moray eels and good schooling fish action. Second dive at Northern Rocky Pinnacle; a completely submerged site exposed to current and with some very special critters. We found here 3 harlequin shrimps chomping on a sea star and the VERY uncommon pinecone fish. The last dive of the day we did an exploratory dive at Chimney Island, a site I'd never dived before. Very nice soft corals and plenty of nudibranchs, pipe fishes and other invertebrates. All in all a great day of diving and I'm glad to say that also today we did not encounter any damage on the reefs from the recent tsunami.

Mark Strickland

Lovely shallow hard coral reef in the Mergui ArchipelagoToday was our last day in the Mergui Archipelago, and it was another good one. We started the day at Fanforest Pinnacle, where we enjoyed the same great conditions as yesterday, and again had close encounters with zebra (a.k.a. leopard) sharks, cuttlefish, and an unusual nudibranch. Next was a live-boat dive at a pinnacle near N. Rocky Is., where we experienced steady current and intermittent thermoclines, but easily found shelter behind the big rock structures. Fish and invertebrate life was plentiful, including a trio of Harlequin shrimp eating a sea star, plus a fish I've never seen here in 17 years diving this region--a Pinecone Fish! Although shy and reclusive by nature, this one obligingly hovered near the opening of a small cavern until almost every diver got a good look at it--what a treat! Our third and final dive was at Chimney Island. I had dived there once during our first season in the Mergui, but didn't find it very impressive then. This time we tried the opposite side, and found a very healthy, colourful rocky reef, with lots of soft corals and harp gorgonians, as well as scattered hard corals. There was no sign of impact from the tsunami, and little evidence of fishing damage either. Aside from nice reef scenery, I also saw a juvenile red emperor, juv. blue-ring angelfish, several good size coral trout, and five egg cowries in one small area.

30th Jan, Richelieu Rock, Thailand

Hans Tibboel

Visibility not all that great at Richelieu Rock today but the marinelife was outstanding. Lots of schooling fish action, beautiful undamaged fan/soft and hard corals and tons of critters made it a very nice day of diving. We dived a total of 4 dives and saw anything from mantis shrimps to chevron barracudas, nudibranchs to ornate ghost pipe fishes and octopi to cuttle fish! What a great site, I never get enough of Richelieu Rock!

Mark Strickland

As usual Hans has summed it up nicely. Diving at Richelieu today was excellent in spite of limited visibility. Highlights included thick schools of jacks and fusiliers, several hefty Malabar grouper, ghost pipefish, and juvenile emperor angelfish, a trio of courting cuttlefish, a pair of amorous octopus, plus many different nudibranchs and several species of allied cowries. Not to mention all the "usual" exotic marine life there. One of the nicest aspects, though, was the colourful soft coral, which was in full "bloom" in the steady current. Great scenery and prolific marine life... another great day in the Andaman Sea!

31st Jan, Ko Tachai, Ko Bon, Similans, Thailand

Hans Tibboel

Started our diving day today at Ko Tachai's "Twin Peaks" and dived two times at this site. All of us saw leopard sharks during the dives and there was quite a bit of schooling fish action as well. Some of us were also fortunate enough to see a couple of Napoleon wrasses. The coral on the reef is still in very good shape despite the tsunami from last month. There's some displacement of rubble and sediment at this site but most divers never noticed that.

After Ko Tachai we did a dive at Ko Bon on "The Ridge"; a steep dropping wall and ridge covered in nice small soft, leather and hard corals. The corals on this site are as beautiful as ever and not damaged. Quite a few tallfin spade fishes here, also moray eels, octopi, angelfishes and egg cowries.

Last dive of the day we dived "Morning Glory" at Similan Island #5 and #6. Great visibility and a gorgeous fringing coral reef with lots of anthias, damsels, parrotfish and butterfly fishes made this the perfect last dive of today.

Mark Strickland

Colourful corals at the Similan Islands National ParkBoth morning dives at Ko Tachai were very enjoyable, with plentiful fish life and nice conditions. There was almost no current on the first dive, but it was flowing quite vigorously by the second. Swimming around the site was no problem though, as the big rocks provided good shelter. Jacks and fusiliers surrounded us several times on both dives, and the usual array of reef fish were all going about their business. Divers who stayed shallow got to watch a constant parade of batfish being cleaned, while those who went a bit deeper saw zebra sharks on both dives. At one point, I saw 3 of them simultaneously, including a young one that actually circled many times within inches of my face! Regarding possible tsunami effects, I did notice a bit of sand & rubble where rock surfaces used to be exposed, but no sand covering any coral. Also, a few coral heads were tilted at odd angles, but all appeared healthy. All guests agreed that it's still a very scenic and lively reef.

The next dive was at Ko Bon, where we dropped in at the rocky s.w. ridge. Schools of snapper milled around near the reef base, along with several blue-ring angelfish, coral trout, and sweetlips. Again, the corals we saw showed no evidence of damage, although we've heard that some areas in the shallow bay (where we never dive anyway) were significantly impacted.

On the last dive, Michael Aw (well known photographer/journalist), his assistant and I took one dinghy to East of Eden in the Similans, while the rest of the group dived Morning Glory. Our reason for diving there was to document some actual reef damage, which we'd heard was fairly extensive there. Indeed, there were several displaced hard coral formations on the slope, and one black coral tree was laying on its side. HOWEVER, we found damage to be minimal. My overwhelming impression of this dive was how incredibly beautiful it was... for me the most scenic dive of the trip! A wide spectrum of soft corals still adorned the deeper bommies, accented by huge, undamaged orange fans and healthy hard corals. Fish life was great as usual, including schools of colourful anthias, damselfish and bigeyes, curious coral groupers, and many blue-spotted stingrays.

After nearly finishing the film in 2 cameras, I ascended to the shallows, where I expected to find some damaged coral to document. To my surprise, I couldn't find any--all the delicate lettuce and blue coral formations were just as beautiful and healthy as I remember from last season! To top it off, a small hawksbill turtle allowed us to get within inches as it chomped on some sponges. We didn't see the entire site, and I suppose that some areas may have significant damage. What I saw, however, was stunningly beautiful. Michael was disappointed that he couldn't get any photos of dramatic damage, but I guess the beautiful reef scenics he got kind of made up for it. My only regret is that we aren't planning another dive there tomorrow! But, there are other sites to see... stay tuned!

1st Feb, Similan Islands, Thailand

Hans Tibboel

The last day of the trip and the last three dives! Had an absolutely beautiful first dive this morning at Boulder City. Gin clear water, 4 leopard sharks, 2 large Napoleon wrasses and a bunch of blue spotted stingrays made it a wonderful dive. Also, the fans and hard corals are all in great shape and untouched by the tsunami.

Second dive at Sharkfin Reef also with excellent diving conditions. Whitetip reef shark, hawksbill turtle, giant moray eels, two Napoleon wrasses, Schultz pipe fish, great schooling fish and beautiful fan corals made it a very pleasant dive that we all enjoyed.

The last dive at Rocky Point Bay was an easy dive on a mainly shallow hard coral reef. Lots of small colourful fishes, a banded sea krait and a large school of yellowtail barracudas were some of the critters that we saw here. The shallow hard coral reef was virtually untouched by the tsunami and in excellent shape.

Mark Strickland

Our first dive today was at Boulder City, a site that I'm usually not thrilled about, although nearly everyone else seems to like it very well. Today, however, with superb visibility and great marine life, I must say I was very impressed. Several zebra sharks circulated among the guests throughout the dive, lots of blue-spotted rays hovered around, and schooling fusiliers, jacks and goatfish were plentiful. I also saw a palette surgeonfish and a very large Napoleon wrasse, both unusual species for here. I was on the lookout for tsunami damage, but could not discern any. In fact, the fans here seemed to be bigger, healthier and more numerous than any time in recent memory... I may have to add Boulder City to my favourite sites list after all!

More healthy fan corals at 3 IsletsOur next dive was at Sharkfin reef, where I decided to do some exploring. Instead of sticking to the east end, where Hans and most of the guests had a fine dive, I swam a long distance towards the northwest. During my swim, I remembered why we never dive this part of the site... it's pretty barren. Nothing to do with the tsunami, it just never had much coral. Still, I did come across a nice field of staghorn coral where perhaps a hundred blue-fin trevally and long-nose emperors were terrorizing fusiliers, while a huge Napoleon wrasse circled in the distance. Not bad!

Our third and final dive was at Similan #1. We had heard reports of significant damage to parts of the Rocky Point there, so Michael Aw, his assistant and I started there, in hopes of finding some destroyed coral to document. Here and there we did see a few green tubastraea trees toppled, and several displaced table corals. There were also some areas next to big boulders where sand had been washed away, and other places where extra sand had been deposited. However, none of this appeared to have smothered any living coral, and overall the damage was so minimal that I doubt someone who didn't know the reef intimately would have noticed. From Rocky Point we swam across the narrow channel to the shallow coral gardens, where we found no visible damage at all. The delicate cabbage and staghorn corals were in at least as good condition as I remember from a couple years ago...it's still a beautiful reef.

This was our last dive of the trip, and I surfaced with great reluctance, as I always hate saying farewell to these reefs. I started this trip with a sense of pessimism, since I'd heard so much about reef damage. It is true that we didn't see every site in the region, and it's likely that a few places we missed did sustain significant damage. However, I can say without reservation that the diving is still excellent in the Andaman Sea, and I wholeheartedly recommend it, in spite of whatever reports are circulating to the contrary. I'm pretty sure everyone else on the cruise would agree. This was truly an outstanding dive trip, and I can't wait to come back!

MORE UPDATES AS THE SEASON CONTINUES.

 

Divesite Reports I Passenger Comments I Tsunami News

home I ocean rover I diving cruises I adventure cruises
schedules/prices I news updates I photo gallery I general info