The Ray of Hope 2015 Departs
The 2015 Ray of Hope Expedition began with an informal ‘Meet and Greet’ evening prior to departure day. Return guests, along with many new guests, got the chance to meet Dr. Jaine and sample some delicious local Thai cuisine at one of Khao Lak’s new and upcoming restaurants, Naam. Much of departure day was spent with the long arduous task of getting into Myanmar. After a long, but exciting drive to Ranong, the guests relaxed onboard the MV Deep Andaman Queen liveaboard vessel whilst the boat staff processed the departure from Thailand and entry into Myanmar. However, the long winded process only added to the mystery and excitement of entering the seldom visited waters of the Mergui Archipelago and by sunset the boat had cleared Myanmar Immigration and was headed due west to the first dive site.
After last year’s trip, which focused solely on Thailand’s manta aggregation sites, itinerary organizers Thailand Dive and Sail scheduled most of the expedition’s dives to be in Myanmar. A total of 20 dives were conducted in Myanmar, followed by 6 dives in Thailand. This was designed to show the guests onboard not only the best known manta aggregation sites, but also the best diving in Burma and Thailand.
Discovering the Best Dive Sites in Burma
Day one was spent around Western Rocky dive site. During the 2014-2015 Burma diving season there had been numerous whale shark sightings here; for our divers at least, after manta rays, a whale shark is probably the next creature on a “diving encounter wish list”. Unfortunately no whale sharks were sighted, but the Myanmar leg of the trip was well under way with an enjoyable day’s diving in the southern Mergui Archipelago.
Day two and the Ray of Hope Expedition headed west, a long long way west out towards the famous Burma Banks. Three dives were scheduled here, at one of SE Asia’s most remote dive locations. The Banks are a series of submerged coral banks of varying depths between 12 and 24 metres. Diving these remote sites was a great thrill and a great experience to add to any diver’s log book. The dive groups spotted a few Indian Ocean nurse sharks and large blotched fan tail rays whilst diving amongst the pristine reefs and abundant reef fish life.
That evening, the manta build-up began with a viewing of the BBC’s well known documentary on Andrea Marshall, Director of the Marine Megafauna Foundation, “Andrea, Queen of Mantas”.
The Legendary Black Rock
After a long overnight cruise came the highlight of the expedition, two days of diving at Black Rock. With a total of 8 dives scheduled here, there was enough time to hopefully encounter as many manta rays as possible. Luck was with the expedition on the first day at Black Rock with eleven confirmed individual manta ray sightings by the end of the second dive. It wasn’t just manta rays though, there was one whale shark encounter and some groups spotted eagle rays too. During the surface intervals the waters around Black Rock were teeming with life, three minkie whales were never far away from the boat along with a small pod of spinner dolphins.
After the first successful day at Black Rock, the guests aboard were treated to another of the expedition’s highlights, a unique and insightful manta ray presentation from Dr. Fabrice Jaine. The 2015 expedition was already exceeding expectations.
The second day at Black Rock added one more manta ray to the list, a playful female who visited the groups of divers on at least three out of the four dives. The day gave the divers a chance to explore the abundant macro life also found at Black Rock.
Conservation and Community Work
After four days of diving it was time for a break and some land activities. This is the day we spent on Lampi Island with the indigenous sea gypsies, or Moken as they are otherwise known as, and was where we handed out donations of glasses and litter bins as part of See and Sea’s efforts to help the Moken and environment in the Andaman Sea. This was an important part of the trip and gave the guests a chance to visit one of the communities that live within the Mergui.