In the past couple of years a lot of attention has been drawn to the current conditions of the Similan Islands. To a small extent the 2004 Tsunami, but more importantly the South East Asian coral bleaching of 2010 has had a dramatic effect on Thailand’s dive sites in general, leaving some areas in a depressing and sad state. The Similan Islands, once hailed as one of the top ten dive destinations in the world has lost some of it’s shine in recent years.
Few Similan dive sites escaped the bleaching unscathed. Unregulated and unsustainable commercial fishing is also taking its toll on the Andaman Sea area as a whole, and there are clear signs of a dramatic fall in shark and manta ray sightings. Nevertheless, you will be hard pressed to find better diving on offer in Thailand, especially if you include the more remote and lesser known dive sites, Koh Bon, Koh Tachai and Richelieu Rock which most Similan liveaboards include on their itinerary.
Not wanting to gloss over facts, the marine ecosystem, especially here in Southeast Asia is under considerable pressure. However there were signs of improvement in the 2011/2012 diving season with a lot of new coral growth observed. Whether this is only short term or long term remains to be seen.
We logged many breathtaking dives during this season, you just have to know where the good spots are. Guests were often surprised as to the amount of reef fish at many places as well having the opportunity to dive with Manta rays at Koh Bon and Koh Tachai. Richelieu Rock remains in a class of it’s own and is still worth it’s world top ten ranking. Unfortunately guide books, PADI and other websites are slow to react to changes in conditions and reports of frequent whale shark sightings at Richelieu Rock should be taken with a large pinch of salt. Whale sharks, sadly, no longer orbit Richelieu Rock like satellites. The Andaman Sea, and especially the Similan Islands, have seen a dramatic fall in whale shark sightings over the last few years, along with sightings of white and black tip reef sharks, nurse sharks and leopard sharks.
As long as you are well informed and have a realistic idea of what to expect, not relying on false promises made by many operators, and you dive with experienced dive guides, you can certainly have exciting and thrilling dives in the Similan Islands.
Since 2010, there are many bad reviews and comments about diving in the Similan Islands on various scuba forums. Most of these reports are authentic. Underwater deserts do exist, but there are still some areas that are largely intact. These tend to be for more advanced divers and led by the experienced dive guides. Reports on great dives since 2010 can also be found on the internet in equal numbers. So what can you expect from diving in the Similan Islands?