A Guide to Tourism Destinations and Beyond

Vol. 3 No.2 April-June 2004   

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Where the sea are blue

By: Hpone Thant
Photos: Sonny Nyein

Black-sand beach of Sittway Myanmar faces two seas: the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea. The Rakhine coastal strip faces the Bay of Bengal (Bingala Pinle Aw) and stretches for 750 Kilometres from the mouth of the Naff River on the border with Bangladesh towards Mawtin Point (Cape Negris). The nothern part is shallow but the southern part is more or less rocky. The Continental Shelf, up to 200 metres in depth, is narrow compared to other areas. The Yanbye (Ramree) and Man Aung (Cheduba) Islands are two of the 
wellknown islands in the area.

The Deltaic Coastal Zone is from the tip of Mawtin Point to the mouth of the Thanlwin river. The Ayeyarwady delta is formed by the numerous outlets of the Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) River. Also the Sittaung (Sittang) and the Thanlwin (Salween) rivers empty into the Gulf of Moattama (Gulf of Martaban). It is estimated that this area is expending at the rate of 5 Kilometres of every hundred years due to the enormous deposits of slit being carried down by these three large river systems.

Ngwe Saung Beach pagodas Another coastal area of the country is the Tanintharyi coast. Previously it waw called Tenessarim and faces the Andaman Sea known to the Myanmars as "Cutpail Pinle". The coastal strech is about 1200 Kilometres until it reaches Bayint Naung Point (Victoria Point) opposite Rangon in Thailand. Kawthoung is the southernmost town of Myanmar situated on the tip of the peninsula. The Myeik (Mergui) Archipelago is dotted with more than 800 small islands had English names as recently as 1990 when they were changed to Myanmar names. Lumpi Island, where there is a marine national, was known previously as Sullivan Island. 

There are other names also such as Loughborough, swinton,CIara, st. Mat thews, st. Luke etc. but now they all have Myanmar names. Some even have such picturesque names like "The Five Sisters". It is a group of five limestone peaks jutting out of the emerald waters on the route from Kawthoung to Lumpi Island. The Tanintharyi coastal plain is narrow but towards the east it rises and becomes the Taninthayi Ranges with Myitmo Let Khat Peak the highest point reaching to 2073 metres. The total shallow coastal area covers an area of 228.781 sq kilometers.

 Coastal and marine ecosystems such as mangroves, corals reefs, seagrass beds,estuaries, upwells and marine organisms' migratory routes playa major role in the biodiversity of these areas. While coral reefs, seagrass beds and mangrove forests are
abundant in the Myeik Archipelago, vast mud flats and estuaries are see on the deltaic area. Rippling white sand beaches and dunes occur throughout the whole coastline. Seagrass beds are found in the Rakhine and Tanintharyi coastal areas but not in the Ayeyarwady delta and the Gulf of Moattama. These seagrasses are important habitat and food source for marine fauna. They also provide shelters for economically important species of marine invertebrates, coral reef fishes and dugongs ( Dugong dugong). The Myanmar fishermen call the seagrasses "Leik Sar Phat Myet", meaning grass for the turtles. This in itself explains the importance of these seagrasses as food for the marine turtles. 

  Kawthaung from the hill Shark's Cave. It is the best dive-site for close encounters with the predators of the seas.

Coral reefs of the Myeik IslandsMangroves are also important. They are not mud flats crawling with numerous unnamed insects and choked with Nippa palms. In the tropics mangroves playa significant role in the environment and also home for many wildlife and fisheries. They are also nurseries for numerous species of fish and crustaceans apart from
serving as carbon dioxide sinks. In some countries mangrove are carefully maintained
and mangroves parks established for international visitors to see and experience the vibrant bio-diversity of the mangrove ecosystem.

These diverse conditions make the beaches, the islands and the waters off the Myanmar coast ideal places to develop marine based ecotourism programmes. According to recent statistics almost 85% of tourist travels are related with the sea; beach holidays, diving, surfing, sailing etc.

Ma gyun Galet Salon villagers It has been reported by many dive operators that sharks are still to be seen in Myanmar waters. The divers are fascinated by these creatures and it is one of the best incentives to bring in people interested in exploring the underwater world. Anisolated limestone outcrop with an underwater cavern is even
called Shark Cave as it is the best place for any close encounters of these predators of the seas. Manta rays, turtles are also seen on these dives. Burbank, Roe Bank, the North/South Twins are reputed to be fantastic dive sites.
Corals like shallow, clear and warm waters.51 species belonging to 20 families of anthozoan coral polyps are found here are abundantly distributed and diverse. According to the dive-masters operating in that area the corals around the islands of Myeik Archipelago are still beautiful and schools of exotic tropical fishes still shimmer among them. There are both soft and hard corals to be found in the warm waters off the Tanintharyi coastline.
Lumpi Island is about 5-6 hours sailing time from Kawthoung. The Marine National Park offers nature lovers many opportunities to experience the underwater world or observe the daily life of the Salon people as there is Ma Gyun Galet Salon village on Bo Cho island. Furthermore they would also be able to see dolphins bow-riding their schooner and seabirds diving for fish. One unique specie of birds is the swiftlets ( Collocalia fuciphaga) called Ziwasoe in the Myanmar language. These small birds are unique in that their nests are made in high and practically inaccessible rock faces and from their own vomit. These nests are harvested by the local people and sold to traders. Famous allover the world as bird nests they command very high prices on the East Asian markets as health food and an aphrodisiac!

Salons on their boat(1957) Ma gyun Galet Salon villagers Ma gyun Galet Salon villagers

Whale sharks(Rhincodon typus), as well as other species of whales, can also be seen along the Myanmar coast. These giant fishes can be seen in about 91 countries of the world and Myanmar is one of them. It is also a great revenue earner. In the Maldives, Australia, Mexico and some places it has been estimated that they generate about UsD 20 million a year alone from such whale shark watching trips.
Not very long ago a Whale Shark was caught off shore at Ngapali Beach and fishermen along this coast reports many sighting of these huge fishes during their migration. 

 One of the island among the eight hundred Salon Village of Tanintharyi Division     

A beached whale was also reported off the coast of Tanintharyi near the village of Aungba, opposite Lumpi Island. A skeleton of a young blue whale is on display at Hlawga National Park. Salon Village scenes It had beached on the coast and when villagers discovered it only the skeleton was left and it was brought to Yangon. Game fishes like the merlin and barracuda are also reported in the Myanmar waters.

For those who are interested in combining dive trips with insights into the exotic native life tliere are the Salon people, also known as Moken, who live in the sea around the Myeik Archipelago. These Salon people, called Sea Gypsies, spend their whole life on small boats: the parents, children and even the household dog. They roam the seas in their dugouts diving for pearls and looking for such sea products as sea cucumbers, sea urchins and come to land only to shelter from cyclones and high seas during the monsoon. And they can dive really deep without any diving aids. The Salon people consider the "brain" of the sea urchins as an aphrodisiac. This brain is a small whitish lump of tissue which is found inside the head. But these sea urchins only allow the Salon women folks to pick them up from the seabed. A male trying to do that would have to face the bristling poisonous spikes on their backs!
As it is the white rippling sand beaches, the emerald green tropical jungles and the blue waters of the Myanmar coastline are waiting for you to discover.

Ma gyun Galet Salon villagers A Salon Kitchen

Acknowledgements: This article is based mainly on the authors own trips to the regions but sincere thanks are also due to the participants of the recent "Sustainable Management of the Bay of Bengal Large Marine Ecosystem Workshop" and 'The Mergui (Myeik) Archipelago Seminar" both held in Yangon, for providing him with many insights and data as well as inspiring him to develop an interest in marine-based tourism programmes in Myanmar. Hpone Thant is a keen ecotourism enthusiast and write in many local and international publications on the culture and traditions and nature of Myanmar. He can be reached
at: harry@swiftwinds.com.mm