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The Mergui Archipelago (also Myeik Archipelago or Myeik Kyunzu; Burmese: မြိတ်ကျွန်းစု) is an archipelago in far southern Myanmar (Burma) and is part of the Tanintharyi Region. It consists of more than 800 islands, varying in size from very small to hundreds of square kilometres, all lying in the Andaman Sea off the western shore of the Malay Peninsula near its landward (northern) end where it joins the rest of Indochina. Occasionally the islands are referred to as the Pashu Islands because the Malay inhabitants are locally called Pashu. A five-star casino and golf resort, the Andaman Club now operates on Thahtay Kyun Island.
Geologically, the islands are characterized mainly by limestone and granite. They are generally covered with thick tropical growth, including rainforest, and their shorelines are punctuated by beaches, rocky headlands, and in some places, mangrove swamps. Offshore are extensive coral reefs.
The archipelago's virtual isolation from most of mankind's influence on the natural environment has given the islands and the surrounding waters of the Andaman Sea a great diversity of flora and fauna, contributing to the region's growing popularity as a diving destination.
On the islands themselves, various animals thrive, including deer, monkeys, tropical birds including hornbills, and wild swine. There are even unconfirmed reports of Sumatran rhinoceros on Lanbi, one of the bigger islands, but this has been widely discredited.
Environmental threats to the region include overfishing and also blast fishing. Burma's current military government, the "State Peace and Development Council", has not done much to deal with these problems.
- Auriol Island
- Bentinck Kyun
- Christie Island, the southernmost island of the group
- Daung Kyun
- Kabosa Island
- Kadan Kyun
- Kanmaw Kyun
- Lamin Island
- Lanbi Kyun
- Letsok-aw Kyun
- Mali Kyun, the northernmost island of the group
- Money Island
- Sabi Island
- Saganthit Kyun
- Tenasserim Island
- Thahtay Kyun
- Than Kyun
The local people are an ethnic minority called the Moken, sometimes known as sea Gypsies, although this term actually covers several groups in Southeast Asia. They are a sea-dwelling people and they follow a traditional way of life, doing things such as fishing and building boats very much the way they have done for centuries. They can be found living on their traditional boats during the dry season, but usually keep to land in the rainy season. The Moken claim that the islands were detached from the mainland after a great mythological flood.
Violence by the military regime in the archipelago
The Mergui Archipelago is located in Tanintharyi Region, one of the regions heavily impacted by violence during the Burmese Civil War. Violence in the Mergui archipelago has often targeted civilians including the massacres of fishermen and the entire population of the picturesque Christie Island.
The area was only opened up to foreign tourism in 1997 after negotiations between Burma and dive operators from Phuket in Thailand. The archipelago's isolation is such that much of it has not even yet been thoroughly explored.
Owing to the archipelago's remoteness, a live aboard cruise is the only way for visitors to go diving in areas with names such as Big Bank, Rainbow Reef or Silvertip Bank. Some islands have huge boulders, soft corals and sea fans. Others offer wall diving, caverns, tunnels and drop-offs.
Dive sites such as Shark Cave feature grey reef, nurse shark and Blotched sting rays. Black Rock has manta rays and schools of mobula (devil) rays. Photographers are attracted by frogfish, ghost pipefish, ribbon eels and cowries as well as many crustaceans such as lobsters, crabs, and shrimps.
The best diving conditions exist from December to April, with whale sharks and manta rays visiting from February to May.
Very few liveaboards visit Mergui Archipelago, hence you are nearly sure to be alone on a dive site. Some boats leave from Phuket and Kao Lak, well known as diving destinations but The Smiling Seahorse leaves from Ranong, the border town making it possible to have cruises exclusively in Burmese waters.
In popular culture
- In the 1965 James Bond film Thunderball, Ernst Stavro Blofeld in a disguised voice sends an ultimatum to NATO demanding that they pay SPECTRE a ransom of white flawless diamonds worth £100 million to be deposited in the Mergui Archipelago off the coast of Burma.
- The Mergui Archipelago has appeared in several of W.E. Johns's "Biggles" books: Biggles – Air Commodore (1937), Biggles Delivers the Goods (1946), and Biggles and the Lost Sovereigns (1964).
- Bird, Eric C. F. (2010) Encyclopedia of the World's Coastal Landforms Springer Verlag, Netherlands, page 1085, ISBN 978-1-4020-8638-0
- Financial Times, April 19, 2013; "The lost world: Myanmar’s Mergui islands", by Sophy Roberts http://www.burmaboating.com/the-mergui-archipelago-and-the-moken/
- http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/defector-tells-of-burmese-atrocity/story-e6frg6t6-1111116576033, Defector tells of Burmese atrocity , The Australian, June 09, 2008
- As Myanmar Opens Up, Idyllic Islands Remain Unwelcoming, New York Times, By THOMAS FULLER, April 25, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/26/world/asia/as-myanmar-opens-up-idyllic-islands-remain-unwelcoming.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
- Andaman Club
- Liveaboard Diving in the Mergui Archipelago of Burma/Myanmar
- Diving in the Mergui Archipelago
- Hand Book on Tours in Mergui Archipelago by Sonny AMO
- up to date Mergui-Archipelago Facts
- Reading list of books on the Mergui Archipelago and the Moken people