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An Underwater photographer’s ultimate guide to the Mergui Archipelago
smilingseahorse - 6/26/2020 12:11 AM
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Category: Travel
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An Underwater photographer’s ultimate guide to the Mergui ArchipelagoMergui Archipelago: Myanmar’s diving destination...

After a long surface interval where you finally found the time to finishing editing your full SD cards, do you feel like getting away for a few days? Would you like to leave the mainland for exciting ocean adventures? Myanmar reveals marine wonders most sought after by divers and underwater photographers. Located in Southeast Asia, the Mergui Archipelago will amaze you with a variety of sea life of all sizes making stylish appearances at different sites such as Western Rocky, Black Rock, and many others!

Let’s dive in the heart of the Mergui Archipelago

An undiscovered paradise in the Indian Ocean, the Mergui Archipelago is the home of 800 islands surrounded by immaculate reefs and pinnacles bustling with life. Along with the abundance of gorgeous scenery and impressive marine life, one of the reasons we love this area so much is its air of exclusivity. Particularly appealing for a photographer, our boat rarely crosses paths with another while we cruise the crystal clear seas, and being alone on the dive sites make it so you will never get an unwanted photobomber finning through your frame.
As your research has concluded, the best way to reach these coveted dive spots far from the clutches of civilization is on a liveaboard dive cruise with The Smiling Seahorse. Now that you’ve made the decision to embark on a magnificent adventure with us, you need to think about how to best prepare yourself.
As photography enthusiasts, we understand that while regular divers also want to be well prepared for a cruise, photographers have many extra things to consider when getting ready for a once in a lifetime trip such as this. We have compiled this one-stop, all you need to know guide for underwater photographers diving in Burma to put your mind at ease.

What subjects should I expect to find in the Mergui Archipelago? ​

Whether you want to photograph things so tiny your eyes cant perceive the details or you want to hover in the blue surrounded by schools of fish, you are sure to find everything your diver’s heart yearns for in Burma.
We commonly see macro life such as various types of shrimps and crabs, nudibranchs, cowries, flatworms and sea slugs of every size texture and colour. Search for seahorses, pipefish, frogfish and many other types of coral dwelling animals. Some of the most popular and curious species include the ghost pipefish and harlequin shrimp.

We can also regularly spot many types of moray eel, sneaky scorpion and stone fish, cephalopods like octopus and cuttlefish, huge groups of predatory schooling fish and every variety of tropical fish under the sun.
Larger species are also not hard to come by here and are always exciting to spot. We can find various rays from shy bottom dwelling species like the marble ray to the majestic nomadic manta ray. Cobia, barracuda, many types of sharks including lazy nurse sharks and of course the coveted whale shark are all likely to make an appearance at one of our many impressive dive sites.

All these beautiful species will dance and bustle across a breathtaking backdrop at every stop. Most of the reefs are made up of granite or limestone and have very interesting topographies. Explore the magnificent rock formations, ancient coral heads and spacious swim throughs with light artistically streaming through the gloom. The coral species are also quite diverse although we predominantly find vibrant gardens of soft corals and sponge in the majority of the archipelago.

Diving conditions in Mergui Archipelago:

Our season in Burma runs from October until May. This part of the world gets hammered by monsoon rains and strong winds in the off months making it too dangerous to navigate the seas, but the rest of the year we dive the calm clear waters under a rarely obstructed sun and a light refreshing sea breeze.
Water temperatures are fairly consistently in the pleasant range of 27°C to 30°C and visibility usually ranges from 10-40m depending on the site and the luck of the day. Turbidity is usually minimal and will allow you to get some great perspective through your wide-angle lens but on the off days, you may want to spend more time up close and personal with the reef and your macro lens.
Currents are always something to be mindful of in Burma. Some of the most interesting sites like the Burma Banks are very exposed and can be a real humbling display of the strength of the ocean but many areas offer more sheltered and favorable conditions to patiently await the right moment to click on the shutter. Due to the topography of the sights we don’t experience up or down currents and the risk of being swept away from the site is minimal. Although if ever mistakes are made or you can’t help yourself from pursuing a school of fish out into the blue, just shoot up your SMB and the boat will come to collect you from wherever you surface. The 6-hour tidal currents are very predictable and with the expertise of the crew, we will be sure to ride them in the safest way possible.

What photo specific amenities are available to me on the MV SMiling Seahorse?

What photography gear will I need?

Top dives sites in Mergui Archipelago:

Type of Dive: wall dive, cave dive, coral garden
Depth: 5 - 35 metres
Visibility: 15 - 25 metres
Marine Life: +++
Difficulty: Intermediate
Lens Recommendation:
Day: Wide-angle
Night: Macro

Type of Dive: wall dive, cave dive, coral garden
Depth: 5 - 35 metres
Visibility: 15 - 30 metres
Marine Life: +++ for Mantas
Difficulty: Intermediate / Advanced
Lens Recommendation: any lens for any dive.

Type of Dive: wall dive, cave dive, coral garden
Depth: 5 - 40 metres
Visibility: 10 - 30 metres
Marine Life: +++ for schools of fish
Difficulty: Intermediate / Advanced
Lens Recommendation: ​any lens for any dive

Type of Dive: wall dive, cave dive, coral garden
Depth: 5 - 25 metres
Visibility: 15 - 30 metres
Marine Life: +++ for Macro, seahorses guaranteed
Difficulty: Intermediate / Advanced
Lens Recommendation:
Day: Macro lens
Night: Macro or wide-angle lens

Type of Dive: wall dive, cave dive, coral garden
Depth: 5 - 30 metres
Visibility: 15 - 30 metres
Marine Life: +++ for pelagics
Difficulty: Intermediate / Advanced
Lens Recommendation:
Day: wide-angle
Night: macro or super-macro lens

Type of Dive: wall dive, cave dive, coral garden
Depth: 20 - 35 metres
Visibility: 15 - 30 metres
Marine Life: +++ for sharks
Difficulty: Intermediate / Advanced
Lens Recommendation: Wide-angle

Where: The Mergui Archipelago is located in the Andaman Sea off the west coast of Myanmar. When looking on a map it is just to the North of the more famous Surin and Similan National parks in Thailand.
Language: Burmese, but English is commonly understood in the dive industry
Currency: Kyat (1 Euro equals 1,534.09 Myanmar Kyat)
Time Zone: Myanmar (Burma) (GMT+6:30) 30 minutes ahead of Thailand!
Water Temperature: 80°F |27–29°C
Diving Experience Level: The remoteness of the sites, depth and currents make Mergui archipelago more suitable for experienced divers especially those taking photos.
Photography Experience Level: Intermediate–advanced...