'On a crisp
warm morning in April this year I caught my first glimpse of Myanmar's
southern tropical islands. Having sailed north from Kawthaung the
previous evening on SEAL's beautiful yacht "Crescent",
we anchored in a shallow bay and hopped ashore on Wa Ale Kyunn to
explore. Tall evergreen dipterocarp trees cover this island, and
it's larger neighbour Lampi Island. The first birds I noticed were
Green imperial pigeons, a largish bird with a restricted range,
but apparently locally common on the islands. Tracks of mouse deer
and civet cat dotted the mud along tidal creeks. Crab-eating macaques,
a boisterous primate were quickly spotted in mangrove forests near
the beach. All of this wildlife on our first morning!
Myanmar's first Marine National Park in 1996, Lampi and surrounding
islands form a 205 square kilometer conservation
area that support
a range of globally and regionally threatened marine animals including
dugong, whales and dolphins, and sea turtles. The Park also protects
good stands of evergreen forests, as well as mangroves and tidal
swamp forests, and coral reefs. I spent six days exploring Wa Ale
and Lampi Islands with SEAL. It was an incredible experience! As
a professional biologist on vacation, I was intrigued by the diversity
of animal and plant life, which I describe here.
Sea turtles nest on many beaches on the islands digging sandy craters
to deposit their valuable clutches. Four species of turtle; Green,
Hawksbill, Olive Ridley and Leatherback are found in the Andaman
Sea. All are declining in numbers, so beaches like those on islands
in the Lampi Group are important for their survival. Sea turtles
are threatened by long-line fishing lines and nets, by collection
of their eggs for trade and by water pollution.
another species of concern. Occasionally reported from the Mergui
Islands, these beautiful mammal grazers are threatened by hunting,
by eradication of sea grass beds which support them, and by collisions
with boats and encounters with nets.
A number of
whales and dolphins are known from the Andaman Sea. Spinner, spotted
and striped dolphins, along with long-finned pilot whales, false
killer whales, Bryde's whales and Minke whale have recently been
recorded in the southern Mergui Archipelago. On days when the sea
is calm these mammals can be spotted from boats. The shape of their
dorsal fins, and overall size, as well as patterns are used to identify
species and individuals. Dolphins are threatened by over fishing
- which reduces their available food, by accidental death in fishing
nets, and by hunting for illegal trade.
and sharks are also frequently reported from Lampi Island, although
we did not see any during the few dives we made.
We dived in several places the most memorable of which was a secret
place which shall remain nameless off Swinton Island. On the roof
of an underwater cave we found dozens of spiny lobster, as well
as jacks, tuna and barracuda and other large fish. Some large heads
of hard coral, as well as soft coral with algae, sponge crinoids
and hydroids covering rocks and calcerous substrates. Nudibranchs,
several species of eel, cowrie shells and perhaps a hundred species
of reef fish were seen during an hour underwater. Fabulous!
Dense stands of mangroves some towering 25m occur on Lampi. We used
sea kayaks to paddle through these mysterious forests at high tide.
Mangroves support a wide range of marine fauna. Mangroves serve
as nurseries for breeding fish. Waders and other water birds, along
with crabs, and macaques feed in mangroves at low tide. At high
tide, sharks, parrotfish and others feed in them.
islands further south, across the Thai border, which have suffered
encroachment and clearance for development, forests on Wa Ale and
Lampi Island were intact and mostly in good condition. There are
large trees on the islands, large enough to support large birds
such as hornbills and birds of prey which use them to nest and to
feed. One afternoon, climbing to the peak of a small island of Lampi,
I counted 60 Plain-pouched hornbills in a single flock. The birds
were feeding on fruit in large trees on a steep limestone hill.
Smaller flocks of Brahminy kites circled high above the screeching
hornbills. A spectacular sunset with the silhouettes of the hornbills
and kites left a particularly lasting impression on me.
The only residents in the islands are temporary ones, and include
the semi-nomadic Salon people. The islands are a part of their native
fishing grounds and their small wooden hulks are seen plying the
due to it's remoteness and other pressing environmental concerns,
Lampi has missed out on having staff assigned to protect it. Hopefully
as the Mergui Archipelago becomes more popular, more attention will
be paid to protecting the fragile island environments, so they can
be enjoyed for decades more, or longer.
become a threat to the islands in the future. Recognizing this possibility,
SEAL provides low impact trips to Wa Ale and Lampi Islands. They
maintain an unobtrusive camp on Wa Ale. It could be packed up in
a day without a trace of anyone having been there. Dougie Alexander
was without doubt the most knowledgeable dive master and amateur
marine naturalist I have met in Asia. Our guide Cedric Gourmela's
enthusiasm for nature is exemplified by the bird list he put together
for the islands. The crew of the "Crescent" were excellent
and conscious of safety and water cleanliness. Adam and Graham Frost
were excellent hosts and they enjoy coming out with their guests
to the islands. I thank them all for making this trip possible.'
Antony Lynam (Ph.D.), Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS)- Thailand
Programme Director and conservation scientist, works with the Thailand
Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plants to develop programmes
for the conservation of the country's endangered species, park resources
management, and the design and conduct of training curriculum for
citizen, he has authored a number of technical papers and popular
articles concerning conservation issues in Australia, North America,
and Thailand, and was a contributor to the seminal volume on habitat
fragmentation "Tropical Forest Remnants: Ecology, Conservation
and Management". He writes frequently on natural history for
magazines, journals and newspapers including Wildlife Conservation,
The Nation, The Bangkok Post, and The Natural History Bulletin of
The Siam Society.