Coral reefs are, without a doubt, one of the true natural treasures of our earth. They are home to an enormous variety of life forms, which is why they are often compared with tropical rainforests. Coral reefs need sunlight and warm water to exist. As a result, we only find coral reefs between the 30th parallels north and south of the equator. The minimum temperature that tropical corals can exist at is 20 degrees C.
Coral reefs are a complex system of uncountable micro-living spaces. In addition to the visible plants and animals, there are millions of nearly invisible, microscopic organisms that reside in these micro-caves and crevices inside of the coral blocks. Also, legions of tiny creatures called “zooplankton” live directly above the reef. These creatures are an essential link in the reef food chain.
The Andaman Sea, which is part of the Indian Ocean, hosts a unique variety of marine life. More than 3000 different types of fish and over 500 unique corals have been identified and catalogued at the Similan Islands to date. According to experts on this region, there still exists a great quantity of undiscovered marine life – a challenge for all underwater photographers to become the first to document and perhaps even name a new species.
Coral reefs are now facing the threat of massive destruction on a global scale. Fishing with dynamite and cyanide, specifically in Indonesia and the Philippines, has destroyed countless reefs already. As a result of global warming, more and more of the phenomenon known as “coral bleaching” is also occurring. When bleaching takes place, the symbiotic algae in the corals are expelled and the corals become transparent. When this happens, it becomes possible to see through to the white limestone underneath, hence the name “coral bleaching”. Most of the corals will eventually recover from the bleaching, but if the warmer water temperatures last too long, the corals will be destroyed forever.
A further danger facing coral reef ecosystems is the increase of tourism. Millions of people worldwide spend their leisure time around, on, or in the ocean. Many reefs show extensive damage from boat anchoring and pollution. DIVE ASIA is a leading proponent of reef preservation, and has made protection of coral reefs one of our highest priorities. During all of our dive excursions, customers are fully briefed that no touching of any organism is permitted, and diving gloves are not allowed. The collection of any “souvenirs” under water is also prohibited. During diving courses, one of our primary focuses is continuous buoyancy control. Diving occurs in small groups, under the guidance of a dive professional. Coral reefs need our help if we are to continue to enjoy them.
In this Andaman Sea Reef Guide, we can’t possibly present all the fish and coral that inhabit this region and the Similan Islands. We have limited this guide to marine life forms which are often encountered while diving in the Andaman Sea. As well, we’ve included some of the special “regulars” of Phuket – life forms that you can see here more often than in other dive destinations. We’ve also included some masters of camouflage, which may require a trained eye to recognize.