Throughout Blue Guru's whole dive season from Nov 2012 - Apr 2013 we recorded all sightings of sharks, rays & fishing boats whilst diving & snorkeling in National Parks off the coast from our base on Koh Phra Thong. This included surveys conducted at Surin Islands & Richelieu Rock in Surin National Park (84%) and Similan Islands, Koh Bon & Koh Tachai in Similan National Park (16%).
Sharks sighted included black tipped, white tipped & grey reef sharks; nurse shark & leopard shark. Although sadly no whale sharks were encountered during our survey dives, good news is that they were sighted by others at Tachai this season, so these awesome fish are still migrating through the Andaman Sea.
Rays sighted included eagle rays, stingrays, mobula, guitarfish & the majestic manta ray. Manta rays were sighted at Tachai in December & Richelieu Rock in February, with a special appearance for our Course Director's birthday!
An average of 2 fishing boats were seen at each dive/snorkel site. The highest number recorded was a staggering 20 fishing boats taking protection at Surin Islands. Although no fishing activity was actually seen in National Park waters, it is difficult to assess from the surface, especially when fishing boats are allowed to enter the no-fishing zone to moor!
We also gathered customer opinions. An outstanding 92% said they would recommend Surin National Park or Similan National Park to others, based on the wide diversity of marine life seen during their dives/snorkelling sessions. However significant majorities believed that the no-fishing zone should be expanded and fishing boats should not be allowed to enter the protected zones for any reason.
We have already shared our initial results & recommendations with a Thai conservation organisation, SAMPAN (Strengthening Andaman Marine Park Areas Network). We will continue collaborating to drive forward actions to improve protection of sharks & rays from fishing boats in & around National Park waters. If National Park no-fishing zones were expanded & fishing boats no longer allowed to enter protected zones, sharks & rays (and other marine life) would be afforded greater protection from poaching, accidental bycatch, entanglement and boat collisions across a wider area.
Manta Ray of Hope project personnel have also been particularly supportive during project inception, design, planning, analysis & reporting stages. Further collaboration with other conservation organisations is on the horizon and our simple methodology is being considered for replicated implementation in other regions. It will be truly great to see longer term monitoring of sharks & rays on a wider scale, so we can assess the impact where positive conservation actions are taken ... and where they are not.