Blue Guru's 2013-14 dive season is finished. After 6 months of data collection, now begins the analysis stage of Blue Guru's Ocean Action Project.
The project methodology was to record data on all dives & snorkel sessions throughout the 6 month dive season to assess the level of shark, ray & fishing boat sightings compared to previous & future seasons.
Overall data was recorded on 370 dives/snorkel sessions. This included Surin & Similan National Parks and Koh Phra Thong offshore & local sites. Unfortunately data was not recorded on the majority of offshore & local dives, so these sites are being excluded from the analysis phase to ensure validity of the project's findings. This is a shame as there were shark & ray sightings including honeycomb whiprays & juvenile black tip reef sharks locally and even a whale shark at our new offshore wreck, HTMS Prathong. All offshore & local sites will be fully included in data collection next season which starts in November.
Focusing just on National Park sites, data was recorded on 297 dives/snorkel sessions: 96% in Surin National Park and 4% in Similan National Park.
It is pleasing to report that there was a significant rise in shark sightings this season: 79 sharks were seen including black tip, white tip & grey reef sharks and many whale sharks. This equates to a shark being seen on 27% of dives/snorkels (compared to only 12% last season). In these days of globally diminishing shark populations, it is a huge relief that sightings of resident reef sharks & migratory whale sharks have actually increased in the North Andaman Sea.
Ray sightings also rose: 31 rays were seen including giant mantas, Jenkins whiprays, Khul's stingrays & eagle rays. This equates to a ray being seen on 10% of dives (compared to 8% last season).
Sadly fishing boat sightings still far out-numbered shark & ray sightings. A total of 441 fishing boats were visible from dive sites during the 6 month study. This equates to an average of 1.5 fishing boats being seen on each dive - thankfully slightly lower than last season's average of 1.9. The highest numbers seen at any one time were 14 at Richelieu Rock & between 10-13 at several Surin Islands sites, despite the no fishing zones around these marine protected areas.
The next stage of analysis will look at customers' perceptions about whether opportunities to see sharks & rays attract them to dive/snorkel in the area and what they think about the current no fishing zones. Eco-tourist spend in the region is likely to carry more influential weight than any conservation arguments against harmful fishing practices. Money talks!