Richelieu rock is an oasis in the desert of overfishing that is Southeast Asia. This pinnacle sits near the southern end of the Mergui archipelago, climbing around 130 feet from the shallow waters of the Andaman sea about twenty miles off from the coast of Thailand.
It was time to wind back to the mainland after nearly a week in the Surin islands, for the better part of a week, and it only took a minor detour to route past Richelieu on our way. With the reputation as a top dive site, making that detour that was an easy decision! We left a little after sunrise, edging past a row of longtails that had come into the quiet bay overnight.
It might have been difficult to find- and with just a few feet of rock above the water at low tide, not something you want to find accidentally- but dive boats on the horizon made it clear where to point. In the open waters of 120 – 130 feet deep, anchoring is a possibility but a poor option. Instead, we let Totem drift, and took turns in the water while she edged south in the light breeze.
Our friends on Nalukai offered their dinghy as a group shuttle so we could minimize water traffic and launching hassles.
Jame and the kids went in the first wave. Floating on Totem a couple of hundred yards away, I could hear the shrieks of excitment when they first got their heads underwater. This place is that incredible!
The kids- there are six between our two crews- dove and swam and gasped and shrieked at the wealth of marine life.
There’s no tying the dinghy up, so someone always holds onto the painter. Current swirls around and through the pinnacle, so this isn’t an easy task.
Considering our cruising grounds the last year, from eastern Indonesia all the way to the edge of Burma, you’d think we would have seen an abundance of beautiful reefs and underwater life. Hardly the case. Instead, what we have seen in abundance are lifeless reefs, with grey shells of dead coral structures, low diversity, small scale critters, and life skewed to imbalance.
Richelieu was the counterpoint. There are others, but it’s sad that they are the exceptions instead of the norm.
We’ve heard different explanations. It’s wave action and debris from the big 2004 tsunami that killed coral and broke down reef life. Or, it’s the 2010 Andaman Sea warming, where temperatures 4 degrees Celsius over historical norms bleached out coral in this previously famous diving region. Or, it’s the overfishing that happens in Thailand and all over the region. Or, it’s the illegal cyanide and dynamite fishing that’s still being used.
It is one of these things? It’s probably some combination of all of them. How can we fix it? Is the ocean really broken? Can consumer behavior be changed? I want to just enjoy this beautiful place, but it smacks us with what’s missing elsewhere.
We could spend all day here. Actually, we could spend many days! But it’s an exposed place, not an anchorage, and we need to get to the coast. Filling with deep gulps from the oasis, then turning back toward the desert with our memories intact.