Eco-Explorer: India's Andaman Islands

21 April 2008 By Kate Hubert

Lying at the center of the vast Bay of Bengal are some of the best kept secrets in Asia. The gorgeous Andaman Islands are the furthest outposts of India, some 700 miles south of Calcutta. Apart from a few determined backpackers the islands are devoid of tourists and just begging for exploration by sea.

Commercial fishing has been banned in the Andamans for more than 60 years. The islands are formed by the peaks of undersea mountains, which rise from a depth of 3000 meters (10,000 feet). This means the Andamans are one of the best places on earth to encounter truly spectacular marine life.

“It’s so easy to catch fish there mate, I even caught a big kingfish because he grabbed onto the chain as I was pulling the anchor up!”  said Capt. Grant Richardson.

You may have to jump through a few hoops when securing permits and check-in, but it is more than worth it. There are upwards of 300 islands to explore as well as extensive reefs, active volcanoes, virgin jungle and un-contacted tribal people.

Here are just a few highlights:

Creature Features:

Manta Rays
These friendly fish are abundant in the Andamans and there are many spots where can snorkel and dive with them. Check out the south reef off Twin Islands, North Button Island, North Cinque Island and the southeast anchorage on Narcondam Island.

No one’s too sure if the elephants have always been here, but it seems likely they were first brought here by humans to help provide considerable muscle for logging efforts. On Havelock Island you can find them swimming (they used to swim them between islands for logging) or be able to hitch a ride yourself. On Interview Island there are a few wild elephants.

There are some good populations of saltwater crocodiles around the Andamans. Viewed from the safety of the yacht or large tender they are an exotic sight, but don't get too close: They could make swimming a fatal experience! Hot croc spots include: East Interview Island, Homfray Strait, and Northwest Little Andaman Island.

Cool Spots:

Cinque Islands
You need special permission to visit these islands, but they are fabulous! Gin-clear water, amazing white sand beaches, stunning coral, dolphins and mantas are all waiting for you.

Button Islands
Low sand-spits, vast fringing reefs and huge trees ashore make these islands something special. If not for the thirsty sand flies, you might choose to stay forever.

Barren Island and Narcondam Volcanoes
There are two volcanoes to visit, one active (will cover the decks in ash), the other extinct (less work for the deckies!). Both are far offshore and anchoring can be tricky and needs to be deep. But you can dive the oceanic drop-off, fly with the mantas, or take the trails through the jungle ashore.

North Reef Island
Encircled by white sand with a vast reef frequented by hordes of turtles, this is a spectacular spot.

Invisible Bank
En route from Phuket or Malaysia, you’ll cross Invisible Bank, with a single rock awash in hundreds of square miles of ocean. Hold station in good weather and dive or snorkel on this remote reef, look out for sharks, billfish and other giants of the deep.

Remember Your Eco-Responsibility to Keep It Clean:

The Andamans are a global treasure, so please leave them as you’d wish to find them:

• Take your rubbish away with you.
• Be extremely careful when anchoring – the water is so clear, there is no excuse for anchoring on coral!
• Take only the few fish you can eat – don’t kill the large breeding specimens.
• And don’t go near the tribal reserves – not only will the Navy be watching you, but the tribes have been known to kill strangers! Also, you could wipe out a whole tribe with a sneeze, so please keep your germs to yourself…