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Beneath the Myeik Archipelago

Sirachai Shin Arunrugstichai (Thailand)

For several decades, the Myeik archipelago (formerly known as Mergui) has long been closed off and barely touched by the outside world. Situated off the coast of the Thanintharyi region of southern Myanmar in the northeastern Andaman Sea region, this group of over 800 islands is the transition zone between the Indian Ocean and Coral Triangle. It boasts a high level of biodiversity and endemism, which are largely unknown and considered as a gap region to science due to the limited research expedition in the archipelago that started officially in 2015.

However, the archipelago had already undergone rapid changes to accommodate the economic growth even before the country opened up to the world. This little-known waters of the Myeik have undergone intensively exploitation for its’ rich marine resources, feeding the demand of its own and neighbors, such as Thailand. Instead of dense wall of fishes, there were mountains of nets. Instead of being protected as written on papers, hundreds of sharks are dismembered to pieces in factory.

It is likely that the ecological integrity of the Andaman Sea will be affected, since Myeik is the remaining key source of marine life recruitment. Also, the livelihood of the coastal population in the region may suffer with the declining marine resources, including the sea nomads, the Moken ethnic group, whose make these islands their home, while their way of life and culture closely intertwine with the plentiful sea.

Although the importance of the Myeik archipelago is being recognized among the conservation community, there are still extremely limited actions to effectively manage the declining resources. At the current rate, it is likely that the Myeik archipelago will keep facing accelerated degradation without increase efforts to manage the archipelago, which requires collaboration with neighboring nations such as Thailand in the form of transboundary management. Still, the management plan is still in its conception, and the 2021 Myanmar coup d’état has put conservation progresses to a complete standstill, leaving the fate of the archipelago in the shroud along with future of the nation.


Sirachai “Shin” Arunrugstichai is an independent photojournalist and a marine biologist from Bangkok, Thailand, with a specialization in marine conservation stories. He is a National Geographic Explorer and an Associate Fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers. Shin regularly works for conservation organizations and also provides news coverage for Getty Images. His photographs have been published in National Geographic, the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Guardian, among many others. Apart from photography, Shin often collaborates on scientific studies of sharks and rays, and research expeditions in the waters of Southeast Asia, which he calls home.