November 10, 2015

Exploring and preserving this unique Mission Blue “Hope Spot” in Myanmar

From Mission Blue partners Project Manaia:

Mergui Archipelago Biodiversity Research (MABR) aims at surveying, understanding, and ultimately protecting the Mergui Archipelago of Southern Myanmar, designated one of Mission Blue’s “Hope Spots.” The Mergui Archipelago spans 800+ pristine, largely uninhabited islands, virtually isolated and in their natural state. Extending along the coast of Myanmar and south to Thailand lies a world waiting to be discovered, harboring undisturbed marine and terrestrial ecosystems. The islands are also home to the world’s last race of sea nomads, the Moken, who for generations have lived as one with the land and their surrounding seas. But this new frontier is at risk from expanding tourism, corporate development, oil, blast fishing and overfishing. The Moken people and marine life are being pushed to the fringes of extinction.

Moken fishermen at sunset. Courtesy Project Manaia

Moken fishermen at sunset. Courtesy Project Manaia

Project Manaia, MABR’s project focused on “4M’s”—Mapping, Marine Megafauna, Marine Monitoring and the indigenous Moken people—will help to better understand, document, and push for greater protection of the Mergui. Baseline surveys of marine life, coral reef health and fishing statistics are crucial to understanding the impacts of development, and will inform planning to help preserve the region.

MABR’s “4M” approach:

Mapping: MABR will operate an advanced sonar system to accurately map shallow island seas and coral reefs quickly and in high resolution. With only a few boat passes, accurate maps and 3D models can be created highlighting sea floor cover, reef structure and size, and other interesting underwater features. All observations of any kind underwater and above will be recorded and pinpointed geographically, allowing for precise map production and data analysis.

Monitoring: We will monitor sightings of birds, marine life and marine megafauna, and also collect samples of plankton and micro-plastics. We will also be monitoring water quality and chemical composition. By monitoring various aspects of the islands we can create a “full picture” of the current conditions. Our full array of cameras will document all activities, above and below water. This will help in identifying marine species, assist in the reef health assessments, and contribute to the regular release of video reports documenting our work and progress.

Research catamaran SeaNOMAD. Courtesy Project Manaia

Research catamaran SeaNOMAD. Courtesy Project Manaia

Marine megafauna: Apart from our monitoring during the expeditions, we will also survey island beaches for turtle nests, seagrass beds for dugong tracks and interview local fishermen about their daily catch. A particular emphasis will be placed on sharks throughout the islands. Sharks are being exploited for their fins, and we will conduct periodic surveys at fishing harbors and boats to better understand what species are being caught. Our underwater video surveys will also help to identify any shark species while we sail throughout the islands.

Moken people: The last seafaring gypsies have largely settled on the islands. Their original boats are now rarely seen as many were destroyed in the 2004 Tsunami. Old shipbuilders have died, and the law now forbids the felling of large trees. We want to research the impact of modernization on their culture and lifestyle, and also use modern means to understand how to better their lives, record their traditions, way of life, and engage the Moken in the protection of their habitat. We will be conducting interviews with villages in the islands as well as “settled” villages within Thailand. Select families will receive solar panels and cameras to help assist in daily living and help to record the wildlife and document changes around them.

Some of the Moken sea gypsies have left their nomadic life behind and settled. Courtesy Project Manaia

Some of the Moken sea gypsies have left their nomadic life behind and settled. Courtesy Project Manaia

MABR’s expeditions will utilize SeaNOMAD, a 14-meter sailing Catamaran to conduct expeditions. With seven meters across, SeaNOMAD offers plenty of space for research, data analysis and stability during expeditions. This workhorse of the sea, though lacking the luxury of fancier boats, provides us the means to explore this region and provide a platform for visiting scientists, Mission Blue, and you!

You can join us on an expedition as an eco-volunteer or ecotourist to become directly involved with our research. Help us preserve and protect this region for future generations.

Learn more about MABR at:

Email us directly at

Call us at: US: 1-920-319-5759 or Thailand: 0066/936129863


  • martin braun says:

    Excellent work you guys are doing . Stay on the coast in South Africa . Amanzimtoti in Kwazulu Natal . Grew up from small . Now 51yrs old . Got good luv for the sea . Fish from shore and off shore aswell i dive for crayfish . Whould luv to join you guys on your quest . Electrician by trade . Qualified .

    • Hello Martin,
      we are always happy to welcome passionat people on board! Also we are getting our expedition boat Sea Nomad down to Phuket end of the season for some refit and also rewiring (Electrical systems need serious work and we want to add solar and electric engines) so we would sure be happy to have an “electrician by trade” with us!
      All the best from the Mergui islands!

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