The next day we left Port Blair as soon as possible towards the islands. First we sailed to Havelock Island, one of the few where there are resorts. If you are lucky you might also see some elephants - we only say footsteps in the sand. We need to carry our confirmation of the harbor master, that we are allowed to disembark, all the time - even while on the islands. On some of the islands you can stay during day and night, on some only during the day and some of them you are not allowed to step on. We don't want to disturb possible indigenous tribes who are left and therefore also abstain from visiting Little Andaman, where you can drive through the reservation and ogle at the indigenous tribe living there from buses and cars. Which, by the way, was forbidden by the Indian government but is still done anyway.
We also take care while swimming and snorkeling because big saltwater crocodiles - “salties”- are supposed to live on the Andaman Islands. Luckily we find neither footprints nor see the actual animals during our trip.
On Havelock we look under water for the first time but as we expected the coral reefs are dead. We believe that this is due mainly because of the big Tsunami in 2004. But some sailors told us seeing beautiful coral reefs afterward, approximately around 2008. Probably the big coral bleaching in 2010 has killed the rest of the stony corrals in the shallow water. Huge mountains of corral debris, mainly big Acropora colonies, give us a glimpse into lost glory ...
Whatever the real reason for the dead coral reefs is, the ones on the side of Thailand already look much better than in 2010. In Malaysia, northwest of Singapore, we later found beautiful intact coral reefs (see blog about Tioman). In contrast on the Andaman Islands you don't see any new small corals. Apparently also the larvae are missing here.
We also suspect that the coral reefs here only consist of a few species and therefor react strongly towards any disturbance from outside. The reason for this are maybe the tropical storms which cross the Andaman Islands regularly each year. The better part of the coast here gets to feel those storms with full force. Direct pollution or overfishing can not play a role because there is no industry nor are there big cities or fishery. During our whole time there we haven't seen any fishing vessels. That's why there are so many big fish.
After Havelock we sailed towards the south and the two islands of North and South Cinque, for which we needed a special license from the forestry department. We loved the beach on South Cinque, which is one of the most beautiful beaches we have ever seen. We stayed two full days permitted by our permit and explored the island.
After a dive in the south of the island, where we could see lots of big fish again, we sailed to Passage Island, then the Sisters and stayed at the Brother Islands for a time. We really liked South Brother Island where we sighted our first dugongs (Dugong dugon) and wanted to get closer with our kayaks. But apparently they are very shy animals and wouldn't let as get any closer.
After this wonderful swimming pool with beautiful turquoise-blue warm water at South Brother Island we said goodbye to the south and again sailed towards Port Blair. On our way we sighted a group of Risso's dolphins (Grampus griseus). They have a round head, a relatively large back fin and are up to 3 m long.
We accompanied the group of 15 to 20 individuals for awhile before heading to Port Blair.
This time we didn't anchor in the harbor, instead we staed close to Ross Island. There you can find the rest of the Administrative Headquarters, which were destroyed during an earthquake in 1941. Only decades ago it was a flourishing city with bazaar, stores, hospital,... In the middle of the 19th century it became a penal settlement for the British with a big prison to keep the prisoners away from civilization and other prisoners. After the earthquake most of the inhabitants of Ross Island fled towards Port Blair. Also the Administrative Headquarter was moved. Between 1942 and 1945 the Japanese took over the islands before the British came back. But by then almost all buildings were abandoned. Now Ross Island is a museum managed by the navy. In 2004 Ross Island saved Port Blair because it got the main impact of the Tsunami. You can still see the effect in form of the destroyed wall against breakers and footpaths way above sea level.
Also during the Tsunami and earthquake in 2004 some parts of the Andaman Islands were lifted up more than a meter and other parts sunk about a meter and the whole islands shifted quite a bit. Since then reality and the nautical charts don't agree anymore.