The Andaman Sea, historically known as the Burma Sea, is a captivating and often uncharted expanse of water that graces the northeastern Indian Ocean. Nestled between the coasts of Myanmar and Thailand along the Gulf of Martaban and the western side of the Malay Peninsula, the Andaman Sea presents an oceanic tableau that has remained elusive to exploration for a substantial period. Bordered by the Andaman Islands and the Nicobar Islands to the west, it stands as a clear demarcation from the Bay of Bengal to its west. Further to the south, the sea extends to Breueh Island, just north of Sumatra, with the Strait of Malacca situated to the southeast.
Traditionally, the Andaman Sea has served as a vital conduit for fisheries and the transportation of goods between the coastal nations that frame its shores. Its coral reefs and islands have also emerged as popular tourist destinations. However, the region faced severe devastation in 2004 when the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami struck, inflicting damage on both the fishery and tourist infrastructure.
Geography and Location
The Andaman Sea’s geographical boundaries are intriguing, spanning from approximately 92°E to 100°E longitude and 4°N to 20°N latitude. It occupies a significant position within the Indian Ocean, despite remaining uncharted for a considerable duration. It sits to the south of Myanmar, to the west of Thailand, and to the north of Indonesia. The Bay of Bengal is separated from the Andaman Sea by the presence of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, along with an associated chain of sea mounts located along the Indo-Burmese plate boundary. The southern outlet of the basin is framed by the Strait of Malacca, a 3-kilometer wide and 37-meter deep passage between the Malay Peninsula and Sumatra.
The Andaman Sea encompasses an area of approximately 308,000 square miles (798,000 square km). Notably, less than 5 percent of the sea is deeper than 10,000 feet (3,000 meters), yet it boasts depths exceeding 14,500 feet (4,400 meters) in a system of submarine valleys situated east of the Andaman-Nicobar Ridge.
The sea’s characteristics are shaped by the seasonal monsoons of Southeast Asia. During the dry winter months, the regional humidity is low, resulting in minimal rainfall and low surface salinity. In contrast, the summer monsoon season brings a significant influx of runoff water from the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar, leading to a noticeable pattern of low surface salinity in the northern region of the sea.
Flora and Fauna
The Andaman Sea’s marine life is not particularly rich, with both surface waters and the sea bottom offering limited biodiversity. However, the coastal waters along the Malay Peninsula provide favorable conditions for mollusk growth, fostering about 250 edible species of fish that support intensive fishing activities. The mineral resources of the sea are also limited but include valuable tin deposits off the coasts of Malaysia and Thailand.
Historical Significance and Trade Routes
The Andaman Sea has long played a role in maritime trade. It was an essential part of early coastal trade routes connecting India and China. Starting from the 8th century, it formed a vital link in the flourishing trade between India and Sri Lanka (Ceylon) to the west and the Myanmar ports of Thaton, Martaban, and Tavoy to the east.
Two of the most significant modern ports in the region are George Town in Malaysia to the southeast and Yangon in Myanmar to the north. These ports have facilitated trade and connectivity between the countries in the vicinity.
In 2004, the region faced a significant seismic event when a powerful earthquake, measuring 9.1 in magnitude, struck off the west coast of Sumatra. The resultant tsunami inundated coastal areas across the Andaman Sea, causing extensive damage. Subsequent aftershocks reverberated along the arc of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
The Andaman Sea, with its unique geography, historical importance in trade, and rich marine life, holds a distinctive place in the tapestry of the Indian Ocean. Despite the challenges posed by seismic events, it continues to beckon explorers, researchers, and those seeking the beauty and mystery of its depths. The sea remains a vital conduit for trade and a source of sustenance for the communities that reside along its shores. Its alluring charm and intriguing history make the Andaman Sea a maritime marvel to be celebrated and explored.