When scuba diving at Richelieu Rock, you will be visiting an enormous central pinnacle, surrounded by several smaller pinnacles. The closest feature attracting fish are the Surin Islands, some 15 km to the west. As such, these pinnacles provide the only attraction for an incredible number of species for miles around, and was included in the designation of the Mu Koh Surin Marine National Park. Diving at Richelieu Rock, you will immediately notice that all the pinnacles are completely encrusted by soft corals, anemones, gorgonian sea fans and barrel sponges.
Just like the Similan Islands, Richelieu Rock is found in the Andaman Sea, Thailand, and is situated approximately 200 km northwest of Phuket, Thailand. This site was discovered to be an abundant scuba diving site by Jacques-Yves Cousteau, who purportedly named the spot after the captain who drove his ship into the pinnacle.
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Marine life in Richelieu Rock
Richelieu Rock scuba diving is an awesome sight, with whale sharks, manta and devil rays, grouper and large schools of barracuda all congregating here. The horseshoe-shaped pinnacle offers a few sheltered spots that attract many macro species as well, including porcelain crabs, nudibranchs, ghost pipefish and tigertail seahorses. Where there are currents (most spots around the pinnacle), you also have a very good chance of being able to see prolific schools of trevallies and dogtooth tuna, as well as oceanic whitetip and blacktip reef sharks.
Best dive sites in Richelieu Rock
Richelieu Rock is one very large site that must be dived at least several times, each visit seeing something new. The pinnacle is surrounded by very deep water, well beyond recreational scuba diving limits. Currents from down below slam into the pinnacle, creating a huge upwelling of nutrients that support the rich ecosystem found here. Snappers and bannerfish gather in shoals above pronounced boulders, while very high numbers of lionfish hide in between large sponges, and even inside vase corals as well. Corals are predominantly purple, providing a very unique vista. Shovelnose rays bury themselves in sandy patches, while several species of moray eels find solace in amongst the cracks and crevices.
There are many attractive features for the macro scuba diver around Richelieu Rock, including ledges and overhangs, and even swim-throughs. Scuba diving in these features, you will find several species of nudibranch, ornate ghost pipefish and harlequin shrimp making their home in the anemones. You will also see many species in their juvenile form, seeking shelter from strong currents and predators, including juvenile emperor angelfish.
Best time to dive in Richelieu Rock
Scuba diving season begins in October and ends in May. It is possible to see whale sharks and manta rays all year round, although the best time to go is from February to April. This is when the water temperature begins to increase and this triggers blooms of plankton. The visibility will drop slightly, but it is appeased by the incredible experience it is to dive with such a large animal. At its best, visibility is around 100 feet (30 m) and maximum depths dived are 130 feet (40 m). Water temperatures are at their coolest when the scuba diving season starts, at 79 Fahrenheit (26C), and gradually rises to 84 Fahrenheit (29C) towards the end of the season.
Experience level for diving Richelieu Rock
Strong currents usually encircle Richelieu Rock, making this site more suited for an experienced scuba diver looking to find a quiet diving location. It is typical for liveaboards to use a descent/ascent line when scuba diving to aid divers in strong currents. In case you ascend somewhere slightly unexpected, itís a good idea to bring along an SMB and a finger spool to help ensure your location is marked. The pinnacle sits in open ocean, and this may create an overwhelming sensation for beginner divers. However, those who venture this far into the Andaman Sea will be rewarded by utterly spectacular scenery.
How do I get to Richelieu Rock?
Richelieu Rock will almost certainly be on the itinerary of any Thailand liveaboard that visits the Similan and Surin Islands. Most liveaboards depart on their dive cruise from Phuket or Khao Lak. Both ports are easily reached; Phuket International Airport now supports many direct international flights, although some long-haul flights will require a connection. Most connections will be via Bangkok, but may also be made through Singapore, Sydney, Hong Kong, United Arab Emirates or Moscow.
Embarking on your liveaboard in Khao Lak follows an additional 100 km drive to the north, once you have landed in Phuket. Many liveaboards will be able to provide a shuttle service directly from the airport, and it is also possible to rent a car. The journey is usually less than 2 hours, and follows a coastal road with excellent views along Highway 402, which merges into Highway 4. For those who choose to drive, most signs are posted in both Thai and English.