As Gemma has been writing most of our travel blogs I thought I would get in on the action and contribute with some pictures and information on some of the SCUBA diving we have been doing whilst on our travels.
You have probably already read our Koh Seh (Cambodia) blog and heard about our experiences whilst volunteering with a marine conservation project. Whilst not the best diving South east Asia has to offer, Koh Seh was a great opportunity to dive in an area which has and is being greatly affected by human influences. Where once there were dolphins, Dugong and turtles a plenty, there are no more, due to destructive fishing. But I digress, to read more about the plight of Koh Seh and Cambodia’s coastline please see ‘Koh Seh Volunteering’ blog.
Our next diving experience was on the beautiful island of Ko Lanta off of the west coast of Thailand. Known for some of the best diving in Asia and home to a diverse mix of marine life, Ko Lanta promised to be a diver’s paradise and it did not disappoint.
Ko Lanta is an island situated in the south west of Thailand within the tropical Andaman sea. Ko Lanta is situated so that many of the dive sites we wanted to visit are easily accessible and are a good mix of reef, wreck and pelagic sites that we enjoy.
One of our first days on the island was used to drive around on our rented scooter to visit some of the many dive shops and get a feel for prices and much more importantly the people who we would be diving with. We very quickly narrowed our search down to one dive shop, Hidden Depths and for various reasons this outfit was the one for us. Firstly we found them to be very welcoming and friendly without being pushy. Secondly they gave us a tour of their facilities, boat and equipment before we even agreed to dive with them! Thirdly we found out that the owners were from Salisbury and used Andover gym (Not a massive selling point but small world eh) and lastly but most importantly they were very environmentally conscious and actively took part in shark identification surveys, reef checks, seahorse surveys and were part of green fins and project aware.
After all of the formalities (The price was comparable with other dive centres) were finished we had decided to do six dives over three days. Our first dive was at Ko Bida Nok. The larger of the two small Bida islands, Bida Nok diving is made up of rocks fallen from the cliff structures and reefs teaming with fish. Maximum depth was around thirty metres with an average visibility of twenty metres! Bida Nok was an amazing dive with an abundance of tropical reef fishes, corals and large gorgonian sea fans.
One of my favourite fish has to be the curious boxfish which seems to hover around like a UFO and also the sinister looking Giant moray eel peering from a hole.
Our second dive was also at Bida Nok but the amount of marine life there we could have stayed down for weeks.
We left after the first day of diving excited with what we had seen and ready to dive again. We left a day in between dives to chill but by then we were itching to dive again. Our third and fourth dives were at Ko Haa Lagoon and Ko Haa Yai.
Ko Haa Lagoon is a shallower area encircled by islands. The diving we did that day extended down to nineteen metres, visibility was around twenty metres and the water temp was a very comfortable 29 deg. The diving was a mix of diverse coral reef and stretches of sandy bottom which made for another great dive. One of the highlights for us was the again the abundance of life and more specifically the large shoal of Black-spot barracuda we encountered.
Other species included Parrotfish, Trumpetfish, Boxfish, Damselfish, Snapper and the well camouflaged but venomous Stonefish.
Our second dive of the day took us to Ko Haa Yai, the “Cathedral”! The largest of the Ko Haa island, Haa Yai is home to the “Cathedral” a short cave system that runs into the heart of the island, surrounded by coral reef. We stayed relatively shallow at the start of the dive so that we could enter the cave system and surface safely. We surfaced with one of the chambers and experienced one of the most eerie yet beautiful sights whilst diving so far. As the air was sucked in and out of the chamber with the current, the noise it made sounded like a sleeping dragon whilst the suns reflection projected up from the cave entrance produced an emerald green light show which was hard to capture on camera!
After we reluctantly exited the cave structures we were greeted with an abundance of coral reef and the usual fish and invertebrate suspects, including a Hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) to finish a great dive!
Our last two dives were at Ko Phi Phi wreck and Hin Bida. Ko Phi Phi Wreck dive was on a former gun ship called the Kled Gaew sunk as an artificial reef earlier this year. Descending to a maximum depth of 26 metres this wreck dive was very enjoyable and interesting to see how quickly a structure can be colonised in a relatively short time. The visibility was not great and I had a slight malfunction with my camera so no pics but still a great dive including some very large Lionfish and one of the biggest Groupers I have ever seen.
Our last dive in Ko Lanta with Hidden depths was at a dive site called Hin Bida. Hin Bida is a rocky outcrop where the tip can be seen at low tide. Around the outcrop there are gullies and rocky reef areas where a relatively shallow habitat is met by oceanic currents and deeper waters. In this situation there is an abundance of filter feeders, such as Feather stars (Crinoids), Brittle stars (Ophiuroids) and filter feeding worms (Polychaetes). Again, another great dive with an abundance of reef fish and invertebrates and some curious Trumpet fish and Clown fish. The highlight and a massive draw for this dive site has to be, when slowly swimming through a gulley, we were joined by two six foot Zebra sharks (Stegostoma fasciatum).
An amazing sight to behold and one we will remember forever. We were lucky enough to see another two zebra shark towards the end of the dive, resting on the seabed, which topped off a brilliant set of dives.
I am going to try and add a bit of marine conservation info at the end of each blog to try and create awareness of the plight our oceans are under. It may be localised to our experiences or on a wider subject however it affects us all either directly or indirectly.
In the case of Ko Lanta, locally the reefs seem to be relatively healthy, however talking to the owners of Hidden Depths, who carry out reef surveys regularly, the coral is suffering due to this year’s bleaching and the undeniable effect of global warming. Although this may not directly affect many people, all of us will feel the squeeze if we lose reefs around the world along with millions of species of fish and invertebrates. We can all make small changes, such as looking into renewable energy or small changes like riding your bike to work. As well as the coral reefs, humans are putting massive pressure on ALL of the shark species on the planet. The beautiful zebra shark is classed as vulnerable under the IUCN guidelines. 70 – 75 million sharks are fished every year for everything from shark fin soup to traditional medicine and shark meat. This is an astronomical amount and cannot be sustainable for much longer. Please Please do not support any of these trades and actively sign petitions, write to governments and share your shark conservation views to anyone you can!!