By Alex Tyrrell.
The small island of Koh Tao, located in the Gulf of Thailand has been the place to go for scuba training in Asia for many years. With some of the cheapest diving courses on offer worldwide, this tropical dive destination has become a huge draw to young travellers on a budget, as well as those seeking professional-level training at an affordable price.
Overall you could class Koh Tao’s diving as fairly easy, with minimal currents to deal with and generally good visibility that can exceed 30m at times.
This large granite rock, carpeted in magnificent sea anemones occupied by their symbiotic partner pink anemonefish, protrudes from the sandy seafloor at a depth of 30–35m around the edges that quickly drops off to 40m+. It rises up to 15m from the surface and at the southern end, only a short swim from the main pinnacle, there is a separate smaller pinnacle formation known as Barracuda Rock. This is the dive site everybody wants to go to, commonly having clearer water being located further offshore and with a higher probability of encountering the larger species, like whale sharks, malabar groupers plus schooling pickhandle and blackfin barracuda.
Another offshore dive site, is made up of a series of smaller pinnacles coming up from the sandy bottom at 20–25m, with the main pinnacle reaching up to 8m from the surface. Magnificent sea anemones carpet the rocks, with whip corals and sea ferns being abundant on the sandy patches and small rocks between. There is another pinnacle located to the southeast, approximately 10 minutes swim away, known as the Secret Pinnacle. Schooling fish are common, with blackfin barracuda, where you may encounter whale sharks.
This bay at the north of the island has a large coral garden stretching from the centre over to the far eastern side, with a large sandy area to the west that is perfect for beginner dive training. My preference at Mango Bay is to leave everyone behind to explore the slightly deeper sandy rubble areas that are home to a variety of shrimp gobies, threadfin dartfish, mantis shrimp and other smaller creatures.
Koh Tao’s Muck
I have been exploring areas away from the reef, either swimming off of the well-known dive sites into sandy areas or dropping in spots not commonly recognised as an area for diving.
I have been exploring a couple of prime locations where I have encountered seahorses, cowfish, sand divers, cuttlefish and octopus, soft coral crabs, porcelain crabs and cowries living on Dendronephthya corals, various species of shrimp, juvenile filefish, different colour variants of short-tailed pipefish, as well as a number of nudibranchs that I hadn’t seen on more than a thousand previous dives around Koh Tao. This is proving to be a very productive environment for macro photography, encountering subjects that are more commonly associated with Indonesia or the Philippines.
For UW Photography & Private Dive Guide: Dive4Photos – www.dive4photos.com
For double dives at Chumphon on Tuesday & Saturday: Dive Point – www.divepointkohtao.com
For Eco-Diving & Education: New Heaven Dive School – www.newheavendiveschool.com