17/18 Moo 1, Koh Tao Suratthani, 84360 Thailand         Info @ Big Blue Diving        +66 (0) 77 456 050

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For a small island, Koh Tao is blessed with a lot of dive sites; we have around twenty-five beautiful sites within an hour by boat, with a wonderful mix of easy, shallow sites for beginners and deeper, more difficult locations for those wishing to challenge themselves more underwater. No matter what your experience level is, all of us diving on Koh Tao are after one thing in particular - to share our dives with incredible marine life!

Here, in no particular order, are my top unusual things to encounter whilst beneath Koh Tao:

Bigfin Reef Squid

Now not everyone will agree with me here, but i'm quite the fan of these delicious little buggers with their spectacularly hypnotic appearance. Often seen hanging around close to the buoylines or very close to the surface at Chumphon, Hin Wong and South West Pinnacle, if you happen to bump into them it's well worth keeping a very close eye on them in case they start showing their amazing capacity to change colour in a blink of an eye!

Bigfin reef squid, which in general have a lifespan of about a year, are very skilled in this art of colour change and use it mainly for camouflage or to startle and warn potential predators. It's produced by changing the way light bounces off their bodies by altering the patterns of pigment in their skin, which mimics sunlight dancing in the water in such a way that they become essentially invisible. The effect is absolutely mesmerizing and also quite hypnotic, with streaks and waves of colour flickering across their skin until they speed off into the distance, often leaving the lucky viewer in disbelief at what they just witnessed.

How to see them? -  If you sit at the back of the boat at night with a bright light shining into the water, the bigfin reef squid hang out in the shadows and wait for small fish to come towards the light. When they see their prey they dart in and grab the fish and disappear back into the shadows again - easy!

Weird Fact - All types of squid have three hearts, but will never send a Valentine's Card.

 

                                                                                            

Nudibranch

A phenomenal creature that only the best of Divemasters can locate, these slime-oozing creatures with a boneless body feature brilliant colors and eye-catching patterns on their skin, and is often considered one of the most beautiful animals in the world - often referred to as 'Mother Nature's Greatest Work of Art' by divers, there's certainly there's no other creature on the planet that has colour patterns as spectacular as a sea slug! Hermaphrodites, their size ranges from just a few millimetres to around 30 cm and there are more than 3000 known species of nudibranch, with new ones being identified almost daily. They are carnivorous, so their prey includes sponges, coral, anemones, hydroids, barnacles and other nudibranch - it's nice to see cannibalism is finally making a comeback! They are actually very picky eaters, and individual species or families of nudibranchs may eat only one kind of prey, so as all good DMs know when you find their favourite food there's a good chance there'll be a nudibranch hanging around close by waiting for their next meal.

Weird Fact - Some nudibranchs are actually solar-powered! They create their own food by harvesting coral with algae, and house this algae inside their bodies. This algae derives its energy from light via photosynthesis, which is then used by the nudibranch to provide nutrients to sustain it for months- the human equivalent would be sticking a plant on your back and never having to eat again!

Weirder Fact - Some humans actually eat nudibranchs. Chileans and some islanders in Russia and Alaska roast or boil sea slugs and sometimes eat them raw...it has been described as “chewing an eraser", and is not recommended by Big Blue.

 

                                                              

                                                                                                       

 

Saddleback Clownfish Protecting its Eggs

Named due to their wide white head band and a wide white middle band that looks like it forms a 'saddle', these aggressive little fish are always one of the most popular things to see with our first time divers, but for the more experienced diver amongst us it's well worth taking a closer look around their home anemone to see if any eggs are present, in my opinion one of the most interesting things about the clownfish species.

Clownfish are always very dependent on their host anemone and stay very close to it. They do not migrate to other anemones to start new families, but stay in their host for their entire life time unless the anemone dies. It's only when protecting eggs that will they will stray from their anemone, and it is common to see them swimming a fair distance to warn off anything they believe may be showing too much of an interest in their young. The female will lay her eggs upon a flat surface just to the side of their host anemone, in the area that the happy couple cleared of debris earlier.  Such items as shells, coconut shells or litter such as tin cans or plastic are often seen housing the eggs here around Koh Tao!

The male is the one whose main task is caring for the eggs, and he quickly attacks any approaching predators, preferring to rely on an excellent offense as his best defense - attacking and biting the intruder. When no threat is present, he fans the eggs with his tail both to aerate them as well as to remove any debris that may have settled onto them. In addition to fanning the eggs, the male removes any unfertilized or infected eggs by eating them!

 In general, the eggs are pink to orange in colour as they are laid and remain so for a couple days. As they age, their pink to orange will gradually fade to a dull grey or brown. Finally, as the hatching nears (usually around 1 week after laying), they become shiny silver with the fry's developed eyeballs clearly visible. This in particular makes for an excellent photo, as you can see in the example below – just watch out for angry Dad!

Weird Fact -  If the large breeding female is removed, her male mate changes sex to female and the next largest fish in the group rapidly increases in size and takes over the role as the sexually mature male. 

 

 

                                                                                         

 

Published in December

 

The incredible popularity of Koh Tao's own HTMS Sattakut wreck has had us thinking about our bucket-list wreck dives around the world, and after much deliberation we've come up with the following, our best of the bunch not-to-be-missed wrecks that all scuba diving aficionados just have to see!

 

 

Fujikawa Maru, Truk Lagoon, Micronesia                         

The Fujikawa Maru was a cargo ship, built in 1938 by Mitsubishi and requisitioned by the Imperial Japanese Navy during World War II to be used as an armed aircraft ferry. The conversion included a compliment of six inch guns cannibalised from old cruisers which had last seen action during the Russian/Japanese war. Fujikawa Maru arrived in Truk in 1944,and off-loaded thirty B5N2 bombers onto Eten Airfield. Since these aircraft had been disassembled for shipment, they were unable to help defend Truk in the military operation against the Japanese (called 'Operation Hailstone') and were destroyed on the ground, plus the Fujikawa Maru was sunk- leaving us with possibly the world's best wreck diving site.

It's now a picture perfect shipwreck, covered with coral and sea life. Each of the five holds also offer incredible marine life, however the highlight is maybe the massive engine room which occupies the midships area, taking up 3 floors. She also features a cargo of Zero fighter planes in one of her holds, and sits at depths of 5 to 37 metres.

 

 

SS President Coolidge, Vanuatu                                  


The SS President Coolidge off Santo, northern Vanuatu, was a WW2 luxury ocean liner. She was commandeered by the US navy and fitted out as a naval ship. Sank by one of America's own mines and almost completely intact, you can swim through the numerous holds and decks viewing the reminders of her glorious days as a cruise liner and the remnants of her not-so-glorious days as a troop ship. There are guns, jeeps, cannons, helmets, trucks and personal items left by some of the soldiers, as well as a beautiful porcelain statue called 'The Lady', chandeliers and a mosaic tile fountain! The wreck is covered in coral and is the home to a plethora of sea life such including barracuda, lionfish, and a host of reef fish
The engine room and one of the dining rooms are at a depth of about 47 metres, the promenade deck is around 33 metres, and the mosaic lined swimming pool about 50 metres down - time to do those deep specialties and tech courses!

 

 

USAT Liberty, Bali                                                                            

 

This incredible wreck dive site is a 130m long armed cargo ship which was hit by a Japanese torpedo during World War II, then pushed back into the water in 1963 by the eruption of Mount Agung which caused the vessel to slip off the beach! It now lies on a sand slope from about 9 metres to around 30 metres of water, making it possible to snorkel and amazing to dive. This wreck dive will certainly keep you busy, as the ship itself is smothered in marine life that has transformed the ship’s remains into an underwater haven. Here, you will find a variety of hard and soft corals, sea fans, nudibranchs, gorgonians, hydroids, anemones, and much more.

 

 

The SS Yongala, Townsville, Australia                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

SS Yongala was a steel passenger and freight steamer built in Newcastle upon Tyne, England and operated on the passenger route linking the gold fields of Western Australia with the eastern ports of Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydneyand. It is now a world-class shipwreck off the coast of Queensland absolutely teeming with life - you may see manta rays, sea snakes, octopus, turtles, bull sharks, tiger sharks, huge schooling barracuda and of course spectacular corals. 

The Yongala sank during a cyclone in 1911 killing 122 people, a racehorse called 'Moonshine' and a red Lincolnshire bull. It was believed that the hull of the ship had been ripped open by a submerged rock, and the wreck was not found until 1958. The ship is 109 meters long, and reaches depths of 30 metres, with the upper sections of the wreck just 16 metres below the surface - strong currents mean an SSI or PADI Advanced license is recommended before attempting to dive it.

Thistlegorm, Egyptian Red Sea                                                       

 

A British vessel, the Thistlegorm ( Gaelic for Blue Thistle) was attacked from the air and sunk in 1941 whilst carrying a cargo of war supplies. In spite of being privately owned and operated, the HMS Thistlegorm was nevertheless fitted with a 4" anti-aircraft gun and a heavy calibre machine gun when she was drafted for war duty. In the early hours of 6th October 1941 the Thistlegorm was split in two and sank almost instantly after being hit by two bombs from a German long-range bomber. The hit only blew a hole in the port side of Hold no. 5 but then cargo tank ammunition ignited, causing the bulk of the damage.

All but 9 of the crew escaped and the Thistlegorm reached its final resting place 30m deep on the sandy sea bed, where she lies upright with her stern section separated from the main body by 20m. The ship is largely intact except for the impact area but the split hull reveals the cargo, where you'll find BSA motorbikes, Morris automobiles, Bedford trucks, Lee Enfield rifles, bombs, munitions crates, grenades, anti-tank mines and some spare parts for tanks and planes.

Currents can be strong, and going off in different directions at the surface and at the wreck itself making it a challenging dive for the less-experienced scuba diving addict. A big wreck - 131 metres long - you'll want to do this more than once to explore fully.

 

How would your top wreck dives compare to our list? Let us know about your favourites!

 

 

Published in December

 

 

 

As anyone who loves to dive knows, planning the next trip away is always very exciting, with so many options for world class diving now in easy reach reasonably cheaply. Pouring over old diving magazines and websites may well be heaven for the scuba addict, but what if you've got a non-diver (boo!) in tow who also needs something to do as you're having the time of your life underwater?

Hopefully this blog is exactly what you'll need in this situation, with my list of the best dive spots where non-divers can also have a whale of a time, just without whales!

 

The Galapagos                                                           

 

 

Very often found at the top of every divers bucket list, Galapagos is THE place to visit if your budget allows. The 'cradle of evolution' is not only a top dive destination, but also a great place to view wildlife in general. The Galapagos' various islands are quite different - while some have picture-perfect beaches and remote wildlife reserves, other are volacanic and rock covered.
Many plants and animals are endemic (native to the area), so you won’t see them anywhere else in the world and the opportunities for wildlife viewing are arguably unmatched anywhere in the world. Above water, it's a must to see the massive Galapagos tortoise which lives over 100 years and is of varying sizes and shapes, depending on which island you visit. You can also hike up the Sierra Negra volcano on Isabela Island or explore the underground lava tubes of Santa Cruz, formed when cooler, outer parts of lava flows hardened into thick rock walls, providing insulation to keep a flow going inside. Remember to bring your torch!
Although most divers dream of a liveaboard trip to the Galapagos, with non-divers in your party it's often not an option. However, there are plenty of shore or day-trip dives available as well. Divers and snorkelers should see turtles, the amazing marine iguana, hammerheads, rays, whale sharks, penguins or sea lions.

 

 

Egypt                                                                           

 

Booking a scuba diving vacation in Egypt is high on most divers hit-list, and if your non-diving partner loves history and culture then you’re both in for a treat with what Egypt can offer you! Stunning Egyptian cultural and historic sites (no need to mention them here I imagine) are within reach of many of Egypt’s scuba diving hot spots. Divers should in particular check out 'Big Brother' with its oceanic white-tip sharks, hammerhead sharks, silver-tip and even the very rare thresher shark on occasion. Another popular site is Daedalus (known for it's abundance of large fish and the dozens of hammerhead sharks that can be seen on a good day), and of course the SS Thistlegorm, which is often rated as one of the best wreck dives in the world. Its deepest point is sitting at approximately 37 metres, making the majority of the ship accessible to those holding a SSI/PADI Advanced Open Water certification!

 

                                                                                          

Belize                                                                           


Well known for its boat, shore and live-aboard diving opportunities along the Belize Barrier Reef and, of course the Blue Hole which can be seen from space! Divers can expect to see lots of sharks, turtles and reef fish no matter where they choose to dive; however, Belize also offers the more active family lots of options when it comes to activities like cave tubing, horseback riding, ziplining and rafting.
There are Mayan temples and rainforests to explore, and families can visit Placencia where it's an absolute paradise for manatee lovers, due to its protected lagoon where three rivers merge. It’s home to about 1,000 manatees, and the population is stable so it should be possible to see these bizarre creatures all year round. Ambergris Cay, Belize’s largest island, is also a great base for a vacation. There are lots of restaurants, snorkeling, windsurfing and kiteboarding, as well as access to the Hol Chan Marine Reserve where you can snorkel or dive with sharks and huge stingrays. For those who love the beach or relaxing on a hammock whilst waiting for the divers to return Belize is ideal, with some of the best beaches on Ambergris Caye, Caye Caulker, Placencia, Hopkins and in southern Belize.

Oh, don't forget English is their first language too, so it's easy to plan all this when you get there!

 

 

Cairns, Australia                                                           


Unfortunately a lot harder to be understood as the locals speak an English dialect called 'Straylian', Cairns is a mecca for scuba diving due it's close vicinity to the phenomenal Great Barrier Reef. Day trips to the Outer Great Barrier Reef are a great choice for the diver or snorkeller who is short on time, and there are a huge variety of trips on offer that will keep everyone happy, diver or not!
Most day trips focus on the 'Inter Reef Gardens', heading off to places like Green Island, Michaelmas Cay, Fitzroy Island, and reefs in close proximity to these places. It's also worth checking for day trips on the faster boats, which make it possible to get out to the Outer Reefs in one day - the corals are much better here. For marine life, cross your fingers for one of the thirty species of whales, dolphins and porpoises that have been recorded in the Great Barrier Reef, including the dwarf minke whale, Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin, and the humpback whale.
Back on dry land, The Cairns Botanic Gardens is worth a view, and there's also the opportunity for white water rafting, bungee jumping and my personal favourite the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway with it's incredible views, stunning colours and terrifying heights - pay the extra for the glass-botttomed 'Diamond Car' for your chance to watch the wildlife frolicking in the tree tops.

 

                                                                                         

                                                                                                               

Koh Tao, Thailand


Biased? Never!
An easy ferry ride from our bigger brother Koh samui, Koh Tao really is a great place to spend some time either above or below the surface, with a lot to do for all different types of visitor. With over 20 dive sites within a one hour radius of the island it's a piece of cake to get a couple of dives at our best sites and be back and finished by 11am, leaving the rest of the day free for some family time and island exploring. With some incredible viewpoints, mouth-watering cooking classes,, trapeze lessons, climbing spots, Muay Thai training, parties every night and beautiful snorkelling on fantastic beaches during the day...well it's certainly somewhere where even the laziest of souls can keep entertained. More information on some of the fabulous dive sites can be found right here on last weeks blog!

 

So, as you can see even if your group may not all be diving there are plenty of excellent options around the world where everyone can be kept happy whilst the divers can try to convince the others to take the plunge and finally take that Open Water license - did I mention that Koh Tao is the cheapest place in the world to do this?

Bon Voyage, and keep on diving!

 

 

Published in December

 

 

Fancy a few dives in beautiful warm tropical waters? Then this is the list for you; these are arguably the best 5 sites we have here on Koh Tao!

 

Chumphon Pinnacle                               

By far the most visually impressive site close to Koh Tao, this legendary pinnacle is easily the best chance to see the whalesharks that occasionally pass by our deeper dive spots. Perfect for both Open Water and Advanced fundivers and students, we always know that our divers are going to return from this site totally addicted to scuba diving! Once home to bullsharks and reef sharks, it's a fully submerged granite pinnacle 14 metres at it's shallowest point and reaching as deep as 47 metres off the northern tip (towards a secret pinnacle nicknamed 'The Castle' due to its shape). It's surrounded by schools of barracuda, large grouper towards the ocean floor and beautiful schools of fusiliers being hunted by passing king mackerel, trevally, queenfish and rainbow runners - an excellent place to watch the ocean at work, with a lot of interaction between the different types of fish that live there! It's also a great place to find some of our most beautiful nudibranch when you head towards the bottom, where old discarded fishing nets provide vital food for the lovely sea slugs that us divemasters love so much.

Average dive time - 35 minutes for OW divers, 45 minutes for Advanced or above.

 

South West Pinnacles


A beautiful mountain range of pinnacles, this fantastic deep site bottoms at around 28 metres and consists of one large pinnacle rising to just 6 metres from the surface, flanked by 2 smaller pinnacles on both the east and west edges. It creates a lovely vista with the five pinnacles often covered in juvenile barracuda rolling over the edges of the rocks, silhouetted by the sun to give one of Koh Tao's most awesome underwater sights - a 'waterfall' of fish cascading towards the diver. A great place to find all types of barracuda, shoals of squid towards the surface, cobia, a variety of eels and shrimp and of course as it's one of our deep sites there's always a chance to bump into a whaleshark or two if you're lucky!
It's also another one of our divesites that features a 'secret pinnacle', found by taking a bearing of 120 degrees from the eastern buoyline and swimming for about 5 minutes. The best part of the site in my opinion, it's a little deep for Open Water divers but this (usually) diverless part of the site is a great place to look for boxfish, nudibranch and everyone's favourite, stupid bloody 'Nemo'...

Average dive time - 40 minutes for OW divers, 50 minutes for Advanced

 

Laem Thian 'Caves'                                                                                  


A brilliant dive site for all except the claustrophobic, this shallow site contains about 20 swim-throughs, though we like to call them caves as it sounds much sexier! With most of them just a few metres from the surface and the deepest at just 15 metres, there's always incredible 'cathedral beams' of light entering the tunnels, lighting up the nurseries of fish that use the rocks as shelter till they're big enough to fend for themselves and also giving off a beautiful light show as waves crash into the cave above us. A great place to find orange-spine unicornfish - one of the prettiest fish we have here on Koh Tao - and also a good chance for turtles, giant pufferfish, eels, the weirdly wonderful dusky sweeper, lots of small stuff and every so often we bump into a black-tip reef shark in the shallows! It's also home to some of Koh Tao's nicest coral gardens, with a great variety of different types to be found towards the bay.

Average dive time - 45 minutes for OW divers, 60 minutes for Advanced

 

Shark Island


A dive site named as it looks like a huge shark fin when viewed from 'Aow Leuk' beach facing it, Shark Island really has it all - deep southern sections reaching 30 metres, with piles of fluroescent soft corals, cobia and nudibranch, the east side where we have swim throughs, blue-spotted ribbontail rays, filefish and triggerfish chasing whatever gets too close, and the north with it's incredible coral gardens and hordes of the typical Koh Tao reef fish everywhere you can imagine - also the best snorkeling spot for miles around too. It's one of those sites where you come back with a stiff neck from trying to watch all that's going on around you, and it always leaves you wanting more. It's also possible to see whalesharks every now and then here coming up from the deeper parts of the island, and there's a resident turtle that'll be lurking around the southern sections most days.

Average dive time - 45 minutes for OW divers, 60 minutes for Advanced

 HTMS Sattakut 742 Wreck                                                                                                    

 

A dive site that is usually the most popular with our Advanced students (and usually the one they're still talking about days later), the Sattakut wreck is essential viewing at least once when backpacking Thailand and trying out a bit of scuba diving. Built in 1942 and sunk here in 2011, the Sattakut lays in the sand just one minute south of the dive site Hin Pee Wee, which is always the best way to approach her - to glide past the beautiful natural corals and suddenly find yourself nose to nose with a huge WW2 warship is an experience all divers here should partake in, it really takes your breath away when dived properly! Home to eels, sweetlips, shrimp, grouper and the amazingly-named Harry hotlips, it's also worth taking a peek underneath it where we can often find a huge jenkins whipray hanging out and looking evil.
The HTMS Sattakut is 46 metres long, 7 metres wide and has two canon guns, with the shallowest part being the bridge which lies at a depth of 18 metres, and reaching a depth of 31 metres at the stern, maiking it suitable for Advanced divers only. It was used in the US naval attacks on Iwo Jima and Okinawa in WW2, and it's not unusual to see our Japanese divers kamikaze into it to regain family honour, or something equally as daft that I just made up.

Average dive time - 40 minutes for Advanced students, 50 minutes for more experienced divers

 

 

Other notable sites loved by all include Green Rock, Samran Pinnacles, Sail Rock (which is closer to Koh Phangan, so doesn't really count) and Hin Wong Pinnacle, all of which can be booked with our team in person at the resort.

 

Published in December