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Big Blue Diving - Koh Tao - Thailand - Displaying items by tag: Open Water

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

With over 85 dive centres now on Koh Tao, choosing which one to do your PADI/SSI Open Water course with has never been harder. Talking to the dive centre in person is something we highly recommend, but with each of them doing their utmost to sell you on their own particular store it's good to go with some ideas on what you're looking for before booking your scuba license.

So what facts should we take into consideration when deciding who to grace with your presence and go scuba diving with? Here we're going to talk about a few things to have a think about before making that decision:

Large or Small?
Each has their pros and cons, and it really depends on what you want from your new dive centre - do you want one-on-one with the instructor and diving from a small boat, or do you prefer to have a few others also learning with you and a larger boat? Diving is a very social experience, so personally I like to have a few others around so I have the chance to make friends with a bunch of people, and the large boats are a lot more comfortable in waves due to their increased weight - take note those of you who can get seasick!

 

                                                                                                 

Pool Training or Immediately in the Ocean?
For a nervous diver, the choice is very simple - find a dive centre that uses a pool to learn to dive. To immediately be jumping into the ocean with around 15-20 kg of equipment many people have never seen in their lives can be very intimidating, and here on Koh Tao you've then got a 20-30 minutes swim to get to the beach area to practise for the first time, with snorkellers, swimmers, kayaks, current and visibility to think about as well as all the new skills you need to learn. To learn all the new techniques in a pool before getting into the sea is a lot less nerve-wracking - after all you're just stepping into a shallow pool - and there are never snorkellers, kayaks, currents etc.. Another negative point about immediately learning in the sea is that you now have a time limit to get through all the things you need to successfully complete before being allowed to go on to the next part of the course (as the boat needs to get back before the sun goes down) whereas the pool doesn't go anywhere, giving the instructor the whole day to ensure that the student is totally comfortable and safe with this equipment before even considering getting into the sea.

We believe here at Big Blue that letting our students spend all that time in the pool is the safest way to teach them how to dive, so then when they're ready to ocean dive for the first time they're not terrified of the prospect but excited and raring to go!

Location
With so many dive centres on this small island there's not enough space on the beach for them all to have that ideal location right on the shore, so you'll find that most of the cheaper ones are located on the streets around Sairee, Mae Haad and Chalok - of course you will have a much better experience if your dive centre is situated right on the beach, as the natural beauty of our beaches can't help but inspire a student compared to those on a dusty street. So how do we choose which of these beaches is best?

For those who want to be close to all the action there's no better choice than Sairee Beach. With the best restaurants, bars and clubs on the island located around there and easily the best spot to view the islands incredible sunsets, Sairee is THE place to be if you want to be within walking distance of all the island's hottest spots, plus by simply heading to the north of Sairee you also get the peace and tranquility Thailand is famous for - but still just a five minute stroll down the beach to the busier parts!

For those who prefer more built up areas, or want to stay close to the piers for laziness reasons then Mae Haad is the place for you. With a few good places to eat, slightly more relaxed bars and no real clubs at all, it tends to attract the slightly older visitors to the island. The beach isn't as nice or clean as in Chalok and Sairee (due to the amount of traffic coming in and out of the port) but it's still a great place to relax and enjoy the sunsets of Koh Tao without as many backpackers around you.

Incredibly popular with the islands French and Spanish speaking contingent, south-facing Chalok Baan Khao is a smaller beach than Sairee and has a lot less people staying around it. One of the islands cheaper places to stay, it has a fair few budget Thai places to eat, and a handful of decent bars to enjoy afterwards. Those wishing to party may find it a little too relaxed, and the beach often suffers from the 'Low-Tide Blues' making it difficult to swim from there, but nevertheless it reamins a popular spot for those wanting peace and quiet above everything else.

 

 

                                                                                                  

Reputation
When scuba-diving 18 metres underwater on the deepest part of the SSI or PADI Open Water license, the last thing you want to be worried about is the equipment that's keeping you alive down there - and here lies the most important thing of all when choosing a dive centre - the quality, safety and reputation of the business. The safety of the diver must be the priority every day on every single dive, and this is where we can start using tools like Lonely Planet, Trip Advisor and Facebook to filter out those dive centres that appear good on paper, but in reality fail to impress. We always recommend a dive centre that had been diving these particular waters for a while, as then you know that they've worked out precisely where to send their students for the best possible Open Water experience, and it's worth going for the bigger dive centres over the small if you're worried about your safety - the larger dive schools have bigger budgets, so can spend a lot more on essential safety items. From well-stocked first aid kits to tanks of pure oxygen on every boat, you can tell a lot about a dive centre and how seriously they take their divers safety from the contents of their first aid kits - so sneak a peak!

 

 

                                                                                    

Atmosphere
The final factor to consider when choosing your dive centre for that elusive SSI/ PADI Open Water is of course how you fit in with the people working there! The atmosphere generated at the dive centre is essential to cultivate the type of learning environment that inspires the students and makes them want to come back for more, and give their very best in all parts of the course. If you're surrounded by people you don't understand or get on with then immediately you're fighting a battle not only to complete the diving license but also to become a part of the group around you, which inevitably leads to frustrations. To find out if you are the right sort of person for the dive centre there's really no better way than to talk to them in person, and get a feel for the place before making that decision. If it's not possible to do this, then try shooting them a few messages on their Facebook page to see how they respond - you can tell a lot about the people from how enthusiastic or disinterested their replies are to you. Trip Advisor reviews will also tell you a lot about the atmosphere at the dive school from an unbiased source, so it's well worth trawling through a few to get an idea of what the place is like from the students themselves.

 

See you underwater!

 

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

As one of the longest running scuba diving schools on Koh Tao, we've probably been asked every question about diving you could think of, in particular regarding the Open Water license that so many of our students come especially to do here on Koh Tao - after all it is renowned as being the cheapest place in the world to do the Open Water course! Even compared to our nearest neighbours on Koh Phangan (approximately 10,000 baht without accommodation) and Koh Samui (approximately 15,000 baht without accommodation) we manage to provide high quality, professional and above all safe Open Water diving courses to all those backpacking Thailand and choosing the mighty Big Blue for all their diving needs.

One of the questions we're asked time and again is regarding the two major Scuba Diver Training agencies we have today:

PADI - (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) is the world’s largest scuba training agency. PADI Instructors can teach independent of a dive store.

SSI (Scuba Schools International) is the world’s largest store based training agency. SSI Instructors and Dive Masters must be affiliated with a physical store.

From personal experience, people come to Koh Tao usually with the intention of doing 'their PADI', as the team at PADI Marketing do a bloody brilliant job at promoting their brand with posters, magazine spreads, the huge banners and stalls at every dive expo on the planet. SSI on the other hand have a much smaller marketing budget that they gain from smaller dive agency fees, smaller certification cost fees and smaller staff budgets. There are actually over 120 dive organisations in the world that can give you an Open Water license, other popular ones being BSAC in the UK, CMAS over Europe, Naui in the USA and my new all-time favourite, the Polish Tourist Country-Lovers Society Underwater Activity Commission, which sounds much sexier.

 

So what's the difference then?

 

INTERNATIONALLY RECOGNISED?

Any of the dive organisations in the world can give you the Open Water license, and with it you can dive in every dive centre in the world for the rest of your life - an SSI diver can of course dive in a PADI centre or the other way round, for example. In fact, no dive centre can turn you away just because you have a different license to what they offer!
They are also completely interchangeable – you can get certified as an Open Water Diver with SSI, then Advanced Diver with PADI, then Rescue with NAUI and so on up to instructor level, without being made to repeat courses.

COST OF CERTIFICATIONS
SSI is usually cheaper, as they don’t insist that the student buy a manual/app for the course. You can borrow one of our books or use the app for free!
PADI, however, do insist on purchasing the materials – no matter if you are traveling around the world or learning at home. They feel that post-course review of materials is important to maintain knowledge-levels. They offer an e-book in case you don't want to carry a pretty heavy book around with you for the rest of your trip. Here at Big Blue that adds 1000 baht to the course price, the price of an extra dive at the end of the course and a couple of beers to help wash it down!

ONLINE LEARNING
Both SSI and PADI offer their students the option to start the practical portion of the lessons online, which will save time and gives divers more time to just dive. The difference here is both cash and longevity: SSI’s online learning is free, whereas with PADI you will pay about US$150. PADI offer you access to their system for one year from when you sign up, whereas with SSI it’s there for you all the time, even after the course. If you choose not to buy the book, you can simply log in and use the site as a review when you want a refresher later on!

SAFETY
Science, skills and techniques are exactly the same, meaning no difference in safety at all

EASE OF LEARNING
With SSI the course is taught with an 80/20 approach, meaning the instructor can adapt 20% of the course to fit the pace of learning, ensuring a student focused training programme worked around the needs of the students - after all everyone learns at different paces.
PADI however insists skills are performed in rigid sequence with no room for manoeuvre for changing water conditions or student learning pace. If you do change the order they dictate, they've broken standards that must be adhered to - a big no-no for a dive instructor!

Is this relevant to you as a student then? Imagine you're having problems mastering a skill with PADI who say that skill 'A' must be followed by skill 'B' and so on… As you struggle your confidence will suffer, and we have to get you to complete this particular skill before being able to move on, asking you to try one more time, and again...often embarassing and humiliating the student especially if the other students had no problems! Being forced to try something you're having bother with again and again doesn't seem like the best way to teach, in my opinion - and I'm a PADI diver myself! With SSI your instructor can move on, do a couple of 'easier' skills to boost your confidence then come back to the problem area at a later time when you seem to be more comfortable - a much better teaching technique than the 'try it again, try it again' method, and one that leads to a lot less students having to drop out of the course because they got stuck on something.

SSI also allows our instructors to add information and/or skills if that improves the quality of the scuba license. For example, if you want to know more about the whalesharks that we see here sometimes, we are able to spend some extra time talking about the dangers they face, what we can do to help and so on - making the course a lot more enjoyable!

 

CONCLUSIONS
Overall, the courses teach the same information because they adhere to the standards set forth by the WRSTC - the governing body of scuba-diving worldwide. Remember, no matter which organization you take a course with you will use the same kind of equipment and see the same marine life underwater.
A lot of divers working in the industry will tell you that it does not really matter whether you choose SSI, PADI or any of the others on offer out there, after all when you finish you get a scuba certification card and you can dive anywhere in the world.

Here at Big Blue we make more money from the more expensive PADI course, and all of our instructors can teach both PADI and SSI. They actually get paid more for teaching PADI Open Water, but if given the chance to choose I'm sure every one of them would go for SSI simply because it's more focused on the learner and any problems they may encounter during the course, making it easier for both student and teacher and therefore resulting in a lot more successful, freshly certifed Open Water divers!

 

 

Book your PADI or SSI course today on our website www.bigbluediving.com or come to to us in person when you arrive on Koh Tao - courses start at 5pm every day of the year! 

 

Published in December