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Ko Lanta Dive Sites Unaffected by Closures

Healthy Coral Reef from Lanta Dive Site Ko Haa today

Plenty of coral reefs remain healthy in Thailand. Many top dive sites are still open. Photo taken at Ko Haa today.

All Ko Lanta dive sites remain open after reports that many of Thailand’s top dive sites are to be closed today, due to coral bleaching that occurred at shallow depths during the El Niño period in May 2010.

Healthy Corals - Photo taken today at Ko Haa

Healthy Corals - Photo taken today at Ko Haa

The director of the Department for National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation in Thailand, Sunan Arunnoparat, announced yesterday that eighteen diving and snorkelling sites, located mainly off the west (Andaman) coast of Thailand, will be closed for up to 14 months to allow coral, damaged by unusually high sea temperatures in May 2010, to recover.

The dramatic move was announced last night following a meeting in Bangkok that included marine biologists and researchers.

Dive sites listed to close lie within 7 of Thailand’s 148 National Parks and include sites within the National Marine Parks of; Ko Surin, Similan, Phi Phi, Petra, Tarutao, Chumphon and Hat Chao Mai.

It’s unclear how individual sites were chosen for closure. Although many of the sites listed are within high-profile marine parks that are famous for attracting large numbers of divers each year, none of the actual sites listed as banned are among the major diving destinations in Thailand.

The two sites listed for closure nearest the Ko Lanta area are, Ko Chuak – sometimes included as part of the popular 4-Island Snorkelling Tour, and Hin Klang – a snorkel site near Ko Phi Phi. All other sites remain open for diving and snorkelling.

Closures are due to begin today (Friday 21st January 2011). Divers or snorkeller breaching these closures could incur penalties of 1,000 – 10,000 THB (equivalent to US$30 – US$300).

Dive Sites to be closed due to Coral Bleaching

An announcement, welcomed by many marine environmentalists, stated that Thai authorities have also vowed to step up patrols to stop illegal fishing and increase moorings at spots not affected by the closures, aimed at reducing damage done by boats anchoring on, or using destructive fishing practices, near reefs. There is no indication as to how these steps will be enforced. For decades, illegal fishing has continued on and around marine parks, even though divers have been calling on the authorities to enforce protection laws.

Fishing Net Kills Coral Reef

Scuba diver gently removes a huge fishing net abandoned over a dive site at Ko Rok before it chokes the reef to death

“More than half of southern Thailand’s 15,000 hectares of coral reefs are suffering from the effects of bleaching”, a phenomenon caused largely by rising sea temperatures over an extended period. “We will study the cause and effect and find a way to restore them,” said Sunan Arunnopparat, director of the Department of National Parks.

Many local dive operators in southern Thailand are actively involved in reef monitoring projects in collaboration with Project AWARE, Greenfins and the Phuket Marine Biology Centre in order to study and limit the effects of global warming and coral bleaching.

Diving and snorkelling operators often play a vital role in local communities struggling to cope with growing levels of tourism, communicating reef conservation techniques and environmental awareness to both members of the local community and visiting diving and snorkelling tourists.

There appears to be some controversy in media coverage as to whether or not diving impacts reefs damaged by coral bleaching and why action is being taken so long after the event. Marine conservationists at last night’s meeting, are said to have blamed unregulated tourism – walking on coral, mooring boats over reefs and contaminating the water in the Andaman Sea, a region that draws thousands of tourists each year to enjoy it’s beautiful beaches and reefscapes. Sunan Arunnopparat said global warming was at fault.

A survey by Phuketwan today showed that the diving industry feels it has been made a scapegoat for the continuing failure of authorities to properly protect the reefs from illegal fishing and reef fish poachers.

It’s unclear why the widespread occurrence of coral bleaching has only just come to the attention of the authorities. By taking a look at the latest NOAA HotSpot report from yesterday – you can see that Thailand is not currently experiencing high sea temperatures.

Coral Bleaching HotSpots for Jan 2011

Compare this to their report at the end of May last year:

Degree Heating Weeks Report May 2010

Manta Ray at Hin Muang

Manta Ray at Hin Muang - Photo taken today

Current media coverage seems to incude scant focus on the fact that there are vast areas of coral reef in Thailand that are undamaged or well on their way to recovery, despite the unusually warm water temperatures some 9 months ago.

Water temperatures right now are actually a degree or two colder than normal for the time of year and reefs located further south in Thai waters are positively flourishing at the moment.

Famous dive sites Hin Daeng & Hin Muang are attracting Manta Rays in numbers not seen for many years. There have been multiple Manta sightings every day for almost 2 months and both marine and coral life is positively glowing.

Coral bleaching, (the whitening of coral as it loses its natural pigment), is caused by a rise in sea temperatures which has been linked to global warming and El Niño.

Corals start to feel stressed when the sea surface temperature is more than 1°C above the average we expect to see in the hottest month.

During May last year, sea surface temperatures in the Andaman Sea rose to 34 degrees Celsius or about 4 degrees C above the long-term average. Even more important for corals, is build-up of warm-water stress over time. NOAA also maps this cumulative stress by adding up the HotSpots over a 3-month period. These are called Degree Heating Weeks (DHWs), which pinpoint areas where corals are at risk for bleaching. The status is updated twice per week, and the data is posted to the Coral Reef Watch website for the public to access.

NOAA's Coral Reef Watch Program's satellite data Scientists use the NOAA Coral Reef Watch system to monitor coral reefs around the world – this data is available on Google Earth.

NOAA operates two polar-orbiting satellites, each with an infrared sensor that detects the temperature of the ocean’s surface. Because the satellites constantly orbit the earth, they measure the water temperature around the entire globe each day.

Using this technique NOAA maps ‘HotSpot’ areas that are higher than the expected maximum. Continuous monitoring of sea surface temperature at global scales provides researchers and stakeholders with tools to understand and better manage the complex interactions leading to coral bleaching. When bleaching conditions occur, these tools can be used to trigger bleaching response plans and support appropriate management decisions.

Coral bleaching is a growing global concern and the fact that the Thai government is taking this phenomenon seriously has got to be a good thing. Whether it’s a step in the right direction or a nail in the coffin of Thailand’s diving industry, action does need to be taken. By raising public awareness we have a better chance of taking the global steps desperately needed to slow down or reverse effects of global warming. It’s a shame that there is not a greater focus on controlling and enforcing illegal practices that would have a far more immediate and tangible benefit to Thailand’s reefs, rather than attempting to overcome mother nature.

The Reef Today – Latest Photos

A collection of the latest underwater photos from Ko Lanta’s reefs. Stay up to date on what diving conditions are like right now. Photos are usually updated daily and are from today or yesterday’s dives.

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Please visit the Liquid Lense Flickr photostream to view more images from Liquid Lense.

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Coral Bleaching Occurring at Shallow Depths

Coral Bleaching at Ko Haa

Coral bleaching is occurring at shallow depths in dive sites throughout the Andaman Sea. According to the Bangkok Post, coral reefs off Phuket, Krabi and Phang-Nga, including popular scuba diving sites such as the Similan, Surin and Phi Phi islands, have been damaged by the phenomenon.

The bleaching could get worse if sea temperatures continue to rise, says Niphon Phongsuwan, a marine biologist at the Phuket Marine Biological Centre (PMBC). The bleached corals may die if they cannot tolerate the stress, but if we’re lucky – and the monsoon winds come soon, those corals that are bleached already might survive and recover as was the case in 2003.

Temperatures in the Andaman Sea have stood as high as 31-32C for a long period this year and we are seeing temperatures as high as 33C in the shallow areas at Ko Haa, Hin Daeng & Hin Muang, Ko Rok and Ko Phi Phi.

Coral reefs in shallow waters at depths of up to 10m will take three to four years to recover. Coral at greater depths will take more time.

Coral bleaching is the whitening of corals, due to stress-induced expulsion or the death of zooxanthellae – symbiotic, algae-like micro-organisms. Under stress, corals may expel their zooxanthellae, which leads to a lighter or completely white appearance, hence the term ‘bleached’. Coral bleaching occurs when the conditions necessary to sustain the coral’s zooxanthellae cannot be maintained. If the coral colony survives the stress period, zooxanthellae often require weeks, or even months, to return to normal density.

You can report instances of coral bleaching to the NOAA Global Coral Reef Watch Project. Please follow this link to submit data: http://www.reefbase.org/contribute/bleachingreport.aspx

Other organisations that support coral bleaching monitoring include:

Ko Rok

The two sister islands of Ko Rok (Nok and Nai) are best known as the best snorkelling sites around Ko Lanta.

There are enormous gorgonian sea fans, huge hard coral formations and many colourful soft corals dominate the deeper area on the east side of Ko Rok Nok. The islands are quite large so we are still discovering new and exciting dives.

Ko Rok is a very relaxed and calm dive, and perfect for beginner divers and those who like to capture the magic of diving without too many dive boats around. There isnt a huge amount of marine life, but marble rays and Hawksbill turtles are often spotted. Its a great day out for partys with a mix of divers and snorkellers, As there is lots to keep both entertained. With the right weather, lunch on the beach is also a added bonus to relax and soak up the sun on your lunch break.

Ko Phi Phi

At the heart of Phi Phi Leh lies some magical diving experiences. Located around 22km west of Ko Lanta the Phi Phi islands offer consistently good diving. Phi Phi is best known for its fabulous sea fans and home to the leopard sharks. With long caves, dramatic over hangs and swimthroughs Phi Phi can offer some fond memories.

Bida Nok and Bida Nai have been rated the best diving there.  The dive sites lie next to eachother and are very similar. Both offer a fabulous display of hard and soft coral, and both being home to marine life including black tip reef sharks, hawskbill turtles and sting rays.

Bida Nok has an outer reef known as finger reef. The cove starts at around 3metres where baby black tip reef sharks can be found. To the side of this Finger reef gradually drops to around 18metres which is home to the odd leopard shark and stingray.

Bida Nai has its own reef known as fantasy reef. You have to leave the main pinnacles and swim over massive patches of stag coral to get to it. There you will experience breath taking experiences of barracuda and trevally hunting over you, sea snakes free swimming and scools of snappers alongside you.

It takes around 45mintues by speedboat to get to phi phi, where you will enjoy the picture perfect views on your lunch break. the visibility ranges from 5 – 20m, and although you do not get the visibility of Ko Haa, the sighting of the odd leopard shark will make your dive!

King Cruiser Wreck – Dive Site Review

Dive Site Review of the King Cruiser Wreck

Wreck - Yellow Snapper

a dense layer of yellow snapper above the wreck

As I descended down the line towards the King Cruiser Wreck, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d heard the stories of eerie currents sweeping over the ruins of a huge steel catamaran wreck and I was a little worried about the poor visibility I’d heard so much about.

I certainly wasn’t prepared for the sheer numbers of schooling fish that engulfed the steel hulk.

Going down the buoy line, it felt as though I was descending into a swirling mass of yellow snappers and trevally. It was almost impossible to guess at what lay beneath this impenetrable layer of excited fish.

As I drifted downwards, the imposing outline of the huge sunken boat started to take shape, appearing gradually out of the gloom. I could make out a walkway with railings along the side, the remains of the wheelhouse and a turret on the side of the wreck loomed out of the side closest to me.

King Cruiser Wreck through schooling fish

the wreck emerges through the swirling schools of fish

A large school of big-eye trevally swam busily past as I checked my bearings on my compass. The wreck lies on a north-south trajectory and I had descended at the southern end.

My buddy signalled that we should continue down to explore a little deeper. At around 24m the visibility dropped to around 6m but I could make out the large, dark opening to the car deck. The ramp sloped down towards the murky depths and some extremely large lionfish hovered around the imposing entrance.

A few jacks circled the opening hopefully, being swallowed up by the vast darkness of the interior, before emerging again on their hunting circuit.

Although it seemed tempting to follow them inside, I’d been cautioned during the dive briefing that penetration was out of the question, due to the unstable nature of the wreck’s structure. Steel that’s been lying in 30 degree salt water for the best part of 14 years is not to be trusted. The odd groaning and creaking sounds I could hear emanating from the wreck gave more than a little credence to this advise.

Images of the King Cruiser Wreck

Swimming along the starboard side, I peered into one of the large openings that had been cut out of the side of the car deck. A huge mappa pufferfish stared back at me, its distended belly glowing in the greenish, murky light. I tried to imagine cars lined up inside, but it felt impossible – almost as though the fish had claimed this sunken mass of metal as their own kingdom, its former life lost in the passage of time.

white-eye moray sheltering in a tiny crack in the wreck

As we rounded the northern end of the wreck, it seemed as though there was almost no end to the variety of marine life to be found on this site.

I wished I’d brought a torch after my guide (who had brought one) picked out more and more tiny delights hiding in the most unusual places. With a torch, all the colours became so much more vivid and I could really see all the corals that had started growing on the wreck’s structure.

Disregarding the vast numbers of schooling and hunting fish that surround the wreck, every little crack and crevice seemed to have become an established home for a different species of fish or crustacean. Even the railings and ironwork concealed cleverly camouflaged scorpionfish or tiny nudibranches, clinging on in the brisk current.

Big, bold white cowfish nosed around on the main deck, while rainbow runners darted through ever-present schools of snappers. I was intrigued to find three toilets lying in blithe disarray, presumably tossed there by the stronger currents that sweep through these areas during the monsoon seasons.

King Cruiser Wreck - Walkways

the walkways give a true sense of the size of the wreck

The moment it most felt like I was truly diving on a shipwreck was when we swam along the main walkway down the side of the top deck. It was at this point in the dive that the sense of perspective seemed more real and the true size of the boat become most apparent, filling me with a sense of awe at the remarkable beauty in the juxtaposition of nature, rusting metal and such an abundant array of colourful tropical fish.

The walkway is wide enough for 1 person to swim fairly comfortably along it. There are windows that look into the inside seating area.

Some fairly significant sections of the upper deck have collapsed in towards the middle of the boat, and some of the huge metal sheets that make up the main structure of this deck, are torn and twisted in spectacular disarray, adding to the eerie atmosphere and giving many more sheltered areas for the fish to inhabit.

Looking in through the top-deck windows, quite a few of the passenger seats were still in place and I was delighted to discover a huge Hawksbill Turtle sleeping in the main cabin. It was almost as if the turtle had picked out the most comfortable spot to take a nap.

Marine Life on the Wreck

The King Cruiser Wreck is a remarkable dive that’s completely different to any of the other dive sites I’ve dived around Ko Lanta. On the day that I dived, there were some fairly strong currents, although once we were down exploring the wreck, the structure itself provided quite a bit of natural shelter from the current. The visibility seemed to be quite variable with deeper parts having much poorer visibility that the shallower areas of the wreck. For me, this added to the atmosphere of it being a wreck dive and it was exciting to piece together an overview of the entire boat from each new section that I discovered.

I dived on NITROX which meant that I had plenty of bottom time to really explore all the interesting areas of the King Cruiser. As quite a few sections have collapsed inwards, a fairly significant part of the wreck lies below 18m. For me, diving on NITROX was a great decision.

Banded Sea Snake

the colours appear so much more vibrant when using a torch or flash light

The King Cruiser Wreck is situated half way between Ko Phi Phi and Phuket, and is the area’s most popular wreck dive. The boat lies perfectly upright, resting on the sandy bottom, with the deepest point at 32m and the captain’s cabin at around 14m. The entire wreck is 85 meters long and 35 meters wide and lies north to south.

Since sinking, the King Cruiser’s steel frame has evolved into a fantastic, barnacle covered, natural reef – a wonder that has attracted countless marine species, including massive schools of snapper, trevallie and batfish.

The wreck’s resident turtle lives inside and makes a trip up to the surface to breathe approximately every half an hour, so you’ve got a fairly good chance to find him during any dive you make there. You’re also likely to find many types and sizes of pufferfish, moray eels, lionfish and scorpionfish hiding in cracks and openings. There can also be a few unexpected visitors such as octopus, reef sharks and maybe even a whale shark.

With such a vast number of fish calling the King Cruiser Wreck their home, it’s bound to attract ever-increasing numbers of larger fish, looking out for a quick snack. This makes for exciting diving with never a dull moment!


If you’d like to share a dive-site review of one of Ko Lanta’s dive sites, please submit your review via email to review [at] scuba-dive-lanta.com.

Hin Daeng and Hin Muang

Hin Daeng and Hin Muang (red rock purple rock) has developed a high place in diving rated the best in Thailand after the similan islands. These two spectacular dive sites have tourists coming from all over Thailand choosing from speed boats to live aboards. The dive sites are most famous in the diving world for a good chance to see manta rays and whale sharks, the dive sites are very popular from the months of november to april, when the weather is most stable.

Hin Daeng – red rock – This is a submerged boulder pinnicle, where at the surface you have no idea of the hidden beauty under water. There are plenty of soft corals in different shades of red all around, looking out into the blue you will be amazed by the amount of giant trevallies and barracudas hunting. Hin Daeng  promises you a large amount of marine life surrounding you as you slowly glide through the warm waters. Most appealing to this dive site is the sightings of manta rays. Its common to see them coming in from the blue and enjoying your company while swooping around and around in your presence. Its always good to keep an eye out for the whale shark too, who likes to pop by from time to time. Theres no mistaking the largest fish in the sea (growing 12metres and bigger) so enjoy being on the look out.

This dive site starts at around 3metres and drops to 40metres plus on the southern side. Visibility usually ranges from 15 – 40metres

Hin Muang ( purple rock) is the deeper of the two dive sites, Hin Muang is covered with purple soft coral over the several pinnacles which create it. There is a mooring line to help with the descent and ascent of the dive, which is surrounded with a field of anenomes. Manta rays and whale sharks also have sightings here, and in addition other tropical reef residents including large grouper, snappers and moray eels lurk among the many crevices. Hin Muang is also rich in macro life, so dont be surprised to see many divers taking pictures of ghost pipe fish, harlequin shrimp and an unimaginable variety of nudibranchs. The newly found lacy scorpian fish is also one of our new favourite finds.

The depth of the the pinnacles range between 8 – 60 metres, because of the depths of the dive and the variability in current, Hin Daeng and Hin Muang are recommended for advanced divers only.

Ko Haa dive site

Koh Haa is by far the most beautiful dive site around Koh Haa and Phi Phi. You can enjoy the incredible experience of seeing perfectly formed pinnacles, crystal clear water, a small white sandy beach that stretchs across the lagoon on island 3, and to top it off  a large range of marine life with a chance to see something big!!

Ko Haa has a great variety of dive sites across the 5 islands. You can enjoy a easy dive starting in the lagoon of island 3. Its crystal clear water and shallow depth is a very appealing way to start your diving experience if its your first time. For those who would like to be a little more extreme island 1 holds a 18metre chimney. Its entry begins at 5metres where you enjoy the adrenalin of entering the dark and beautiful chimney. There is a little marine life in there and a small channel into a side cave at around 8metres. Its very open and a great way to start or end your dive by looking out into the blue in the surrounding of the ceiling and walls around you.

There is also another option on island 5 ‘the cathedral caves’ you can enter the cave at the beginning of the dive and surface in it as its a 5metre drop to get in. There are swim throughs at the bottom and side of the Cathedral to add even more to this incredible experience!!

The marine life is fantastic all over Ko Haa with scools of squid, barracuda, giant trevelly, and snappers. You will find yourself surrounded by scools of butterfly and angel fish, puffer and box fish. We have a very good friend porky the common porkupine fish which has its very own facebook page!Hawskbill turtles are a usual sighting and something a little more special is the green turtle on island 1. They are very rare in thailand so its a privellage to dive next to one on a regular basis. If you enjoy looking for macro life bring your torch as Ko Haa has a huge amount, and with lots of cracks in the pinnacles its great fun trying to seek them out.

And while your diving on the beautiful and succlusive island 6 look out for the whale shark as there have been a few sightings already this year!

Any way you dive Ko Haa you are sure to have an unforgettable trip, so bring the camera and get snapping, you dont want to miss a thing!!

Dolphins play around dive boat

Dolphin watching has become a regular activity on the return journey from Koh Haa to Kantiang Bay.  The divers on MV Moskito, Scubafish’s luxury dive cruiser have been rewarded with many sightings.  The dolphins glide in from the blue to jump and swim in the bow wave to much applause from the divers relaxing on the top deck.  Captain Mann loves the dolphins and slows down and circles around to let them cacth us.  What a fantastic sight!

Lucky Lanta becomes a Whale Shark Mecca

Whale Shark and Manta RayDuring the ‘monsoon season’, lucky Lanta had, not only some of the best diving ever witnessed in these waters, but had the unprecedented fortune of becoming somewhat of a Whale Shark magnet. Having personally dived in this area for over 9 years, I had never encountered the sheer number, and frequency of sightings, of these magnificent docile giants that graced our waters during April and May this year.

At top dive sites, Hin Daeng & Hin Muang, divers had the privilege of 28 consecutive days of Whale Shark (and often multiple Manta Ray) encounters. The visibility through this period was superb, peaking at well over 60 metres. The regularity of sightings at Ko Haa (particularly off Island #5) was also greater than in previous seasons, and even Ko Phi Phi got to join in the bonanza with sightings occurring for about 4 days of each month.

Whale Shark at Hin MuangDivers were returning from all the major dive sites around Ko Lanta reporting the exciting news that there had been simultaneous sightings of Whale Sharks at dive sites as far apart as 70+ km.

Whale Shark Facts:

  • The Whale Shark is the largest fish in the sea, weighing up to 60 tons and reportedly measuring up to 18 metres in length
  • The largest ever recorded Whale Shark (listed in the Guinness Book of Records) was 12.65 metres (41ft 6in), and their average length is thought to be between 8-9 metres
  • With approximately 3,000 tiny teeth, arranged in 300 rows in each 4 foot wide jaw, they filter-feed on some of the smallest creatures in the sea, such as plankton and small crustaceans
  • The Whale Shark’s skin can be up to 10cm think, but is vulnerable to skin infections (which can prove fatal in extreme cases)
  • Whale Sharks give birth to live young which hatch from eggs within their mother’s body. A pregnant Whale Shark can be carrying as many as 300 embryos
  • As with most sharks, female Whale Sharks are larger than their male counterparts
  • It is believed that Whale Sharks can live to be over 100 years old and do not mature until they are 30
  • Humans are the Whale Shark’s main predator, although they are sometimes attacked by Killer Whales (Orcas)
  • The Whale Sharks protection status is – ‘Threatened’
  • The best Ko Lanta dive sites to spot a Whale Shark are Hin Daeng, Hin Muang and Ko Haa
  • Did you know – you can take a PADI Whale Shark Awareness Specialty Course?