After a two hour journey to the pier, we got a first glimpse of our boat – the MV Sawasdee Fasai – run by West Coast Divers. This was going to be our home for the next few nights and where we would enter the water from. What struck me straight away was the length of the boat. A long boat at 37m, it made for an extremely spacious dive deck onboard. Luckily we weren’t at maximum capacity onboard either. For the dive company this isn’t ideal but for us as divers it meant more space and less divers in the water. The boat has 15 cabins and can accommodate up to 30 guests. We came across most other liveaboards along our journey and I’d say our boat looked to be the biggest and most spacious in the area.
We set sail after a thorough briefing by the boat leader Beto and a delicious dinner prepared by the two chefs onboard. It was five hour sail during the night over relatively calm seas. We woke in the morning to stunning views over the turquoise sea that met with meticulously placed granite boulders at the island’s edge. The islands rose to a modest height but were densely covered in lush green rainforest with white-bellied sea eagles frequently seen patrolling each island. We had arrived at the stunning Similan Islands National Park for our first day of diving.
We were treated to much better visibility diving here compared to some of the sites around Phuket and Phi Phi. 25+ metres was the norm, although the odd thermocline rolling in made the dives more adventurous as they chased us through the water engulfing us in hazy water reducing the vis and the temperature drastically for a very short moment.
Again, scorpionfish were abundant during the dives here and for the first time in my diving life I also got to watch as one awkwardly bimbled along the sandy bottom. The soft coral here was just as stunning as the day diving but was more abundant as gorgonian fan corals dominated the boulders underwater creating interesting swim throughs, especially at the Elephant Head Rock site. The change of current through each turn was interesting to see but did make some of the dives more difficult on occasions. Air didn’t last as long on these dives but the adventure was cranked up a little to compensate.
After dive three we moored up in Donald Duck Bay and had the opportunity to go on the island and marvel at the beautiful white sandy beach surrounded by lush rainforest. After a short but interesting hike up granite boulders in only flip flops to a view point, we were greeted with a view where I instantly knew why this had become a protected national park. The rainforest oozed with life as the soothing sounds of birds greeted our presence and if you listened carefully the ground would talk, as small lizards and insects worked their way through the foliage. One lizard even scuttled across our path.
The coral reef was easily visible through the clear turquoise water as the colour of the sea turned a deep blue the further you looked out. I certainly felt a sense of paradise standing there in awe of Nature’s beauty. Once we returned to the boat it was time for a night dive in the bay and my favourite dive of the day. I love a night dive and after saying I was going to find a pygmy squid, it gave me great joy to catch one in my light. A little guy only about a centimetre in size that I unfortunately lost before I could get my camera focused on it. Other critters were a little more willing to be photographed though and it was an enjoyable dive.
Day Two was the start of our journey north to the islands of Koh Bon and Koh Tachai. The topside view hadn’t changed but we were here as these two islands gave us the better opportunity to hopefully get lucky with some big sightings. Manta rays and whale sharks are the stars of these islands as long as you are lucky. Unfortunately, we were the unlucky ones and they both proved elusive this time. It left me a little despondent after dive three where a ripping current at Koh Tachai Pinnacle left us suspended like waving flags on a mooring line and unfortunately didn’t deliver the whale shark we were hoping to see.
We decided to risk the current at the Pinnacle once more for the sunset dive and luckily for us it had died down and let us explore a site full of life. This dive saved the day and I didn’t let the disappointment of a whale shark being elusive get me down. I could appreciate this stunning site of granite boulders covered in soft coral and full of life surrounding them. We had fish feeding on jellyfish and a titan triggerfish let me get close and photograph it as it gorged on its feast. Then at the surface we had a beautiful white-spotted jellyfish to photograph as the sun was setting.
After a nice leisurely drift dive at the start of day three in Surin Island, it was time to head north again to the site I’d been eagerly anticipating since this trip was organised. Richelieu Rock was the destination and sure enough it didn’t disappoint as it was magnificently manic as soon as you dropped in. Schooling fish engulfed the site as small bait fish were hunted by bigger fish such as giant trevallies, big eye jacks, barracuda and more that would swarm round you as we drifted through the site. It was also the colours of the site that blew me away as soft coral dominated the pinnacles and anemones full of clownfish covered the top of the rocks like a carpet.
Richelieu Rock is also a great site for macro spotting but beware of the current as on some occasions it can be difficult for macro photography as you can’t take it slow exploring the reef. Then even if you do spot a macro wonder, it’s hard to stop and compose the shot without sucking the air out of your tank too quick. Luckily for me the last dive of my trip provided calmer currents and an opportunity to photograph a stunning ornate ghost pipefish, along with a peacock mantis shrimp, some nudibranch, dancing shrimp, and a white-eyed moray. Unfortunately I missed out on a harlequin shrimp that someone else on our boat spotted. A critter that still remains elusive for me. A good reason to do a few dives at this site and experience it all including a change in current. Another word of warning at this site is not to get too close and put your hand down. I’ve never saw so many scorpion fish in one place before.
It was unfortunately time to head back to shore but on the morning of day four there was the opportunity for a couple of last dives before the trip ended. The dive site was BoonSoong Wreck, only an hour and a half from the marina. Unfortunately for my group we were all flying back at midnight that same night and after careful consideration decided after a hectic schedule of diving we would reluctantly miss this dive.
We heard from the others who dived it that the visibility wasn’t great at all but it is a great site to see honeycomb moray eels and one was spotted hunting along the wreck. Different species of nudibranch are also common here and the talk was of finding some along the way. A shame we couldn’t add the extra dive but the swarms of jellyfish at the surface kept me entertained as I gazed across the ocean.
I must admit I was at first left a little underwhelmed by the diving here and it was saved by the stunning Richelieu Rock site. However, on reflection, I feel that was my own fault in building up my expectations too much and telling myself I was going to see a whale shark, a manta, a zebra (leopard) shark and guitarfish. This was very naive of me considering the experiences I’ve already had diving around the world. This is nature and in most circumstances we can’t guarantee what’s going to happen, and that is what’s great about diving and keeps bringing us back underwater, the anticipation of what we may find.
I know that all these big exotic marine animals can be found here as I’ve seen photos of them from people diving the Similan Islands itinerary. Some were even seen by other dive groups on our boat, such as a zebra shark and feeding eagle ray. However, I was only diving here for three days so I’d have to be incredibly lucky to get all of them. This is a destination where you travel knowing that you are going to be surrounded by stunning topside views and the diving is going to be great fun no matter what happens. You have a great chance of hitting the jackpot with some unusual sightings and its all in the mindset how you see it. I’d certainly recommend a trip here, you never know what you might find! A word of warning though, the currents can get a little interesting.
Scuba Diving in India: 5 Best Places to Visit Now
India doesn’t get the attention it deserves for its scuba diving. With its white-sand beaches and tropical islands, this stunning country is on a par with some of the world’s best-loved diving hotspots. There are isolated coral reefs, shipwrecks, pinnacles, remote atolls, and walls that host an eye-popping array of Indian Ocean marine life. With India recently opening its borders to fully vaccinated travelers, now is the time to explore this incredible destination before the rest of the world finds out.
- Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
The Andaman Islands sit off the coast of India in the Bay of Bengal, surrounded by bright blue waters and fringed with isolated coral reefs. It is a tropical paradise destination with thriving mangroves that support diverse marine life and extraordinary birdlife.
Many of these beautiful islands are inhabited by the Andamanese, an indigenous group of people whose privacy is paramount, meaning you cannot visit all of the islands. Some of the Andamanese tribes, such as the Sentinelese, have had little to no contact with the outside world for many years.
Havelock Island and Neil Island are two of the most exceptional diving spots in the Andaman Islands and are regularly rated as two of the best places for scuba diving in India.
Havelock has excellent macro diving, whilst Neil Island offers pristine coral reefs and fewer divers. Together they host some of the best marine life that the northern Indian Ocean has to offer.
When to go: November to April.
Sitting on the west coast of India by the Arabian Sea, Goa is known for its long stretches of golden sands and lively nightlife. But if you step back from the bustling bars, you will find picturesque dive sites and a destination rich in culture and history.
Grande Island is a hotspot for water sports and is one of Goa’s best dive locations. There are dive sites for every level of diver at this must-visit island, plus some of Goa’s famous shipwrecks.
As an important trading port for centuries, Goa has around 100 shipwrecks off its shores, which have become thriving artificial reefs. As well as wrecks galore, Goa also has shallow coral gardens and striking pinnacles that attract tourists to Goa scuba diving every year.
When to go: October to May.
Puducherry’s crystal-clear waters are enough to attract any keen diver to explore this well-known French colonial settlement and the surrounding area.
Above water, Puducherry is a quaint destination with a French Quarter of bougainvillea-lined streets, colorful colonial villas, and sophisticated boutiques.
Below water is equally as eye-catching, with a huge range of diving opportunities along Puducherry’s vast coastline. There are unexplored coral reefs and shipwrecks, plus famous dive sites such as Coral Sharks Reef – a great novice dive site with plenty of reef sharks.
Go in search of sea snakes at Aravind Wall, one of the most famous dive sites in India, explore popular Four Corners, or head into the deep, dark depths at The Hole.
When to go: February to April, September to November.
- Netrani Island, Karnataka.
Netrani Island (Pigeon Island) is one of India’s best-known dive spots and sits off the famous temple town of Murdeshwar. Shaped like a heart, it is also known as ‘the heart of India’s diving’ and offers world-class diving with excellent conditions.
There are rarely any currents at Netrani’s dive sites, making it an ideal destination for Open Water Divers and novices who want to learn to dive.
Most of the diving is done from boats, taking you to explore diverse coral landscapes bursting with colorful marine life. Keep an eye on the blue when you dive there, as whales sometimes visit this special island.
When to go: October to May.
Lakshadweep, an archipelago off Kerala, has 36 atolls and coral reefs, with lagoons full of life and pristine reefs. Whilst you cannot visit all of the islands, those that you can visit make it a fantastic place to dive. And when you’ve had your fill of diving, you can explore Kerala’s famous tea plantations.
Whichever islands you choose, the clear blue waters of Lakshadweep have a seemingly endless list of marine life highlights, including sharks and sea turtles.
Bangaram Atoll is entirely surrounded by coral reefs and the continuous nature of the reef makes it one of the most interesting places to dive at Lakshadweep. As well as gorgeous corals, Bangaram hosts Princess Royal, a famous 200-year-old shipwreck.
Kadmat Island, or Cardamom Island, is all about turquoise waters, white sand beaches and encounters with numerous sea turtles. With healthy seagrass beds and coral reefs to dive, it is a mecca for marine life. Make sure you leave time to visit this impossibly idyllic island.
When to go: October to May.
Who is diving in India suitable for?
With over 8000 kilometers of coastline, India has a broad range of dive destinations to suit every dive experience level. There are plenty of easy-going dive sites for novices, plus adventurous dives for experienced divers.
What marine life will you see when diving in India?
Sitting in the Indian Ocean, India’s dive sites host a huge variety of life, including abundant tropical reef fish, lion fish, moray eels and prized critters. Sea turtles are regularly spotted cruising the reefs and nest at many of India’s islands. Manta rays, whales and dolphins are also seen in India’s waters.
Kathryn Curzon, a shark conservationist and dive travel writer for Scuba Schools International (SSI), wrote this article.
Critter Diving in Dumaguete
Words and Images by Marty Snyderman
While the term “muck diving” is one that would probably not pass a smell test with the marketing gurus on Madison Avenue, experienced muck divers know exploring the muck to be a featured attraction of diving in the water surrounding our resorts at both Atlantis Puerto Galera and Atlantis Dumaguete.
If you are new to diving or simply have not yet enjoyed the opportunity to muck dive, you might not be familiar with the term muck diving. Don’t let your lack of familiarity or the name turn you away. The term muck diving was first used to describe exploring areas where the bottom consists of black sand, mud and silt in sites that are often influenced by some current flow and a source of freshwater. Over the years the definition has expanded, and today the term muck diving is often used to describe dives over almost any area that has a soft bottom as well as dives around structures such as a pier or dock where the pilings along with discarded tires, bottles and other man-made objects combine to provide habitat and hiding places for all kinds of creatures.
But it is not just the nature of the sea floor or number of species that one might see that has made muck diving so popular. It is the fact that many of the encountered creatures are so bizarre, amazing, different, and well adapted for their life style and their chosen habitat that they routinely leave divers in awe of what Mother Nature has to share. Creatures such as ornate, robust, and halimeda ghostpipefishes, shrimpgobies and their partner shrimps, strange-looking scorpionfishes, sea moths, skeleton shrimp, decorator crabs, stargazers, gurnards, frogfishes, cuttlefishes, seahorses, octopuses, and snake eels are daily fare in muck sites.
In many muck diving areas, the bottom is not completely barren. Small patch reefs and anemones in the sand provide refuge for additional species of fishes, crabs, shrimps, lobsters, and squids etc. In short, muck diving can be crazy good!
The Muck Diving Experience
For many divers the first time they look around after entering the water at some highly acclaimed muck diving site, their heart sinks as the surroundings do not bring the term beauty to mind. Drab is usually more like it, and upon first consideration most muck diving sites look boring. But you’ll be selling muck diving short if you judge this book by its cover. Just trust those that brought you to the site and go see what there is to see. Odds are you’ll be absolutely amazed.
Muck Diving Technique
In many muck sites it is extremely easy to stir up the bottom and reduce the visibility with a single kick of a fin or the loss of buoyancy that causes a diver to crash into the sea floor. It is best to keep kicking and all other movements to an absolute minimum, and to achieve and maintain neutral buoyancy.
After that, it is “get low, go slow, be curious, and look closely” as you scour the bottom and any structure whether a soft coral, sponge, or debris such as a dead leaf or piece of driftwood on the sea floor. Take two looks at the slightest aberration. See something that looks just slightly different than its surroundings, and the odds are that you will be looking at some mind-blowing animal.
Be patient with yourself as you learn “how to look”. Divers that are new to muck diving almost always swim past subject after subject without spotting them during their first several muck dives. And they are almost universally amazed by the animals their dive guides spot. It is like the guides and new divers are diving in different oceans.
The key to the guides’ success is that they know where, how to look, and who they are looking for. Of course, gaining that expertise takes time. No doubt, their experience is a huge help. When you ask them how they do what they do, they are usually quick to tell you they “get low, go slow, remain curious, and look closely”. And I’ll throw in a “have fun and allow yourself to be amazed by Mother Nature”.
Visit www.atlantishotel.com to find out more!