60 dives into my scuba diving education, I have learned so much about the ocean and seen so many memorable things. The underwater world is something so unlike anything I have ever experienced, and with each descent my love of diving becomes stronger.
It’s hard to describe exactly how it feels to swim alongside purple and orange striped Angelfish, or to find yourself in the middle of a school of Yellow-Tail Barracuda as they split off in a graceful arc around you. The feeling you get when you are 20 meters deep and you look up, and all you see are thousands of fish silhouetted against the sunlight streaming through the first few meters of water is a strange lightness in your heart unequivocal to many other things. When you see your first giant turtle gliding gracefully amongst the coral, or a pair of moray eels stick their bulgy-eyed heads out from their rocky homes, you really start to appreciate how lucky you are to be where you are at that exact moment. So little of the world’s population has gone scuba diving – less than 1% of people on this earth have been so lucky – and it really makes you feel privileged to be down there, many meters below the surface, witnessing a whole new level of life.
Everything goes a different way when you venture below the surface at night, pitch-black water and only a flashlight in your hand to light the way. Giant barracudas hunt smaller fish with precision and cunning; small octopus lurk in the sand; many fish that remain dormant during the day are suddenly active and exciting; blue-spotted stingrays, which lie dormant under rocks during the day, are out swimming and hunting; and above all, the complete silence of the night dive envelopes you to the point where you find yourself barely breathing.
I spend a lot of time underwater fighting off the tiny Cleaner Wrasse, a small, blue and black-striped fish with a sixth sense for abrasions. Cleaner Wrasse are easily the most annoying thing in the ocean: they suddenly hone in on any cut or scrape on your body with the intent on cleaning it, but generally just end up irritating you as they poke at you in already sore areas. They are quite intent on their job and difficult to dissuade, no matter how many times you brush them away.
Another aquatic annoyance is the Titan Triggerfish, an extremely large, colorful fish that is extremely territorial and will fight to defend its eggs at the slightest provocation. Triggerfish are extremely smart, and like dolphins, they learn from experience. They have been known to take bites out of fins, dent air tanks, and if they hit you in the head hard enough, they can knock you out. Another DMT was hit in the head by an oncoming triggerfish and he said the pain was akin to getting a baseball in the head. Unfortunately, as a DMT assisting on courses or fun dives, it is my responsibility to put myself between these aquatic nuisances and customers. I have yet to be “triggered”, as it’s called, and I am hoping to avoid it for as long as possible, but luckily I do know how to deal with it if it does happen.
We have had a new kind of excitement lately here on Koh Tao – Bull Sharks have been spotted at two different dive sites frequently over the past few days. It has been ages since they have been seen, and their return coincides with the event my dive school, Big Blue, is putting on to raise money and awareness for shark conservation – Swim for Sharks. We are all swimming 3.4 km around the neighbouring island of Koh Nang Yuan, raising money to help a charity that is purchasing sharks from their captive homes in Pattaya and Bangkok and releasing them with radio equipment into the waters around Koh Tao. It is highly important that these sharks are returned to their natural homes and that their health and movements can be monitored – unfortunately, sharks of all kinds are becoming extremely endangered, with the shark fin soup industry being the one to blame. It is estimated that every year, 100 million sharks are fished, have their fins cut off, and are thrown back into the water, where, unable to swim, they sink to the bottom and are eaten alive by other fish. The loss of sharks threatens the stability of already fragile aquatic ecosystems, and it needs to stop. There is a documentary by Canadian filmmaker Rob Stewart called Sharkwater which is absolutely fantastic, and I highly encourage everyone to educate themselves on the fight that sharks and environmentalists are going through.
As I do more and more dives, I really realize that this is something I want to do for the rest of my life – the oceans are so very important, and it is our duty as divers to protect them. Every minute spent underwater is a good minute – who knows how long all those beautiful fish and coral will be there for?