Conditions this week were mainly calm with a little wind on the East coast, but waves were minimal. The visibility has been fantastic and our favourite shots this week were those that showed just how crystal clear the water was. Everything looked so pretty and colourful!
We think you’ll agree a tropical diving holiday is looking pretty appealing right now, yes?!
Join us next week for more…or even better, book your trip to Koh Tao and come join us in person!
Our week was a bit wetter than usual thanks to Songkran celebrations, and a we celebrated with a couple of Whale Shark sightings in the lead up to Songkran itself! Another great week of diving on Koh Tao!
We’ve had some slightly changeable conditions this week with some isolated rain showers through the day. Conditions have remained fairly calm though, although there has been some moderate swell at a couple of sites, as well as some thermoclines at the deeper sites.
One of the things our customers ask most often is whether they will be able to dive with Whale Sharks during their stay with us. We very much hope so, but unfortunately we can never promise specific marine life sightings.
Despite what some online sources and business operators say, there really is no such thing as ‘Whale Shark Season’, and no guaranteed shark diving on Koh Tao to be honest. We do get the occasional sighting of black tips as well as whale sharks, but it can never be guaranteed. There are dive sites where they are spotted more frequently than others, and a few trends at times of year when its statistically more possible, but it basically comes down to luck – being on the right dive site on the right day at the right time!
In recent years we’ve seen the most Whale Sharks in March-May, September-October and then again around Christmas and New Year time. However do be aware that visiting during these months will not necessarily mean you get to dive with one. And they are frequently seen sporadically outside of these months too – for example in the last couple of weeks there have been a few spotted out at some of our deeper dive sites. When we do see them, they tend to be solitary encounters though, unlike in other destinations such as the Philippines, where at certain times of year you can dive/snorkel with many at the same time.
2017 was a particularly epic year for sightings of our favourite blue spotty fish, with an unprecedented number of sightings throughout April and May – which we dubbed Whale Shark Central. the Department of Marine Conservation released statistics that they had identified over 90 different individual Whale Sharks in the Gulf of Thailand last year! This is great news, so we are hoping they will all stick around this year and going forward in years to come!
During 2017, we experienced some highs and lows when it came to ocean-related news. New discoveries mixed with natural disasters of the greatest proportions riddled our timelines throughout the past year, so I figured it would be an interesting topic for a 2-part blog series. With this entry: The Changing Earth, I’m going to discuss the various threats to the oceans and Earth as we know it, with the next installment focusing on the positives that came out of 2017, including exciting new discoveries! So, without further ado, let’s discuss some of the interesting ocean-related events of the past year, starting with the numerous devastating tropical storms….
2017: The year of “once in a lifetime” storms! While hurricanes and strong tropical storms are not uncommon events, last year we witnessed some of the strongest storms in history. The Caribbean was hit by not one, but two huge hurricanes back to back in late August. Hurricane Harvey initiated the onslaught on the region, dumping up to 150cm of rain over a 2 day period. This lead to insane flooding causing large scale personal and property loss that is estimated to reach $100 Billion US dollars. Hurricane Maria followed around a month later, which caused the near annihilation of Puerto Rico, whose inhabitants just got their power back within the last month! Unfortunately, these weren’t the only storms of note. A post-tropical cyclone made its way north and hit both Ireland and Great Britain. Stronger-than-usual typhoons were experienced in south-east Asia, and a seldom heard of Medicane occurred in Greece. Have you ever heard of a Medicane? These storms are the Mediterranean equivalent to a tropical storm, much like a cyclone or typhoon. However, since the Mediterranean isn’t big or warm enough to sustain the storm’s energy, it can’t be classified as a tropical storm, despite sharing tropical storm characteristics. Hence the creation of the title “Medicane”.
While this past year was a bad one for storms, it is a sign of where we are going with future years. Thanks to global warming, we can come to expect these types of storms to become part of the norm.
In addition to the storms, 2017 will also be known as the successive year where we documented the further demise of our coral reefs. A mass bleaching event occurred throughout the world in 2016 due to the El Niño weather pattern causing water temperatures on the coral reefs to increase. This initially started back in 2014, however due to the sustained higher-than-usual water temperatures, 2016 was the year we saw the most bleaching and coral die-off. While this isn’t an immediate death sentence for the corals, if the higher-than-usual temperatures are sustained, the corals will become stressed, expel their symbiotic algae with whom they coexist and use as a food collection source, and slowly starve. All is not lost though! Marine protected areas (MPA’s), coral nurseries, pollution reduction, as well as the discovery of “super corals” have all played a valuable role on helping reefs bounce back after this very trying time period. These super corals are species that are able to withstand a greater temperature variation than other species of corals, which means that these El Niño events aren’t impacting them nearly as much as the regular corals. Pollution, while down overall, is still a major threat to the health of the oceans. It includes anything from oil spills, fertilizer runoff, and the subject of the year: Plastics!
Plastics, plastics, plastics! It seems like this is a never-ending topic of discussion among environmentalists the past few years and 2017 is no different. The issue has become what most would describe as an epidemic, to the point where scientists have estimated that there is a literal tonne of plastic rubbish located in the oceans from each person on Earth. What’s worse is that the majority of this plastic enters the water through only 10 rivers across the globe. On a slightly brighter note though, scientists discovered that some species of corals actually eat plastics! It appears that the corals enjoy the taste of the plastics, however, scientists have yet to figure out what chemical or component of the plastic makes it so desirable to the coral. Humans are learning something new every day and will hopefully use this newfound knowledge in a positive way! Here at Master Divers, we try to lead the way on Koh Tao, and take every step possible to reduce our plastic consumption. You can read more about Master Divers commitment to the environment on our previous blog post.
Given all that has happened in the past year, it is easy to be sad, but don’t be! Channel that passion into energy to help solve the problem! With the biggest issues all being due to global warming, we can all start with trying to lower our carbon footprints. This includes carpooling, walking, cycling, or using public transit to get around instead of driving everywhere. Another step you can take is to limit your meat intake. I’m not going to preach to you and say you need to cut out meat 100%, but if you can limit the amount you eat in a given week, it would do the world of good. Forests are cut down in order to make pastures for cattle and create food for other animals raised for human consumption. Finally, I implore you to try and cut down on the amounts of single-use plastic you use. Excellent alternatives to popular single-use plastic items exist, such as metal or bamboo straws and canvas shopping bags. The Earth needs our help if it is to be saved, and only a change in what has become our “norm” will do. Tune in to my next blog post to see what other changes 2017 brought to the world for ocean lovers!
Exciting news….Koh Tao could soon be known as one of the most eco-conscious destination of South East Asia! Many businesses, including most dive shops, are working together to try and ban single-use plastic items on Koh Tao, including plastic straws and plastic bags. On top of this, efforts are being made to install a recycling program for businesses to have their recyclable goods picked up rather than throwing them in with their everyday rubbish. This was all made possible by Koh Tao’s inhabitants having an eco-conscious mind set and the determination to fight for change.
The term ‘eco-conscious’ is floated around a fair amount in the media these days, but what does the term really mean?
An eco-conscious individual or business has a way of thinking where they look at how their actions and choices impact the natural world. Dubbed eco-warriors, these people/companies are both very aware of the threats faced by our fragile world, and also work to reduce and ultimately eliminate their impact on those threats. Where plastic is concerned, this largely revolves around ‘The Three Rs’… Reducing plastic use, Re-using any plastic that is used, and Recycling whenever possible.
Here on Koh Tao, with diving being the primary activity that draws tourists to the island, many inhabitants are already far too aware of the global plastic problem, ans its impacts on our oceans and marine life, and have been puching for changes for some time now.
As an island, there has already been some success in previous years. Just over 4 years ago the local government banned the use of styrofoam boxes, which were commonly used as takeaway containers from restaurants. This milestone showed that the community was willing to make sacrifices when alternatives are present, and when it was in the best interest of the island. Once a few people come around to a more sustainable way of living, it soon catches on, and now we have several key figures in the municipality on board, including the Mayor of Koh Tao! He understands that the island’s natural beauty (both above and below the ocean’s surface) is one of the main reason people choose to spend their vacation here, so it is worth making rulings to help protect it.
The latest introduction to Koh Tao to reduce and eliminate plastic waste is the sale of reusable straws (paper, metal and bamboo), with the hope that if the alternatives are available, single-use plastic straws will be phased out entirely.
So, first it was styrofoam, now plastic straws and the next step will be to remove plastic bags from our little island paradise. Its a huge goal, but with enough people involved and the right mindset, we’re not alone in pushing for change and committing to making it happen!
So, what can you do to help?
In short, the best thing you can possibly do is STOP USING PLASTIC as much as possible in your day to day life! And especially single use plastic. The great news is that alternatives are already available. Master Divers is proud to be a vendor of paper, bamboo and metal straws, and our retail section is well stocked with reusable water bottle and cloth shopping bags, meaning you’ll have no need for plastic bottle or cups, plastic straws or plastic bags. And the best bit? You get to take them all home and spread the word!
Please do join us in considering the environment, and not just in Koh Tao. It does not take much effort to live with less plastic in your life, it just takes a little more planning and forethought, but the results are well worth it!
If you’d like to know more about environmental initiatives and events on Koh Tao, feel free to follow us on Facebook or drop us an email 🙂
As divers, we enjoy the thrill of experiencing a different environment, interacting with its inhabitants, and simply enjoying the beauty of the underwater world. Unfortunately, this environment that we care for so dearly is in danger of being damaged beyond repair. I think Sir David Attenborough said it best when he stated: “being in touch with the natural world is crucial”. This connection is vital; without a connection to the natural world, what motivation do people have to help try and save it? Here at Master Divers, we pride ourselves on our passion for conservation, with our eco instructors specializing in information related to the ocean, its inhabitants, and the threats that the ocean faces. Come and see how that knowledge is passed on through one of our marine conservation package courses!
“What humans do over the next 50 years will determine the fate of all life on the planet”- Sir David Attenborough.
It is a common belief that this revolution to help save the planet and its oceans starts through education. Learning about the aquatic environment, how it relates to humans, and what we as individuals can do to help is vital. At Master Divers, all instructors try to nurture an interest in the natural world and try to share this passion with our guests. In taking a course here, you will be able to learn more about the marine environment and how we, as divers, can work to protect it. We care deeply about our environment and work hard to do what we can, not only to mitigate our impact but help preserve and nurture what we have. So we developed our Marine Conservation Packages for the dual purpose of helping our oceans, and also to help you, our divers, become more environmentally aware and active.
Marine Conservation Packages are available on both PADI Open Water, and PADI Advanced Open Water courses, and a conservation dive is included as standard in all of our professional level courses, as we believe ALL dive professionals need to have a base understanding of environmental issues so they can better educate their students. What this means is that in addition to receiving the regular high-level instruction and materials, you will also receive the following:
-Re-usable Master Divers Shopping Bag
-Reusable Water Bottle
-Project AWARE Dive against debris bag
Items from the green packages: re-usable shopping bag, Project AWARE dive against debris bag, and re-usable water bottle
If you are not taking a course with us and still want to get involved, fear not, you can join us on a conservation dive and presentation for just 1500THB!
For the conservation evening and presentation, you get a meal supplied by the amazing Coconut Monkey beach cafe, which specializes in delicious and healthy meals. Your eco instructor will give a presentation on an ocean-related theme that is connected to the conservation dive you will be doing. Topics of these presentations are basically anything ocean related, but marine debris (plastics), pollution, and coral bleaching are personal favorites of mine. In my opinion, raising awareness of the risks that our coral reefs face is the first step to resolving these issues, and are incredibly important subjects for all divers to learn about.
Coral Watch Divers Adi & Agnes
If this has peaked your interest, please don’t hesitate to drop us an email and book yourself a slot for a conservation dive, or add it to your existing dive course booking.
Here at Master Divers we are passionate about our environment, both underwater and above it! It’s safe to say that all scuba divers feel the same way as we all want to preserve our coral and marine life so that we can continue diving and seeing exciting new sites. At Master Divers we have several ways that we continue to care for the environment.
Beach and Dive site clean ups
We regularly hold beach and dive site clean ups to remove any debris. It’s not uncommon for us to have the occasional storm on Koh Tao and with that we can see rubbish being brought in by the waves. This is often in the form of plastic bottles, straws, lighters and glass, and on dive sites we can find netting caught on coral. We gather together like-minded divers to collect unwanted trash and record our findings with Project Aware.
Monitoring coral health
A healthy reef means diverse and plentiful marine life, so monitoring and recording our coral health is incredibly important. Coral Watch allows us to record coral health by noting colour, an easy task for any diver that has a slate and a torch! On Koh Tao we have the benefit of being able to go to dive sites that have a range of soft, branching, boulder and plate coral that means we can take a range of data and submit to Coral Watch for review.
At Master divers we like to get involved in a variety of eco events, from our yearly Earth Day celebrations to regular eco presentations and quiz nights. It’s important that we continue to educate ourselves and the wider dive community on environmental issues and what we can do to help. We have recently had presentations on deforestation, turtles and got involved with Shark Guardian’s ‘Shark week’ putting on events for kids and adults for a week dedicated to learning about preserving some of our favourite marine life.
If you love diving, love marine life, and have a passion for preserving our environment, come and join master divers for awesome diving with a focus on our environment.
CoralWatch is a non-profit organization founded by coral biologists from the University of Queensland. Their lives revolve around working to protect corals, which lead them to create a platform where the general public can join students, scientists, and divers to enter data on coral bleaching from sites all around the world; and so CoralWatch was born back in 2002. Since then, in association with Project Aware, CoralWatch has become a worldwide tool that scientists can draw data from, with more than 1,000 CoralWatch participating operations actively collecting coral health data. This ability for the scientists to have a pool of free data to use in their studies is very useful and appreciated by all. It also gives the public an effective avenue for them to pursue a passion and help try and save the aquatic world you love so dearly!
What is coral bleaching?
That leads us to the question: What are corals and how do they become bleached? Well, corals are living organisms that live in a colony as polyps. Related to Cnidarians (Jellyfish), they are sessile (non-moving) organisms that are attached to the same substrate their entire lives, and actually add to this substrate by excreting limestone deposits as they grow. Within their tissues lives an algae called Zooxanthellae, to which the coral forms a mutualistic, symbiotic relationship. What this means is that the coral polyp provides protection for the algae, which in turn uses photosynthesis to produce oxygen and glucose (sugar) for the coral polyp to use. Nutrients are efficiently cycled between the two symbionts (algae + coral), which benefit each individual greatly as tropical waters are relatively nutrient poor in comparison to more temperate, cooler waters.
Now the act of coral bleaching occurs when the coral becomes stressed due to sustained warmer-than-usual sea temperatures. Once stressed, the coral pushes the algae from its tissues, which causes the bleached white appearance (a before and after picture is shown below). However, this isn’t an immediate death sentence for the coral! The algae can be brought back into the coral’s tissues, but only if the water temperature drops back to a level where the coral isn’t stressed. It’s a common misconception that the white corals are dead, but if the word is able to be spread that there is still a chance for the corals to recover, then all hope isn’t lost!
Coral Watch dives at Master Divers
On a breezy Halloween morning, a group of Dive Master candidates and green package guests joined Hayley and I on two CoralWatch dives at Twin Pinnacles and White Rock. Both sites are known for the brilliant coral diversity and often excellent conditions, and boy did they not disappoint! With visibility pushing 30 meters at Twins and 25 meters at White Rock, locating the various species of coral to sample was a breeze. After all was said and done, 4 separate surveys were conducted (2 at each site) by our eco-warriors, providing important data for the CoralWatch team to use in their future studies. An excellent day all round for the team, who had smiles on their faces from start to finish!
How can you get involved?
If this kind of eco-related activity interests you, contact master divers at email@example.com and inquire about when the next eco dive is scheduled! We try to schedule them once a month, but will add more upon request! As a team, we all feel it is our responsibility to help try and protect the environment that we call “our office”. For more information on CoralWatch, visit their website at www.coralwatch.org