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The fantastic dive I had at Southwest Pinnacle would have been enough for me to call the day a complete success. However the Scuba Gods must have been smiling on me because I had yet another beautiful dive coming up- at Shark Island.

Shark Island Dive Site, Koh TaoProbably my favorite jumping in shot ever!

Shark Island is so named for its resemblance to a dorsal fin rather than an abundance of certain toothy fish. The rocky outcrop is located southeast of Koh Tao and is a less-commonly visited site due to both its location and its often challenging conditions- current and visibility can be a struggle here. The maximum depth at this site is 25 metres but it is possible to make this a very shallow dive as there is something to see at almost every level. This was my first time ever at this dive site, ironic because it was to be my last dive in Koh Tao… at least for a while.

Shark Island Dive Site, Koh Tao

Within the first five minutes of the dive I nearly had a stroke when I spotted this- a dotted nudibranch laying eggs! See those ruffled ribbons coming out? Those are the eggs. Don’t ask me for details because I really don’t really understand how it works. But what I do know is that I was very lucky to see it.

Nudibranch laying eggs, Shark Island Dive Site, Koh Tao

I could have surfaced then and it would have been an amazing dive. But like I said, this was a lucky day for me and there was so much more to come.

Shark Island Dive Site, Koh Tao

I loved diving with my friends, who are all great divers, because I had people to act as models for me! I’m sure my friend Kim thought I was crazy when I started banging my tank to get her attention and gesturing for her to swim towards me, but I bet now that she sees these pictures she’s happy now that she went along with it.

Shark Island Dive Site, Koh Tao

Shark Island Dive Site, Koh Tao

It wasn’t just that the things we were seeing were amazing- they were. It’s also that everything was positioned so perfectly, like all the sea creatures knew I was coming and posed in the most photographic position possible- like this varicose nudibranch.

Shark Island Dive Site, Koh Tao

Shark Island Dive Site, Koh Tao

Even this puffer fish, a normally very shy species, came out of hiding to swim free through the ocean for a bit. I loved getting a chance to get a good look at his funny-shaped body. Puffer fish are a common sighting at Shark Island.

Shark Island Dive Site, Koh Tao

However, there is one thing that Shark Island is famous for above anything else- an enormous, roaming school of butterfly fish. I am obsessed with these tropical beauties which are commonly found in pairs at dive sites all over Koh Tao. But finding them like this, in a pack of 30 or more, is unique to this special place. When we came upon them I was almost shaking with excitement, trying to capture with my camera the unreal sight in front of me.

Shark Island Dive Site, Koh Tao

Shark Island Dive Site, Koh Tao

Eventually the butterfly fish fluttered away, but I knew it wasn’t the last we would see of them. In the meantime I enjoyed the beautiful lighting, patterns and colors that were all around me, just waiting to be photographed.

Shark Island Dive Site, Koh Tao

We even managed to spot a shy orangespine unicornfish before he skirted out of our sight line.

Shark Island Dive Site, Koh Tao

Like I said before, I loved having my friends to act as models. One thing I really learned from my videography job is that the best shots have both people and sea life-Β  it gives perspective and allows the viewer to picture themselves in the situation. I’ve tried to apply that lesson to my underwater photography as well this year and it’s been a rewarding challenge. One of my favorite photos of the day is below left, my friends Kat and Freya with a crown-of-thorns starfish in the foreground.

Shark Island Dive Site, Koh Tao

Shark Island Dive Site, Koh Tao

In the end, we lucked out completely. The current was rough but the visibility was lovely and we could not have spotted a better variety of sea life. This might clock in at one of my top ten favorite dives ever.

Shark Island Dive Site, Koh Tao

It was an emotional one as well. As I said I knew this would be my last dive in Koh Tao for the foreseeable future. Diving has been an emotional, almost spiritual journey for me with a lot of emotions and memories and associations attached to it. Koh Tao is where I took my first breath underwater three years ago and since then I’ve become a Rescue Diver, been on hundreds of dives through eight countries around the world, and found a career in underwater videography. While I was underwater I reflected on how things had come full-circle -something had brought me back to the place where it all began but sadly once again it was time to say goodbye to an island I love.

Shark Island Dive Site, Koh Tao

For the last fifteen minutes of the dive I put my camera down and tried to process all of those thoughts, to hang on to the memories flashing through my mind, and to absorb all the emotions and sensations I was feeling. My mask filled with tears as I said goodbye to an era in my life that I will always hold so dear.

Shark Island Dive Site, Koh Tao

I can’t wait to get back to the ocean, wherever in the world it may be.

Shark Island Dive Site, Koh Tao

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36 Comments...
  • Kathryn
    June 5 2012

    Evocative…both the images and your reporting, Alex. Glad you put the camera down at the end of the dive. In a world driven by the impulse to record everything, it’s becoming a lost art to simply immerse in the moment.

    • Alex
      June 5 2012

      Yeah…. I am at the forefront of the RECORD EVERYTHING movement, in case you didn’t notice with this self-indulgent blog that tracks my every move πŸ™‚ So it definitely is a challenge, but I do try the whole living in the moment thing every once in a while…

  • Annie
    June 5 2012

    beautiful photos. makes me want to learn how to dive finally….
    Annie recently posted..The Natural Side of the US Virgin Islands

    • Alex
      June 5 2012

      I really hope you do! You’d be amazed at the world of possibilities it opens up in your travels…

  • Grandma Burr
    June 5 2012

    Hate to say Adios, but I do think you need to rest and recharge your batteries. I certainly have enjoyed your travels. Keep me updated. Where to next? Gram E

    • Alex
      June 5 2012

      Many more posts about Thailand and Laos to come, and then my summer of travel around the US!

  • Steffi
    June 5 2012

    I completely second Kathryn’s comment… Another ‘be and live in the moment’ that comes to mind was during our Koh Samui sky lantern night. The first few rounds were filled with heavy photo ops and documentation. We decided then that we would put our cameras away for the very last lantern. There was something so precious about that final moment watching the single lantern lift off into the sky… something that I will not forget.

    • Alex
      June 5 2012

      Steffi you reminded me of a (forced) no camera moment we had together… SUNJAM! Funny how despite the lack of documentation that rave on a teeny island in Honduras seems so clear in my mind…

  • Jen
    June 5 2012

    Such a beautiful and touching post, Alex! May you find adventure in new waters!

    • Alex
      June 5 2012

      Thank YOU Jen, for this sweet comment! I actually just made plans for my next dive… which will be in Iceland! It’s only going to be a day, but it will hold me over until my next seaside destination emerges….

  • Krista C.
    June 5 2012

    What a lovely day! I’m glad the last day you had to dive on Koh Tao was such a great experience, although bittersweet. The photos are amazing, you really are an accomplished photographer, Alex.

    • Alex
      June 5 2012

      Krista thank you so much… I deeply appreciate that comment. Sometimes I feel like an imposter with my little camera next to all the crazy expensive/oversized underwater equipment out there but then I look at a post like this and I think my shots aren’t half bad!

  • Fidel
    June 6 2012

    Wow, I really enjoyed this post. Your descriptions and images really came alive. I can almost tell when you really like a dive spot based on the words and imagery you use without you even expressing your opinion of it. Like, comparing this post to some of your posts about diving in Cambodia, is like comparing day with night.

    What camera settings are you using for most of your underwater images? The lighting and colors are great.
    Fidel recently posted..WWW Japan Edition: The AKB48 Vote

    • Alex
      June 6 2012

      Actually I loved the diving in Cambodia! You might be thinking of Vietnam, where I was more impressed that the company I dove with set up and tore down my dive gear than the reefs themselves, ha.

      As for my camera settings I shoot with a point and shoot so have sadly little control over the settings other than to bring exposure up or down. I actually tend to shoot with the exposure lowered and then bring things back up to brightness in Photoshop, as my camera can tend to overexpose. Another trick I use for underwater shooting is to always angle the camera up! It really lets refracted light in from the surface. Hopefully soon I will be shooting with a strobe and have much more control πŸ™‚

  • Jenna
    June 6 2012

    AWESOME JUMPING SHOT! Alex the framing on that is just perfect. The blue sky, rock sculpture, pose of the jumper, boat. Love it all.
    Jenna recently posted..T1 is 2

    • Alex
      June 6 2012

      Thanks Jenna! I love that photo SO MUCH but there is a water smudge in the middle that makes me want to cry. Ah well, such is the burden of, you know, shooting in the water!

  • Anna
    June 6 2012

    wow. those pictures are FANTASTIC! this trip looks like it was amazing!
    Anna recently posted..So Much To Do, So Little Time!

    • Alex
      June 6 2012

      Thank you so much Anna! It truly was an amazing day.

  • Celina Globetrotter
    June 8 2012

    Wow! Really great photos! πŸ™‚
    Celina Globetrotter recently posted..Celina and fabulous Rome

    • Alex
      June 9 2012

      Thanks so much Celina! I appreciate it!

  • Jeff
    June 19 2012

    I just saw this link about doing interesting things while diving.
    http://weburbanist.com/2012/06/18/underwater-wonders-15-subversively-submersible-gatherings/
    Jeff recently posted..Attending a Modern Korean Wedding

    • Alex
      June 19 2012

      I loved that story, Jeff! Thanks for thinking of me! I’m going to have to find some way to work that into a post now…

  • Mariana
    June 22 2012

    Alex! You are an amazing photographer! I am a beginner in diving but you make want to be a better diver! My last trip was to the great barrier reef in Australia!. Have you been there? Try it! Another place that called my attention was Honduras diving!! A nice one!

    • Alex
      June 23 2012

      Thanks for reading Mariana! I haven’t yet been to the Great Barrier Reef, but I totally loved diving in the Bay Islands.

  • Jinny
    June 29 2012

    Great pics! I def want to go diving in Thailand now. Can you recommend a good beginner underwater camera for diving? or a beginner underwater camera/housing combo? It’s been so hard for me to find one that’s not going to break the bank. πŸ™

    • Alex
      June 30 2012

      Hi Jinny, check the gear and products tab on my page! The canon point and shoot and housing is what I’ve been using for all underwater photos. I’m actually selling the setup listed there for $250, so contact me if you are interested.

  • Sara E.
    July 13 2012

    I’m trying to catch up on all your posts and this one was beautiful — it almost made ME cry! I love the people shots, especially the one of Kim and fish both looking at the camera and this one https://www.alexinwanderland.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Dive-2_4.jpg. And I think the water smudge makes the photo ethereal and perfectly captures all parts of jumping, down to the splash! My mom and I are so impressed by your amazing work.
    (oops, sorry for the super long comment… :))

    • Alex
      July 13 2012

      Thank you so much Sara, so glad to have you reading. Don’t apologize for the long comment, the longer the better! πŸ™‚

  • Talon
    August 20 2012

    A SERIOUSLY awesome dive! Sometimes spotting a nudibranch is lucky in itself, but laying eggs?! TRIPLE SCORE!
    Talon recently posted..A special, spontaneous Thanksgiving

    • Alex
      August 20 2012

      Thanks Talon! It was an amazing dive, a perfect (temporary) end to my diving career on Koh Tao

  • Steve
    September 18 2012

    Wow – I’m going to Shark Island tomorrow and I hope I see half the things you saw on this dive.

    People have told me that if you want to see cool things you should follow the photographers around. Seems like you’re living proof of sound advice!

    • Alex
      September 18 2012

      Actually sadly I’m usually the worst at finding things! I’m lucky that I usually dive with friends who are great at that kind of thing though πŸ™‚

  • Sacha
    October 9 2012

    Hi, i’ve just found your blog after googling koh tao. I’m currently in Chiang Mai and looking at doing a diving course next year, after reading this – i can’t wait!! πŸ™‚
    Sacha recently posted..For those that don’t know. We publish 2 examples of our…

    • Alex
      October 10 2012

      Email me when you’re headed to Koh Tao. I recommend tons of places! You’ll love it!

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