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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We even managed to spot a shy orangespine unicornfish before he skirted out of our sight line.
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- 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.
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.
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.
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.
I can’t wait to get back to the ocean, wherever in the world it may be.