N I G E L M A R S H P H O T O G R A P H Y
U N D E R W A T E R I M A G E S A N D A R T I C L E S
SAIL ROCK, ASIA’S FISHEST DIVE SITE
By Nigel Marsh and Helen Rose
On a recent visit to Koh Tao, a tiny island in the Gulf of Thailand, we dived a number of interesting dive sites around the island. But the most impressive dive site was on a rocky outcrop two hours south of the island known as Sail Rock.
Koh Tao is the dive capital of the world, with more divers certified here than any other dive destination. Most of these divers are backpackers, as the courses are cheap, who learn to dive in Thailand before heading to other parts of Asia or Australia.
During our week on Koh Tao we stayed and dived with Big Blue Diving Resort (BBDR), one of the larger dive operators on the island. They run three dive boats, offer dive courses from open water to tek, have two restaurants/bars and a range of accommodation on offer. We dived daily with BBDR to a number of sites around Koh Tao, exploring pinnacles, caves, rocky reefs and a scuttled warship, but when the opportunity came up to dive Sail Rock on a day trip we jumped at the chance.
With a two hour trip to reach Sail Rock we departed early, having breakfast on the boat – eggs, bacon and fried rice. We were hoping to be the first boat to reach Sail Rock, as the one thing you have to get use to at Koh Tao is crowds, as thousands of divers can be staying on the island. But arriving at Sail Rock, which projects 10m above the surface, there were already ten boats here and lots of divers in the water.
We hate crowds underwater, as too many divers frightens the marine life and is not conducive to good photos, but so far we had managed to avoid the crowds as we found most of the divers were open water level and not great on their air.
Jumping into the blue water we were greeted by 30m visibility and 29°C water. We quickly swam towards Sail Rock before another boat arrived with another load of divers. With the other divers, being led by guides, heading right, we headed left. Sail Rock drops into 35m of water, but descending to 25m we found a cooler murky layer at this depth, so stayed above it. Exploring the rocky wall we quickly saw black coral trees, gropers, volcano sponges and a school of snapper.
After about five minutes we swam around the corner of the reef and couldn’t believe our eyes – fish everywhere! Before us were thick schools of trevally, snapper, fusiliers, batfish and barracuda. Also charging through these clouds of fish were rainbow runners, mackerel and rarely seen queenfish. We had never seen so many schooling fish on the one dive site – anywhere!
We slowly swam around and through the fish, forgetting about the crowds of divers as we could barely see another diver through the fish. We reached the other side of Sail Rock only to discover more fish – another school of barracuda, another school of trevally, and another school of snapper. This site was just mind blowing. And all the time we were looking into the blue, expecting to see a whale shark, which are often seen at this site. We ended the dive in the shallows, with the other divers we had mostly avoided, exploring rocky ledges and crevasses filled with reef fish.
For dive two we descended on a bommie off the eastern side of Sail Rock, and guess what – more fish. Here was an even larger school of big-eye trevally, and also a large school of snapper. We did another complete circuit of Sail Rock and photographed gropers, moray eels and fish, fish and more fish.
We surfaced from these dives at Sail Rock amazed by the volume of fish, and were stunned to discover that this dive site isn’t even protected. The dive guides from BBDR, who dive the site around once a week, later informed us that this was the best they had seen Sail Rock in years.
We had a wonderful week of diving at Koh Tao, eating great Thai food and relaxing on the lovely beaches, but the highlight was without doubt the incredible fish life at Sail Rock.
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