Learning to scuba dive is a serious undertaking. You are about to put on heavy scuba equipment and jump into the water. For the uninitiated the idea sounds daunting, somewhat crazy in fact. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth however. Scuba diving is a relaxing and pleasurable activity, but it takes some practice to get to that point. So when choosing where to learn to scuba dive, there are a number of important factors to consider before taking the plunge.
Safe Scuba diving is the best scuba diving
When undertaking a new, adrenalin based activity like scuba diving, I want to know that I am going to be safe. The experience and overall knowledge of the instructors on Koh Tao are second to none. I remember when I first learned to scuba dive my instructors were always promoting safe dive practices, informing me not to dive beyond my limits and encouraged questions and inquisitiveness. This made me feel comfortable right from the start. Believe me, I had a LOT of questions.
Never hold your breath and breathe normally
My initial fears, not surprisingly centred around breathing. The fear that I would be immersed in the wonders of the deep blue and something would happen to my air supply. I quickly learned that scuba equipment comes with a number of fail safes to ensure important redundancies. Of course I was responsible for checking my air gauge and making sure I had adequate supply. It was simply a matter of training, like checking the gas tank in your car to make sure you have enough fuel.
High quality equipment that is serviced and maintained regularly also ensures a safe experience. I noticed the staff constantly monitoring equipment and tweaking the equipment. Whenever I had a small leak, or something didn’t feel right, the staff were quick to either assure me the situation was normal, or adjust the situation to be more appropriate. For example the mouthpiece on my regulator was a little torn. I could use it, but it wasn’t very comfortable. Staff on the boat were happy to change it to make sure I had a more comfortable dive and this made me more confident.
Learn about Underwater Photography
I was fascinated by the marine life and immediately wanted to rent a digital underwater camera and capture the wonderful imagery for myself. I was quickly discouraged as my friendly dive leaders impressed upon me the amount of skill and acumen required to take photos underwater. Buoyancy control is critical to master underwater photography (who would have thought!?). So I worked hard to develop good buoyancy skills before I delved into photography. This was great advice and in the beginning made for a much safer and enjoyable dive experience.
As a photography location Koh Tao rivals as one of the best in the region. Photography is a tough challenge. Once buoyancy is mastered there is still the issue of finding interesting targets and getting close enough to take that classic shot. Koh Tao’s numerous artificial reefs, including the wreck of the HTMS Sattakut, provide a plethora of opportunities to provide spectacular contrasts and seascapes. Ironically these artificial reefs often attract new and interesting species that aren’t so common on most reefs around Koh Tao. These include lionfish, flying sea slugs and clownfish. These artificial reefs allow divers, even new divers, to get close to these creatures and capture the best shots.
Koh Tao is an underwater paradise
Another reason why Koh Tao is the best place to learn to scuba dive is because Koh Tao is a divers paradise. Amazing marine life coupled with crystal clear waters and the opportunity to see a wide array of amazing marine creatures from marine turtles to the largest fish in the sea, the whale shark.
Every dive I took on Koh Tao I was greeted with vibrant butterfly and angelfish, inquisitive red breasted wrasse, colourful Christmas trees worms. There was also the macho triggerfish and the sparkling damselfish dancing around the coral heads. These standard features were coupled with opportunities to see turtles, sharks, stingrays and of course whale sharks.
Scuba Diving all year round on Koh Tao
Koh Tao has an average annual temperature of around 29 degrees Celsius. This temperature ensures that your scuba diving is always comfortable. On the Open Water Course I was told that ‘diving in cold water is not the problem but being cold is’. Thankfully, with agreeable temperatures year round, the water on Koh Tao is always inviting.
I am a fair weather diver, and I don’t necessarily do well in rough weather. It is also important to note that most dives are usually about an hour long. Consequently, with any dive trip you are likely to spend far more time on the surface than underwater. Because Koh Tao is an island, there are always places to dive out of the weather. If the wind is blowing from the west, we can travel to the east coast and enjoy calm surface conditions and possibly clearer underwater conditions as a result
A wide range of dive sites around Koh Tao
Sometimes when you travel to a dive destination the problem can often be that you end up diving the same spots all the time. Another regular drawback is travel from one site to the next can take a long time. This is valuable time you could spend underwater. Both of these potential problems are eliminated since a myriad dive sites surround the relatively small 21km2 island.
With over 26 dive sites located around the island, the journey time from one to another is never far. All sites are close by one another offering a variety of deep and shallow water diving. Fringing reefs with high coral cover and a myriad of marine life are suitable for the inquisitive, while deeper offshore sites that have evolved around submerged granite boulders are home to more pelagic species and the possibility of some unusual but exciting individuals.
Whale Sharks are regular visitors to Koh Tao
One of the biggest drawcards of Koh Tao is regular visits by the largest fish in the sea, the whale sharks. Whale sharks are mysterious filter feeders that roam the tropics feeding on plankton and small fish. They are often found near the surface and aggregate in some places around the world.
While it is difficult to predict when whale sharks are going to stop by on Koh Tao, they are regular visitors frequently surprising scuba divers at some of the deeper dive sites such as Chumphon Pinnacle, Shark Island or Sail Rock.
Marine Conservation and Scuba Diving
Scuba divers are often very environmentally conscious. I myself was fascinated by scuba diving but felt that I needed to do more than simply swim around and admire the marine life. The pressure that burgeoning global populations were exerting on coral reefs seemed alarming and I felt like I needed to do something more with my time in and under the water.
Koh Tao is a world leader in scuba diving conservation, coral reef monitoring and active reef restoration programs and training. One of the best ways to do more for ocean conservation is to learn more about the animals and organisms that live there to begin the journey to start to protect them. The PADI Underwater Naturalist or PADI Fish Identification courses are ideal starting points to learn about the animals that live there.
Marine Conservation to help coral reefs
Eco Koh Tao is a dedicated marine conservation organisation that provides expert training in coral reef monitoring and conservation. The Reef Check Ecodiver course delivers in-depth understanding of marine life and provides certification in how to monitor and measure the health of coral reefs. Affiliated with international coral reef monitoring organisation, Reef Check International, certified ‘Ecodivers’ are able to join survey teams across the globe. The information collected assists in providing a global picture of coral reef health that supports governments in making decisions on management and preservation of coral reefs around the world.
The Marine Resource Management program goes one step further providing direct opportunities to participate in active reef restoration. Growing coral, building artificial reefs and directly contributing to the health of the local reefs on Koh Tao is an amazing opportunity and one not available in many places around the world. It was great to see coral nurseries I planted grow and thrive and to return later to transplant these same corals out onto the natural reefs surrounding the island.
Koh Tao offers superb accommodation and restaurants
Safety requires regular breaks from scuba diving. You can’t spend all your time underwater. For this reason alone Koh Tao is one of the best places to learn to dive. The selection of accommodation and restaurants is unrivalled anywhere I have travelled for diving. High quality accommodation and excellent dining mean that when your day on the boat is done, there’s great food and a comfortable bed waiting for you to refresh and revitalise ready for your next day in paradise.
Koh Tao is Scuba Diving at its most enjoyable
I have dived many places around the world but Koh Tao still draws me back time and time again. I learned to dive in Koh Tao, I direct many of my friends to Koh Tao and I often return myself to expand my dive experiences, but most importantly to enjoy the many reasons why Koh Tao is the best place, not only to learn to scuba dive, but to scuba dive period!
Nathan Cook M.Sc