Clash of the Titans!
There are around 40 species of Triggerfish worldwide. They are beautiful fish with various colourful markings mainly consisting of lines and spots. Triggerfish have an oval shaped body, with a large jaw and teeth adapted for their typical diet which consists of bottom dwelling creatures that generally have either spines or shells for protection.
Triggerfish commonly inhabit tropical and sub tropical oceans around the world, with the greatest species found in the Indo-Pacific region. Koh Tao sits in the Gulf of Thailand and we have an abundance of Triggerfish. Our shallow coastal waters and Coral Reefs make an ideal home for Yellow Margin, Pink Tails and the most common species in Koh Tao – the Titan Triggerfish.
Watch Out, Triggers About!
The Titan Triggerfish is the largest species of the Triggerfish family. They can grow up to 75cm in length and they have a reputation for being a little defensive. If you swim too close to their territory they may wish to defend it and chase you away.
During the mating season they can become extra defensive. They are known to swim towards divers with the intention to intimidate and chase you off. Research has shown Triggerfish display a higher level of intelligence than is typically seen in fish which certainly doesn’t surprise me!
If you come across a Titan Triggerfish you will be fine. Just keep some distance between you and him. If they feel you are getting too close they will even give you a warning! Triggerfish have a small bone or ‘trigger’ on top of their head. When they are becoming a little agitated they will rise this up as a warning.
If you do find yourself in a situation where you have agitated a Triggerfish stay low and move slowly away. Try not to swim up as a Triggerfish’s territory expands upwards. The easiest way to understand this is to imagine a cone, with the tip on the seabed, expanding outwards as you ascend shallower.
This is generic with most fish species and will be taught to you on your open water course.
There is no need to worry, they are not looking for you to become a meal; they feed on small crustaceans, sea urchins and mollusks although occasionally they may nip the ends of your fins! When keeping some distance they are fascinating creatures to watch as they go about their daily business.
Life In The Pits
It is hard to pick a dive site in Koh Tao where you won’t see one of these lovely but sometimes feisty fish. One of the main dive sites they call home is Green Rock. Green Rock is famous for its abundant and diverse marine life, as well as some cool swim thru’s and caves, but perhaps what it is most famous for is the Trigger pits.
The trigger pit is a large sandy area on the seabed just north of green rock. Here you will find many nesting female and male Titan Trigger fish as well as the odd Yellow Margin Triggerfish. Divers dare each other to swim through the pits, watching their backs at every turn waiting to be ‘triggered’.
The first time I was ‘triggered’ was at White Rock during a fun dive with my buddies. Although fairly hectic at the time, it took all of a few minutes for me to see the funny side – especially when one of my buddies caught the whole thing on video! I was minding my own business, heading back towards the buoy line to do my safety stop, then out the corner of my eye I saw him coming for me.
Instead of acting calm and swimming backwards like I was taught too, I decided I was a ninja and prepared to fight. I looked ridiculous flailing around, slowly ascending further into the Titan’s territory as it circled around and came at me again.
That was when he left me a souvenir – small teeth marks at the end of my 2 day old fins! (Thanks mate!)
The correct way to deal with potentially being ‘triggered’ is to swim backwards, possibly descending a little in the process. This way you are will find you swim out of his territory and once he perceives this he will immediately lose interest.
Seeing and Admiring
When diving Koh Tao you are bound to come across one of these magnificent fish – whether Titans at White Rock, Yellow Margin Triggerfish at Green Rock or the beautiful Pink Tailed Triggerfish – the smallest of the Triggers we see on Koh Tao which I have seen recently on dives at Laem Thien and when diving Nang Yuan shoreline, north of the cave.
There is no reason to fear them. Just sit back, watch and enjoy this majestic fish in its natural habitat.
Author: Nina Horne (PADI Divemaster #355693)