Author: Max Hand, May 2009
I have been itching to write this article for so long now. "Why the delay Max?", I hear you ask. Well let me tell you. Yes, we have had an incredibly busy and great diving season thus far. However, if the truth be known, it has mainly that I have been embarrassed. Yes, embarrassed to write about one particular dive site that gets my heart racing every time I think about it, dive it, and even dream about it. But I can no longer keep my passions back any longer and want to share them with the world. Dive passions that is, before you think me too strange!
Koh Doc Mai literally translated means ‘Flower Island'. This island alledgedly derives its name from being the shape of a lotus flower. Its limestone cliffs soar from the water displaying its wonderful colouration from the mineral deposits within. The top is covered in trees, some leaning over precariously, with their roots magically clinging to and inter-twining down through the porous rock. At the water's edge an alcove surrounds the island. All of this makes for great photo opportunities but it is underwater that I love the best.
This site is a wall dive that would have given the Hanging Gardens of Babylon a run for its money. A profusion of colourful and beautiful soft corals illuminate the wall as they cascade down to the sandy bottom. Huge gorgonian fans, knotted fans and barrel sponge corals jut out, mixed in with an abundance of other soft corals; leaf, tree, hemphrics, cup, anemones and whip to name but a few.
If that is not enough to wet your appetites, then there's more. The wall descends down to a maximum depth of approximately 30 meters on the north and south ends of the island where the bottom then gently slopes away to even greater depths. The wall is covered in cracks, crevices, and even a couple of large caverns. Along with the corals, this gives the fishes a plethora of places to hide, and you the perfect opportunity to seek. So you've probably guessed this is not a site renowned for big pelagics although they have been seen on occasion including whale sharks!
This dive site is best known for its reef fish and small critters and that's what makes it so great. First you'll be treated to all the "usual suspects" adorning the reef: Moorish idols, angel fish, butterfly fish, groupers, triggerfish, lion fish, snappers, clown fish , parrot fish, wrasse, and many more.
Look closely, dive slowly, and you'll be treated to morays being cleaned by shrimp, cute baby boxfish the size of a sugar cube, shy pipefish, ugly but beautiful frogfish, more uglier scorpion fish, sea horses, and nudibranchs (Wah Hoo! My favourites).
Ok I've described the dive site, made a list of what you can see on the reef, and I've told you that I love finding new sea horses, frogfish, and nudis, but it's the amazing aquatic adventure you get on this wall dive that has you thinking you're in a National Geographical Underwater film. One of the best examples of this is the glass fish that come to the wall in their millions at certain times of the year trying to find somewhere to hide. Yellow tail jacks and blackfin trevally swoop down amongst them in squadrons, feeding as they go, sending the poor hapless glass fish running scared. This awakens the reef into a feeding frenzy. Moon wrasse darting, coral and peacock groupers moving out of their hiding spots, the white-eyed morays leaving their holes to frantically swim up and down, "invisible" scorpion fish to suddenly appear from nowhere, and the glass fish casting large bodies of light and shadow as they move as one. Honestly, you could watch this the whole dive. Awesome!!!
Out in the blue you will see millions of fusiliers, at times schools of hunting barracuda, trevally, squid, rainbow runners, and overheard the ever present crocodile needlefish. Down at the base of the wall where it starts to slope, look under the rocks for sleeping bamboo and nurse sharks. In one spot there was recently five sharks sleeping snuggled up together.
Ahhhh! You'll get legions of lion fish loitering just like road-side workers drinking their tea! Cuttlefish and octopus can be seen being quite friendly, just not with each other! And quite often you'll see a banded sea snake casually swim up past you heading to the surface for a breath of fresh air.
Koh Doc Mai is 16 km west of Phuket. Being an open dive site is open to the elements. You can sometimes get ‘Wah Hey!' currents, and the odd thermocline to give you indifferent visibility. But even when it is like that you can go with the current, hide in the cracks, crevices, and stay closer to the wall and your buddy. Most of the time though you'll have the "WOW" factor.
The east side in my opinion is the better side, and best dived in the morning to make good use of the natural light. It's an awesome place for underwater photography. So bring along your camera, remember to watch your buoyancy, and see for yourself. Before long your heart will be racing every time you think about it, dive it and you WILL be dreaming of it.
If you are interested in a dive on Koh Doc Mai it is normally part of a 3 dive day, open to Open Water Divers and above. Please contact us and we will be more than happy to show you the wonders that await you underwater.
N.B. All photos taken by the Sharkey team at Koh Doc Mai dive site.
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