Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Diving off Koh Lipe Thailand: Whale sharks and more in 4 days of diving

Logged dives #1603-1610, Koh Lipe, Thailand, May 27-30, 2019

Bobbi and I did 8 dives around Tarutao National Park conducted from Adang Sea Divers on the island of Koh Lipe, Thailand, between May 27 through May 30. The dives far exceeded our expectations.

Choose which dive bLog entry you would like to view

May 27 Dive 1: BARRACUDAS on STONEHENGE
May 27 Dive 2: Seahorses and bamboo sharks at STEPS
May 28: WHALE SHARKS at 8 MILE ROCK
May 29:Taru and 7 Rocks: a good diving day
May 30: WHALE SHARK FEVER consumes two dives at STONEHENGE

May 27: BARRACUDAS on STONEHENGE




In the first video, above, also available here, https://youtu.be/ZcIwZzTPkuM, we are on the Stonehenge dive site having been taken there by Adang Sea Divers on the morning of May 27, 2019. Ris Finale is guiding Rachelle Stylo, Markus Wallerich, Vance Stevens, and my favorite dive buddy Bobbi Stevens on our first ever dive in Koh Lipe. Due to our arrival date adjusted to dive as close to half-moon as possible, this dive was conducted in negligible current. Due to the almost ideal conditions, the dive lasts over 68 minutes.

In the water we see a nudibranch, a green moray eel, three scorpion fish, a lion fish, a crab, a black banded sea snake (most likely a yellow lipped krait), a sea centipede (or fire worm, perhaps), schools of fusiliers, barracudas, and bat fish, and colorful soft corals and fans, all shot on a single dive, our first on Koh Lipe, in the space of 68 minutes on my dive computer. We are impressed. At the end of the dive someone says it was something awesome. If you listen carefully at the end of the video you might be able to pick up what the 'something' was.

Here's what Adang Divers says about Stonehenge on their blog here
http://www.adangseadivers.com/diving-koh-lipe/dive-sites/

Stonehenge

stoneStonehenge is our favourite dive site because of its diversity of species as well as its topography. Its name is due to the large monoliths positioned like menhirs on the bottom. There’s a large hard coral reef and an incredible soft coral garden. While diving here, if you’re lucky, you may see mackerel, tuna, devil rays, seahorse & ghost pipefish. Depth: 5 – 25 m.
Seahorses and bamboo sharks at STEPS

May 27 dive 2: Seahorses, bamboo sharks, colorful coral & creatures at Steps, Koh Lipe, Thailand


After a cracking first dive on Stonehenge on the morning of May 27, we moved over to nearby Steps, so named for the terraced nature of the terrain, though this was not obvious to first-time visitors. Here's the video, https://youtu.be/AuVvT00SY4E.



On this dive we descended over shallow sand where we saw cuttlefish, distant squid, and a couple of nudibranchs, only the second of which appears in this video compilation. We soon came on some fish traps whose netting was home to several seahorses. At the end of the segment, if you stop the video and release it slowly, you can make out another sea horse seen later in the dive, but that was just before the battery in my camera died, so I only got a few seconds of it. However, if you slow forward you can see it clearly (on subsequent dive trips, I was very careful to have battery packs handy to recharge my camera during the surface intervals). But before the camera died, I went on to film a playful clownfish darting up from an anemone, a den of bamboo (here, they're called 'cat') sharks, several lion fishes, a scorpion fish so huge we almost mistook him for the cabbage coral he was hiding in, some very interesting shrimps and a crab tucked inside a ledge, lovely soft corals, squids cavorting off in the blue, and some interesting foraging sea cucumbers (we see those a lot, but I rarely film them; don't know why, they are actually fascinating).

May 28: WHALE SHARKS at 8 MILE ROCK


Here's the first compilation, two dives on 8 Mile Rock on May 28, 2019, with whale sharks,
https://youtu.be/HXFy4sx9gZQ



8 Mile Rock is so named because it is that far south of Koh Lipe, Thailand. Adang Sea Diver says this about it on their website: http://www.adangseadivers.com/diving-koh-lipe/dive-sites/

8 mile rock

8 miles Koh Lipe, Thailand8 miles rock is Lipe’s Koh Lipes furthest – 8 miles south. It consists of a pinnacle in the middle of the sea. Its summit is at 16 m and from there it slopes down to a depth of over 50 m. It’s here that we have the best chance of seeing a whale shark or some large rays. Because this is a deep site we only take advanced divers wearing dive computers on this dive. This is a special trip that we can only plan to go to at certain times in the year.

Our day Tuesday (as if we knew what day it was) began with whale sharks coming up to greet the arrival of our dive boat, and us snorkeling down to them (we only saw one at a time, but one was larger than the other).

The video above compiles two dives on 8-Mile Rock with descents and ascents through schools of dancing bat fish, jacks, fusiliers, and sightings of scorpion fish, clowns, a green moray, and a barracuda having its teeth cleaned by wrasse, plus the occasional appearances of whale sharks with their retinues of cobia and jacks throughout our two dives there.

The Rollei videography is by Vance Stevens, PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor #64181. I am diving here with Ris Finale guiding Rachelle Stylo, Markus Wallerich, me, and my favorite dive buddy Bobbi Stevens.

Here are some screen shots from Adang Sea Divers Facebook page after our first whale shark sightings:



May 29: Taru and 7 Rocks - A good, not great, diving day

Our third day at Koh Lipe, the diving was less pumping than the first two days and more what we had expected when we had started on our journey there. I often tell people diving has in common with sex that there are two kinds. There's good diving, and then there's (wait for it) great diving. Our diving on Taru and 7 Rocks was not great as in the previous two days, but it was good. We had decent vis, the water was warm, the sites were nearby and relaxed, though current was picking up a bit, 3 days out from half moon. However the sites chosen for this day were mediocre on the day we were there. Still we saw a titan trigger fish darting off a wall of green fan corals, schools of snappers, several green morays, a sea centipede or fire worm, darting clowns, some bamboo cat sharks, several scorpion fish, a shrimp under a rock, a flounder in the sand, nudibranchs and a puffer hanging out on a ghost fish-trap, an unusual leopard spotted eel, and teeming schools of fusiliers and delightful banner fish playing around salient sponge corals. The video tells the story exactly as it happened.



Our first two days of diving were so surprisingly good that we had decided by our third day to extend our stay a fourth. However our third day diving morning wasn't as exciting as the days before and we were re-considering whether we should stay for that fourth day. The answer as regards diving is always YES, you are there, why not stay, no telling what will happen!?? And sure enough, the group that went out with instructor Dan on the third dive of the day, scheduled for a shallow sandy area since there was a DSD diver with them (PADI Discover Scuba Diving experience) changed its plan at the last minute on news that whale sharks had seen playing around at Stonehenge, and went there instead. And of course they saw whale sharks.

One of the next day's dives had been planned for Stonehenge, so the divers who turned up that morning were excited with anticipation of seeing the big fish that cannot be named :-)

May 30: WHALE SHARK FEVER consumes two dives at STONEHENGE

Today Ris Finale is guiding his friend Em, Markus Wallerich, Vance Stevens, and my favorite dive buddy Bobbi Stevens on a return trip to Stonehenge. Photographers Jovana and Dusan Brkovic are also with us, having requested specifically that we return to Stonehenge for the second dive because, well ... anyway, no one objected.

This video compiles shots from the two dives we did there that day, organized around footage taken on descent, on the deeper reefs, whale shark encounters, and ascent, https://youtu.be/JuzJgZ31R8k.



We enter the water in strong current and see a lion fish under a coral outcrop, a scorpion fish (notice how Bobbi uses her tank banger in sand to help her pull through the current), a rarely seen Pikachu nudibranch, a pair of dragon fish or sea moths (Pegasidae), a school of fusiliers swarming near the menahirs, or outcrops, that give this dive site its name, and a green moray, all taken in the same terrain at the beginning of the two dives, before we are visited by the fish we came to see, and its attendant remora.

When the creature moves off I show footage of reef fish and schools of snappers, before showing the whale sharks seen on the second dive. But this video is missing the very best encounter. My camera contains a few minutes of video of the sea bottom where I had somehow not switched my video recording off. That segment ends with two tank bangs. I lifted my camera and pointed it at the silhouettes of  two whale sharks circling overhead. I ascended to join them and panned from one to the other as one disappeared into the limited vis to the left while the other approached from the right. But of course, nothing was recorded because when I thought I had pressed record ON I was actually turning the previous recording of banal seabed OFF. That's life when current and dopamine are abundantly present on such dives, but I still got other shots, and you can see that the last two whale sharks filmed are not the same, from the distinctively different shapes of their dorsal fins.

After seeing the whale sharks in open water just off the reef, we hide on both dives from disconcerting current, spotting a grouper, and ascending though graceful schools of bat fish, a couple of scorpion fish and a file fish among the shallow multicolored soft corals.

At the end of this video, Jovana swoops in to snap my new Facebook profile picture, having mistaken me for a whale shark perhaps.


Jovana's work can be found at http://jovanamilanko.com/

Meanwhile, I'm having a bit of trouble working out where these dive sites are exactly.

Adang divers has a map of the area on their site, but doesn't actually mark the sites, which are described in the text found below the map (some of these re-printed in the diver bLogs above).
http://www.adangseadivers.com/diving-koh-lipe/dive-sites/




Andaman Adventures publishes a map where dive sites are identified, here
http://www.andamanadventures.com/scuba_diving_sites/lipe/aa_destination.shtml



Note that 8 Mile Rock, #2 on this map, is given at the southern tip of Ko Adang, just west of Koh Lipe, but Adang Sea Divers and most other web sites put it at 8 miles south of Koh Lipe. Also Stonehenge, #7 on this map, is given as being just east of Ko Bitai. This web page
https://www.gettingstamped.com/stonehenge-thailand-koh-lipe-dive-site/
says it's off Taru Island, just east of Koh Lipe on the Adang Sea Divers map.




Judging from direction of travel, and the fact that it Stonehenge had buoys to the east and west of one another, I would guess that Stonehenge was correctly marked on the Andaman Adventures map but that 8 Mile Rock is well south of there, way off that map.

I wish people wouldn't play with our heads like that :-)

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