The main reason I first fell in love with diving was the marine life. I still remember my first glimpse of one of the most bio diverse places on the planet, coral reefs, and how deeply it has impacted my life to the point where I have dedicated almost a decade to showing, educating and caring for the marine life you can see diving around Koh Phi Phi. So here is my personal list of favourite things to see diving on Koh Phii Phi and the reasons why.
10. The Yellow Snapper
Coming in at number 10 one of our most common and abundant fish to be seen while diving on Koh Phi Phi; the Yellow Snapper. We find large schools of these at almost all of our dive sites with particularly big schools at Bida Nok, Viking Cave and Mushroom Rock. They swim together in huge numbers for protection, making it difficult for the bigger pelagic predators like trevallies to pick out a single target and catch one.
They use a sense called the lateral line to feel how the other fish in the school are moving so they can manoeuver together and avoid bumping into one another. They are spectacularly fun to watch as the school changes shape, sometimes looking like a billowing tornado and other times hugging the reef and appearing to be a living waterfall cascading over the reef. Swimming through them and seeing them part around you is a awe inspiring feeling that is impossible to replicate without getting on the SCUBA gear and getting in the water with them.
9. The Peacock Mantis
Peacock mantis shrimp are a fascinating. Even their name is a bit mysterious as they are neither a peacock, obviously, nor are they a shrimp, they are Stomatopods. However, they derive their name from their rainbow coloured “tail” and shrimp like appearance. The eyes of the peacock mantis shrimp are incredible, being able to see both move independently from one and other and detect a much wider spectrum of light than we humans can. They also have the fastest strike of any animal on earth, their adapted “claws” which actually look more like a club can strike 50 times faster than a human blink and for a spilt second can cause the water to reach the temperature of the sun!
Don’t believe me? Check out this National Geographic YouTube video of one attacking a crab. Mind blowing stuff for that reason they come in at number 9 on my personal favourite things to see Diving on Koh Phi Phi.
Ok this one might be cheating a bit as it’s 3 in 1 but I couldn’t decide which Cephalopod to go for. For the uninitiated; cephalopods are animals such as Octopus, squid and cuttlefish. Cuttlefish are one of my favourites because they a have great camouflage ability when they want to or they can show off their bright colours like this one posing with me! They are amongst the most intelligent invertebrates and have one of the largest brain to body size ratios.
They sneak up on their prey and use their tentacles with denticulated suckers to grasp the victim before devouring it whole. Big fin reef squid can often be seen in the shallow bays at while diving at Bida Nok and are a bit more shy than the confident cuttlefish but they are still cool to observe. Finally we have the octopus, the most illusive of the 3 and usually the most difficult to spot, they can contort their bodies to hide in the smallest of crevices and just like the cuttlefish they can camouflage incredibly well.
If you would like to learn more about octopus and you have access to Netflix then check out the documentary “My Octopus Teacher” a highly educational and emotional documentary that will surely inspire a passion and fascination with these awesome creatures.
7. Barrel Sponges
They are often overshadowed in popularity by their coral cousins but barrel sponges play an important role on coral reefs. They are the filters of the warm tropical waters around Koh Phi Phi. They actively suck in water, filter out bacteria and microscopic plankton which feeds the sponge and pump the “cleaned” water out of the central chamber. Sponge colonies can live for hundreds or maybe even thousands of years!
They are also home to many species of benthic (bottom dwelling) fish and, as you can see in this photo, sea feathers. Here I am guiding a group of students to check out this huge colony. When you come diving with me you will always see me taking a peak inside barrel sponges to see if there are any cool surprises hiding inside.
6. Anemone Fish
On all of our dive sites you will find anemone fish, my favourite is the false clown anemone fish or “Nemos” as they are more commonly known as after the famous Pixar movie Finding Nemo. As the name suggests these guys hide in and amongst the anemones of Koh Phi Phi and they have a symbiotic relationship, in other words they help each other out.
The droppings of the Nemo help to feed the anemone and in return the stinging tentacles around the anemone protect the Nemos from potential predators. In this photo you can see me introducing a non swimmer to a resident Nemo.
Even those who cant swim or who don’t have a SCUBA license can dive with all of the marine life in this list through our Discover SCUBA Diving Program if you can swim or our Discover Beach Plus program if you are not a strong swimmer.
5. Coral Nursery & Artificial Reef
Our Coral Nursery and Artificial Reef, these are two projects that we are very proud of. We grow and transplant hundreds of branching corals every year to natural areas of reef. To do this we take cuttings of live healthy coral and grow them on our nursery for a year so we can take care of them in a relatively controlled environment.
They still need quite a lot of care and attention for this first year but usually after one year they are big enough and strong enough to be able to look after themselves at our carefully selected transplant sites. Right next to our nursery we have out Artificial Reef, this provides a nice substrate for various forms of coral and sea fans to grow.
It also gives many fish species such as puffer fish, bat fish, scorpion fish and, like in this photo, lionfish an environment to hide amongst. We are now offering the chance for our guest divers to help in our conservation efforts so please get in touch to find out how you can help us grow more corals!
4. Hawksbill Turtles
They are a critically endangered species of sea turtle but are still abundant on and easy to find diving on Koh Phi Phi. They use their hooked beak to feed on sponges in between corals allowing the corals to prosper and helping to keep the reefs in a healthy balance.
Hawksbills also feed on jellyfish and sea anemones, unfortunately as I have seen for myself they sometimes mistake plastic bags for jellyfish and can ingest them. This is why protected marine parks like the one here on Koh Phi Phi are so important. They provide a much needed sanctuary for these beautiful creatures.
However the marine park is not protected from trash washing in on the tides and currents so everyone needs to do their part to protect the ocean from plastic. Cutting down on personal use of plastic is a great start but also why not consider joining a beach clean up like the ones we do regularly here? The turtles will thank you!
3. Black Tip Reef Sharks
OK so it will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that my top 3 things to see diving on Koh Phi Phi are all sharks. I’ve been snorkeling, diving and teaching about sharks and their role in our delicate ocean ecosystem for for almost a decade and it all started when I first saw my first shark when I did my PADI Open Water Course with The Adventure Club 8 years ago. I completely fell in love with these awesome apex predators.
Black tip reef sharks are not at all dangerous to divers and snorkelers although they can reach up to 180cm long. They are shy, timid, afraid of humans so it’s important if you dive with me or anyone at The Adventure Club to listen carefully to our expert briefings on how to behave around the sharks in order to maximise your chance of seeing them and to not scare them away in order to get spectacular close encounter.
We see black tip reef sharks almost everyday and at all our dive sites but In particular Bida Nok, Palong, Viking Cave and Mushroom Rock are the sites they are most common. If you don’t see them diving then you can try our Shark Watch snorkeling program which offers a money back guarantee on seeing sharks and includes a in depth presentation which educates you about sharks.
2. Leopard Sharks
Also known as Zebra sharks in some areas, Leopard Sharks are a little bit harder to find than their black tipped cousins but Leopard sharks are much less timid and shy and occasionally they seem even curious around divers although they are still harmless to us.
Leopard sharks can often be found lying in the sand around Gareng Heng. and using a small hole behind their eye, known as a spherical, they can pump water over their gills to keep them oxygenated. Again if you visit Gareng Heng listen carefully to your guide’s briefing so you minimise the chance of disturbing or scaring a resting leopard shark. They feed mainly on crabs, shrimp and other crustaceans they find buried under the sand using electro receptors know as the ampullae de lorenzini.
1. Whale Sharks
So now we take a huge step up in size and rarity. Whale sharks are the largest fish in the sea and are simply immense and awe inspiring. I guarantee if you see a whale shark you will remember it for the rest of your life.
Just 3 days ago I had an incredible encounter with one of these gentle giants. I believe it was around 8 meters long, although they have been know to grow up to 12 meters. On the one I saw 3 days ago the tail alone was as tall as me, around 180cm. It came out of the blue and circled around us 7 or 8 times staying close and allowing us to swim close for around 10 minutes. This is a dive that even after thousands of other dives that is probably my favourite ever.
Simply incredible. Although whale shark encounters while diving on Koh Phi Phi are rare the only way to see one is to test your luck and get in the water with us. Again there is nothing to fear from these gentle giants, they filter feeders eating tons of microscopic plankton everyday.
So what are you waiting for? Get in touch with us on our website or contact me personally @diving.with.geordie.josh on Instagram for a chance to see some of my top 10 favourites or fall in love with one of the hundreds of species that didn’t make it onto this list.
Joshua Lewis, Diving Instructor