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My Favourite Dive Site

Author: Maximilian Hand
Date: March 2009

Embarrassed!

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 & great diving season thus far. But 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!

"Max, get to the point! Where are you talking about so we can see for ourselves?" I hear you ask again. I am coming to that but bear with me one second………pop, glug, glug, glug…ahhhh! That would be my ice cold Singha beer , and it's good. Why not? It's 15 minutes past beer o'clock!

Why Koh DocMai of course!

Abbie on beach cover

Koh DocMai literally translated means ‘Flower Island'. This island 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 intertwining down through the porous rock. At the water's edge an alcove surrounds the island. All makes for great pix but it is underwater I love the best.

Wall to Wall Colour

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 & whip to name but a few.

Cracking Dive!

Risbecia Pulchella Nudibranch

If that is not enough to wet your appetites, then there's more. The wall descends down to a maximum depth of 28 meters on the north & south end of the island, where is gently slopes away. 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 & seek, and you the perfect dive site to explore. So you've probably guessed this is not a site for big pelagic, although they have been seen on occasion.

Amazing Aquatic Adventure

This dives 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 was on this wall dive that have you thinking you're in a National Geographical Underwater film. One of the best examples of this is the glassfish that come to the wall in their millions trying to find somewhere to hide. Yellow tail jacks and blackfin trevally schooling by swoop down amongst them in squadrons, feeding as they go, sending the poor hapless glassfish running scared. This awakens the reef into a feeding frenzy; moon wrasse, coral & peacock groupers to come out of their hiding spots, the white-eyed morays leaving their holes swimming up & down, in & out, ‘invisible' scorpion fish to suddenly appear from nowhere, and the glassfish casting large bodies of light and shadow as they move as one. Honestly, you could watch this the whole dive. Awesome!!!

The Blue & the Sand

Striped Eel Catfish

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 & nurse sharks. In one spot there are 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.

'WOW!' Factor

Koh DocMai is 16 kms west of Phuket. Being an open dive site is open to the elements. You can sometimes get ‘Wah Hey!' currents, and the odd thermo cline 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 & 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.

Bentstick PipefishRobust Ghost PipefishBaby Pufferfish

Your Turn

If you are interested in a dive on Koh DocMai, 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 pictures were taken by Oui on the day of that dive - 16th January 2009.

About The Author

Maximilian Hand works as a divemaster and instructor for Sharkey Scuba in Phuket. He loves diving all year round and would love to share his dive adventures with you. Max's favourite local dive site is Koh Doc Mai, probably the best place around Phuket and Phi Phi for the "small" stuff. If you are interested in utilising Max's expertise to go in search of these critters of for any other dives then the good news is he is available for hire! Just send us an e-mail to request his services but book him early as he is not called "Mr Popular" for nothing!

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Nudibranchs of Thailand

Chromodoris Geminus

Chromodoris geminus at Koh Doc Mai, Phuket

Chromodoris Rufomarginatus

Chromodoris rufomarginatus at Shark Point, Phuket

Halgerda Species

Halgerda species at Grey Bamboo Shark

Phyllidia Ocellata

Phyllidia ocellata in Similan Islands

Risbecia Pulchella

Risbecia pulchella at Koh Doc Mai, Phuket

Elysia Ornata

Elysia ornata at Koh Haa, Krabi

Flabellina Exoptata

Flabellina exoptata at Koh Haa, Krabi

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