Scuba Diving in Thailand – Koh Phi Phi’s BIG 5
Have you heard of the African BIG 5? When you come scuba diving in Koh Phi Phi we have our own Big 5 – Big 5 marine species that is! Our Big 5 list is made up of marine creatures which are very special to the Koh Phi Phi area and are highlights of any trip scuba diving in Thailand.
Read on to find out which species have made our list…
Hawksbill Turtle – (Eretmochelys Imbricata)
The (IUCN) critically endangered Hawksbill Turtle is one of our favourite sightings when scuba diving Koh Phi Phi. It’s sharp and curved ‘beak’ makes it easily identifiable from other species at a glance but there are other distinguishing features to the Hawksbill; it has a flattened body shape and flipper like ‘arms’ which it uses for swimming and its shell is often covered in algae.
Hawksbills are one of the smaller turtle species measuring up to around 90cm in length and weighing up to 70kg. They are highly migratory and spend time in both the open ocean and in lagoons and on shallow reefs where they are often seen resting in caves or on ledges.
Hawksbills are omnivores with sea sponges making up a high percentage of their diet but they are also known to regularly feed on jellyfish and algae. Their life expectancy is estimated at 30 to 50 years and there are certainly a few easily identifiable individuals (such as Stumpy) that have been in this area for at least 25 years! Females nest only every two years when they return to the beach where they were born. Following mating the females come ashore to lay their eggs and bury them in sand – clutches can be up to 140 eggs but with a low infant and juvenile survival rates their numbers have declined. Unhatched eggs are hunted and eaten by numerous land-dwelling species and newly hatched hawksbills fall victim to several sea predators – however, once a hawksbill reaches maturity it has few predators due to its size and hard shell. We are extremely lucky to have a healthy population of hawksbill turtles which we see when diving and snorkeling Koh Phi Phi, particularly at Malong!
Octopus (Cephalopod Sp.)
Octopus are one of the most secretive, intelligent and intriguing “critters” that we see when scuba diving Koh Phi Phi. Octopus belong to a family of marine creatures known as cephalopods, which includes octopus, squid, cuttlefish and nautilus.
Octopus may be well known for having 8 suckered arms (tentacles), but did you know that they also have 9 brains? The “brains” are neuro transmitters and there is one for each arm, as well as a central brain in it’s head. Octopus also have 3 hearts and blue blood which make them one of the most alien-like species on the planet! As for the colour of the blood? The blood is blue or blue-green because it uses copper based haemocyanin rather than iron based haemoglobin – now you know!
You need a keen eye to spot a reef octopus due to their remarkable ability to change colour and texture, using this adaptive camouflage to conceal themselves in the cracks of rocks or walls, or on coral bommies right in front of you. An octopus is an awesome and fascinating find whilst scuba diving in Thailand.
Zebra Sharks (aka Leopard Sharks, Stegostoma fasciatum)
The sole member of the family Stegostomatidae the juvenile colouration (bold dark and light stripes) is the origin of the name “zebra shark“, although here on Phi Phi we use the name “leopard shark” which is more descriptive and applicable to the adult’s pattern of dark spots on a pale background. Did you know that each leopard shark has a unique pattern of spots that can be used to identify it? These patterns are as individual as our fingerprints! Distinctive in appearance, adults have five longitudinal ridges on a cylindrical body, and a low caudal fin (tail) comprising nearly half the total length (the longest tail to body ratio after the thresher sharks.)
They are the largest oviparous(egg laying) shark and reach around 2.5m total length over a lifespan of 25 to 35 years. Zebra sharks are nocturnal, so during the day are very docile, usually found resting on the sea bottom, facing into the current with their mouths open to facilitate respiration (a type of carpet shark). Reef channels, coral reefs and sandy flats are favoured resting spots, and around Ko Phi Phi we may see them at Gareng Heng, Hin Bida, Bida Nok or Bida Nai. During the night they feed primarily on shelled molluscs, crustaceans and small bony fishes.
The marine reserves in Thailand appear to be important habitat for zebra/leopard sharks and support some of the healthiest populations in Asia, although numbers are decreasing. This species has a global IUCN conservation listing of Vulnerable to Extinction, and a World Conservation Union assessment of Endangered due to high fishing pressure throughout Asia for meat, fins, and liver oil.
Blacktip Reef Shark (Carcharhinus melanopterus)
The blacktip reef shark is a species of requiem shark which derives it’s name from the prominent black tips on its fins. Blacktip reef sharks eat a variety of small fish and invertebrates, including mullet, groupers, wrasses, cuttlefish, squid and shrimp. These sharks are most commonly found on tropical coral reefs in shallow, coastal waters – just like the reefs you will see when scuba diving or snorkeling Koh Phi Phi.
Blacktip reef sharks can grow to be 1.6 – 1.8 meters, whilst their newborn pups measure about 50 cms. Blacktip reef sharks are viviparous (give birth to live young), and have a gestation period of around 16 months! Here on Koh Phi Phi we are fortunate to see juveniles in the extreme shallows near Viking Cave and Long Beach. Timid and skittish, these sharks don’t pose a threat to humans but their shy behaviour does make it difficult to get close to them while scuba diving. The International Union for Conservation of Nature has listed the black tip reef shark as near threatened so a close up sighting of a black tip reef shark is a special experience while diving Koh Phi Phi.
The Adventure Club over many years of study have developed a technique for providing a unique snorkeling experience to swim with blacktip reef sharks – Shark Watch. Our guides will teach you about sharks, how to swim with them, and then will personally supervise the guests in the water during the trip. We know these sharks so well we even offer a money-back guarantee.
Schooling Big Eye Snappers (Lutjanus lutjanus)
The big eye snapper, is a species of snapper native to the Indian Ocean and the western Pacific Ocean. Big eye snappers (also known as yellow snappers) are frequently encountered in large schools with other snapper species on offshore coral reefs at depths from near the surface down to almost 100 meters. Around Koh Phi Phi they favour our beautiful, shallow water coral gardens, and are seen in particular abundance at Bida Nok, Malong, Gareng Heng and Viking Cave amongst other dive sites.
This species is mostly silver in colour with a yellow stripe along the side and fainter yellow lines on the lower half of the body. Their fins are a yellowish to whitish colour and they can reach a length of 35 cm (14 in). When we see these schools in the sunlight their yellow stripes appear almost fluorescent. It is an absolute joy to swim through schools of thousands of these fish, watching them switch direction and glimmer in the sunlight.
Have you seen any of these marine creatures already? Join us in Koh Phi Phi and you won’t be disappointed – we have regular sightings and maybe you’ll be lucky enough to see all 5 in one trip!
We look forward to diving with you in Koh Phi Phi soon!