Asia Dive News : Koh Chang's first underwater cleanup a great success
We have all heard about the Similans and Surin Islands, Phuket and Koh Tao and about the diving in Western Thailand but more and more people are discovering a new dive destination in Thailand: Koh Chang or “Elephant Island”. Koh Chang is the second largest island in Thailand and lies in a group of 47 islands that have been awarded National Park status due to its pristine rain forest and marine life. It is a beautiful, green and mountainous island located in Trat province near the Cambodian border in Eastern Thailand. It is only 300 km. from Bangkok but the region has just recently begun to awaken to tourism. Divers, backpackers and package tourists are starting to spend more and more time on the island above and below in its impressive waters. The great beaches, fabulous waterfalls and stunning scenery are attracting more people every season to this lovely island.
With all the new tourist interest in Koh Chang and its underwater world there have been many changes to the island. One of the largest is the simple fact that more divers are visiting the area to investigate just how beautiful the marine life and coral gardens are. Diving has existed on Koh Chang for over a decade now, but only in the last 3 or 4 years have tourists begun to plan dive holidays to the region. Divers of all levels from beginners to professionals are finding that there is plenty of marine life to keep their excitement level high while they dive in these waters.
With a boom in tourism, there is always the need to address environmental issues and Koh Chang's Dive Community has started to look at different ways to help preserve the quality of their reefs and marine life. In October of 2005 some of the dive shops, organized by Koh Chang Dive Point, started their own mooring project in the National Parks Waters. By setting up permanent mooring lines and securing buoy markers. There is now no need to drop anchor lines. The positive results of this project have been noticed already with much less damage to the coral gardens and more coral growth. As the corals continues to flourish the marine life that inhabitants the waters of this area stay plentiful and abundant.
One of the biggest issues facing every dive environment including Koh Chang is the problem of underwater garbage and pollution. In March of 2006 the Koh Chang organized their first underwater clean-up with the Project AWARE Foundation, the dive industry's leading nonprofit environmental organisation. The clean-up was organized by The DASTA, Designated Area of Sustainable Tourism Administration of Thailand headed by Director, Mr. Tunya Hanpon and the Koh Chang National Marine Park, along with help from Koh Chang Diving Club Members. With a group of local Thai divers and participating dive shops on the island, the day turned out to be lots of fun and very successful. The local dive shops helped by providing the use of their boats, equipment, and supplying their staff from BB Divers, The Dive Adventure, Koh Chang Dive Point, Eco-Divers, Koh Chang Divers and White Sand Dive Centre. With the theme for the day, “Come and Join a Clean and Beautiful Sea at Koh Chang National Park” the first clean up was a very successful outing. After a morning ceremony starting the day at 8:00 A.M, the divers headed out to their assigned dive sites and smaller island locations. With the intention that this will be the first of an annual event and everyone excited and ready, the clean up was underway. While having fun and enjoying the day, the group collected various different types of garbage, raised old truck tires, power generators, and removed old fishing nets and traps. Once everyone was back at shore, the garbage collected weighted in over 3000 kilos. Hopefully with this being the first of many annual clean ups on Koh Chang there will be more involvement from other divers and dive shops on the island!
What interests and excites divers most about diving in the waters around Koh Chang and its archipelago are the underwater rock pinnacles. The majority of these underwater pinnacles lie in the waters to the south of the island. The depths of the sites range from 5 to 30 metres and offer divers of all experience levels from novice to professional something to see. There are also a series of dive sites to the west which give you the opportunity to change your dive destination daily. The currents in the region provide nutrient rich conditions ideal for healthy and dense marine life. The impressive reefs include an abundance and variety of both soft and hard corals, and beautiful and colorful anemones which all help to support a wide range of tropical marine life. Visible on almost every dive are Bluespotted Stingrays, Moray Eels, Trigger Fish, Angelfish, Barracudas, Groupers, Porcupine Puffer Fish, and Batfish. Turtles live on most of the dive sites and the occasional Whale Sharks are seen in the waters also. Visibility can reach 30 metres depending on the time of year. Diving can be done year round but the best time is between October and the end of May.
So with great diving in a marine national park and increasing efforts to preserve the local marine ecosystems now is a great time to dive Koh Chang. Come and see for yourselves and don't miss out on what other divers are keeping a secret!
By Don Bealey, PADI Dive Centre White Sand Dive Centre, Koh Chang, Thailand.