So… My final week on Koh Tao didn’t exactly go to plan…
Monday morning. Excited to explore on my first ‘fun dive’ (non-training). I booked myself on the 6am boat to Chumphon Pinnacle: one of the most ambitious, challenging yet rewarding dive sites in the Gulf of Thailand. We would descend to just below thirty metres then slowly rotate around the main pinnacle on ascent, giving us a greater bottom time and higher chance of seeing something special.
The boat took about forty minutes to arrive at the site and the conditions were perfect. With not one cloud in the sky, the natural light penetrated deep into the ocean, treating us to a fantastic visible range of around 25m, even at the bottom. We descended smoothly with no problems or needs for concern. Prior to the dive, we decided that once we had touched the bottom we would start by searching for a school of razor fish which are often sighted in the area. Luck appeared to be with us. We lowered directly into the middle of a large school, each individual swimming vertically upright, creating a shimmering mirage which danced and flickered over the sandy bottom.
Steadily, we began to swim around the pinnacle. An unearthly world unfolding before us with every stroke of our fins. It was like a scene from an Attenborough documentary, only more intense, more immersive. Corals ranging from the size of golf balls to the size of small houses allowed for a microcosm of fish and invertebrates to inhabit and shelter from the harsh terrain of the open ocean. Everywhere you looked, symbiosis was occuring – anemone fish seeking refuge in the stings of their home, in return they pluck bacteria off the anemone, keeping it healthy. Elsewhere a cleaner wrasse had a line of patients: fish forming a queue behind one another, the foremost kindly rolling onto its back so the wrasse can feast on the pathogens which cling to the larger fishes underside. These are just examples of the relationships I saw, relationships which just happened to be presented to me. How many more are there? How many are we unaware of? One thing that has always attracted me to the ocean are the ample number of wonders and spectacles which each ecosystem exhibits. However, what attracts me even more are the bountiful number of wonders and spectacles which we don’t know, the phenomenons which are still waiting to be discovered, to be understood. Seeing this first hand will forever sit in my memories, an incredible experience, one which I can currently only awe over however hopefully one I can learn about with time and return with the understanding to admire it even more so.
I saw my first lionfish. That was awesome. A beautiful fish, painted red and white and covered with a mane of venomous spines which gives the fish it’s name. Only before have I seen them in aquariums and fish stores. They have incredibly good eyesight and depth perception (unlike me!) Which they use while hunting. If you can hold your nerve you can feed them by hand, something which I have done only once before in a fish store – I certainly wouldn’t try it in the wild! We also observed a juvenile box fish, a SpongeBob dopple-ganger which hides away in the shadows of overhangs and large rocks. Everything was going swimmingly, quite possibly my favourite dive of yet. That’s when the bang happened…
Well… Bang for effect… It was more of a pop, but it scared the life out of me and was followed by an excruciating pain which ran down the left side of my face. I felt my vision blur slightly, and the reef started to spin. Something was very wrong. Hoping it was pressure in my ear I tried equalising. A stream of bubbles rose from my left ear and floated towards the abyss above. Not good. Air escaping indicated there was no pressure in the ear, which can only mean one thing: there was a hole in my eardum. I was beginning to feel nauseous. Bearing in mind we were still 30m below the surface, a fast emergency ascent wasnt an option without risking decompression sickness (DCS). For those who are unaware of what DCS is, it’s bad. If you ascended too fast while diving you risk potential paralysis and sometimes even death. So an emergency exit wasn’t exactly on the cards…
I signalled to my buddy and thankfully he got the message. We immediately ended the dive and slowly made our way back to the boat. I needed to be guided by him because my coordination and balance was still off, but after an agonisingly long ascent I was out of the water and on to the boat. I lay on the deck, head spinning, people crowding around me curious as to what the commotion was. I was given some tablets and my orientation slowly returned enough for me up describe what had happened. Fearing the worst, the captain made an emergency return to the pier where a doctor was waiting. I was escorted into hospital and had my ears examined. Sure enough, there were two holes in my left ear drum. Thankfully they aren’t too big and are at the side of the drum, so should heal without a problem over time. Nevertheless, the recovery could take up to 6 months and during that time I cannot get the ear wet. So no more diving, snorkelling, swimming or showering! I’m joking about the showering, though I do have to place a cup over my ear like an old fashioned telephone so no water can get in.
Gutted that I can no longer dive, this week has dragged out massively. An island which revolves around scuba diving is unsurprisingly boring when you can’t go scuba diving. That being said, I did take a trip to a nearby turtle conservation resort and spent Tuesday morning watching baby turtles feed and play.
I’ve also participated in three beach cleans and made the decision to become a plastic vegan. That’s what I’m calling it anyway, because becoming a real vegan would never work out – I don’t like eating plants. The purpose of being a plastic vegan is to try and cut your disposable plastic consumption by as considerable amount as possible. This includes completely cutting out plastic bags, straws, coffee cups, non-recyclable food packaging, bottles, cutlery and even plastic microbeads in various cosmetic items. Living in a generation which heavily relies on plastic, this challenge may be harder than I realise and I also accept that in some situations, plastic consumption is unavoidable. To compensate for this, I have decided that every time I discard a piece of non-recyclable plastic I must donate a pound to a charity or not-for-profit organisation which assists in the cleaning of ocean plastics and the life affected by them. I am going to try and keep it up for a month. Why not join me on the challenge?
Just to give you an idea of the damage plastic is doing: There are 7 species of sea turtle left on our planet. All 7 species are endangered, and almost 60% of all individuals in those species have recorded traces of plastic inside them. This statistic is far higher in the many species of seabirds, whales, sharks and dolphins which populate our oceans. Some of these species have called our planet home since the age of the dinosaurs, however this post century has given them their greatest extinction threat in their history. By cutting down on your plastic usage, even by a small margin, you are having a direct impact on our oceans and the diversity of life which inhabits them. I understand that this might not interest some people and everyone is entitled to their own opinions, however I urge everyone to be as considerate as possible towards their plastic usage in a collective attempt to conserve the amazing underwater world we live beside, else it will not be there for much longer.
On a slightly lighter note, this will probably be the last blog I do on my travels as it is my final day tomorrow in which I will be packing and preparing for my flights. I’d like to thank everyone who has been reading, your feedback has been extremely supportive and has inspired me to continue writing these updates for you. I have had the most incredible adventure here, filled with memories and experiences which I know will follow me throughout my life. It’s been a pleasure to share each and every one with you through this writing and I only hope you have enjoyed them as much as I have!