Ko Lanta might be famous for its close proximity to the legendary dive sites of Hin Daeng & Hin Muang, and the beauty of Ko Haa, but there is an intrigueing abundance of wildlife much closer to the island’s own shores, a virtual Macro-Paradise in Kantiang Bay.
Recently a friend and I decided to strap on a couple of tanks and dive the house reef at Kantiang Bay on the south west of Ko Lanta. We geared up and swam out from the beach about 100 yards sticking to the North Western coastline.
Visability looked appalling from our snorkelling vantage point and neither of us held out much hope of finding each other under the water, let alone any interesting wildlife. As soon as we saw the first coral bommey we decided to drop down and see what was in store for us.
We levelled off at about 1 metre from the sandy bottom and were happy to find that the visabililty was actually a clear 5 meters, enough to stay in touch with each other if nothing else. When I looked at my depth gauge it read 3 meters, so we would have plenty of time to have a good look around if we wanted it.
It didn’t take long to realise this dive had potential, within 5 minutes of setting out along the edge of the rocks and coral my buddy was tapping her tank and calling me over to the far side of a small rock out on the sand. On the way over to her I saw a beautiful juvenile lionfish about 7 cm long fanning his fins which I couldn’t help stopping to take a good look at before being shaken out of my trance by another few sharp raps on my buddies tank. I swam over to find her pointing at the rock. Cool! A White Eyed Moray Eel about the thickess of a pencil.
My buddy waved her hand in front of my face and pointed incessantly about 20 cm to the right of the eel and after a few seconds for my eyes to adjust I saw what the excitement was about. She was pointing to a tiny little pink nudibranch no more than a few centimetres accross. I later learned this was a Flabellina funeka although even then I could see it was something significant. Not a bad start considering our early apprehension. Especially as we are both nudibranch geeks.
After a fairly lengthy camera session we moved on back to the edge of the rocks to continue our dive. It wasn’t long before both our tank bangers were going again and we were both wondering if it was worth leaving our own find to see what our buddy had found. Eventually I decided to leave the nudibranch I had found and see what my buddy had discovered. It was quite visable even from a few meters away.
The long spiney protrusions sticking way out of the hole in the rock couldn’t have been more conspicuous. I still wonder how spiney lobsters manage to keep their spines from breaking off. After this we headed back to have a quick search for my nudibranch only to find another identical pair of nudibranches only a few meters away. These nudibranch were indulging in a bit of tailing – a behaviour still not fully understood.
As far as I was concerned this was already a successful dive, but this was only the beginning. As we continued the dive our list of finds continued to grow almost by the minute especially once we reached a large garden of sea whips. We first saw a group of coral shrimpfish (Aeoliscus strigatus) and following these lead us into the middle of the garden. This place was like some kind of flatworm village. Everywhere we looked we were finding more and more of them. We identified at least 5 different species including a tiny Pseudoceros laingensis (see pic).
There were a few shoals of fish around above the whips also, 5 banded snapper and young fusiliers being the most abundant. In among the whips we were finding all sorts of Bearded Scorpion fish, Lion fish and even a young Tallfin Batfish.
Eventually we headed back to the main body of rocks heading out around the point where we were greeted by a juvenile Bannerfish (Heniochus diphreutes) darting under a rock. I was swimming off towards my buddy who was banging her tank again when something caught my eye below me. It wasn’t instantly recognisable (largely because I had never seen this before). It was one of those moments where something just looks a bit different and draws your eye to it.
It was an anemone on a rock platform bordering the vast expanse of sand that constitutes the main part of the bay, but it wasn’t a lone anemone. When I stopped to take a closer look the thing, or rather thing’s’, that had caught my eye, they were in fact about 50 Squat Shrimps (Thor Amboinensis, see pic) surrounding the outside of the anemone, all flicking their mother of pearl spotted tails. In the center of the anemone sat two Commensal Cleaner Shrimps (Periclimenes brevicarpalis). I had discovered a fully functioning fish cleaning station!
One of the most fascinating aspects of diving for me is the intricate way in which each part of the reef ecosytem plays its part and this is most evident when witnessing this kind of symbiotic relationship. The fish get clean and the shrimps get their dinner. I still remember the first time I ever saw a goby and a shrimp working together for their joint protection when I was diving in the Similan islands. After seeing I had stopped to look at something my buddy came over to join me and I think by this time we were both pretty impressed with how things had turned out especially when we eventually moved on to where she had been banging her tank moments before. When we got there it took us a few minutes of shrugging at each other until we were eventually rewarded when the juvenile Harlequin Sweetlips (Plectorinchus chaetodonoides) in question returned. I don’t know if it’s the striking markings, the flambouyant way in which it sways it fins and moves or a combination of both these elements that make for such compelling viewing, but they really do stand out as a quite unique and fascinating fish.
At this point the air in our tanks was getting low and we decided to head back to shore along the reef rather than contend with a long surface swim. We headed back over the rocks rather than along the side and were just taking in the sights such as the multitude of crabs and nudibranches, various anemone fish fiercely darting out of their homes to challenge us, other damsel fish swimming for cover, hatchet fish shoaling in the small caverns between boulders and a myriad of other spectacles typical of the reef when my gaze was drawn yet again by something I had never seen before.
Crawling along a small silt covered rock was a tiny Thuridilla neona, all furled up with its relatively huge ‘rabbit ear’ like protruberances leading the way. Another few meters on and there was another identical Thuridilla also slowly meandering along going about its business. As I said before I love nudibranches and sub-aquatic macro life so this dive for me had been complete.
There was, however, one more surprise of a less macro nature waiting for us on the short snorkel back to the shore. About 30 meters out we saw a small strange shaped rock and we swam closer to investigate we had a quick moment of recognition before the stone shot off into the blue (or more accurately in this case ‘the green’). Unfortunately our prescence had proved too much for this young cuttlefish and he had fled in panic where his older brethren would have often been as curious of us as we were of him, as we were to find out on subsequent dives in the bay.
So eventually we reached the sandy area near the dive shop and stood up, chest high in the water and before we even had chance to remove our fins for the walk up the beach we were both engrossed in an animated converstaion the majority of sentences starting with ‘Did you see….’ or ‘How cool was the…’ and ‘What about that…’. The kind of conversation when you descend into the underwater realm at the beginning of the dive you hope you will be having when you emerge back into our own natural environment.
Diving for me has always been about witnessing life underwater in all its diversity and intrigue and diving in kantiang bay although it isn’t the bluest water, the clearest visablilty or full of the largest creatures is nonetheless one of my favourite diving experiences. Sometimes it really is the smallest things that make all the difference.