Milos and I bought an underwater camera while in Bangkok, as I had been dreaming of being able to take photographs while snorkelling. I really wanted something digital, because it does take quite a bit of practice to shoot underwater. In the end we chose the Olympus Tough, which we bought at the Pantip Plaza, a massive IT mall. Our camera is resistant up to 10 meters, and Milos carried it with him on one of the dives in Koh Nang Yuan, while we were getting our Padi certificate. We never ended taking any photos that time, as we were so busy practising all our diving skills. But the camera held up nicely, never sprung a leak, and we were pretty happy with the results.
The Olympus tough is not really ideal for diving, unless you are really on a shallow dive, however we were able to fill up the memory card quite easily, and it was great not worrying about wasting film, especially while learning how to use the camera. The camera has a number of underwater options, the “fish action” mode is great, as it filters the light, and automatically adds contrast. Not too much need for touch ups afterwards.
It’s by no means in the same league as any sort of SLR, but it is great as a little point and shoot, in rain or shine, and I especially love the panorama toy mode. We were able to get up close and personal with some stingrays, and all sorts of tropical fish.
Being able to explore underwater and document some of the things we saw, really opened up a new magical world for us. I’ve always been a huge fan of aquariums, but the amount of life you can see in a millimetre of rock or coral underwater is just not comparable. Every inch is covered with some pulsing, swimming, swaying seaweed, slug, baby fish, and probably a whole bunch of unnamed creatures.
Highlights for us included snorkelling around the Japanese Gardens (a learner dive spot on Koh Nang Yuan)The water is unbelievably clear, imagine an Olympic swimming pool filled with giant brain coral and thousands of fish. Besides having to share with a thousand drowning Japanese and chinese day trippers, the spot is quite idyllic, and well worth it once you put your head under water.
We also saw an abundance of tiny reef octopus, they are quite hard to spot, but if you are snorkelling, you don’t have a time limit on air, and with the water a cool 30 degrees Celsius, you can pretty much stay in for HOURS, plenty of time to spot the curious little fellas creeping along the seafloor. They change colour like a TV screen and are able to warp their skin into all sorts of seaweed looking works of art.
We also saw a bunch of reef cuttlefish which were also chameleon like. It amazed us at how many things were able to change colours, including various grouper, a type of fish, which could change its patterning from spots to camo. We also saw a banded sea krait that was about a meter long, as well as Giant grouper, which can grow up to the size of Milos!!
Our final two highlights, included hunting for the blue spotted sting rays, and snorkelling for Sharks.
We found plenty of the rays hiding under coral during the day, they are quite easy to see if you know where to look.
We discovered them by accident, when Milos put his arm down to try to photograph some fish that had swum under a coral. Later while looking at the photos I noticed a piece of “yellow and blue spotted coral” in a photo that looked uncannily like a ray. We were determined to see if we could prove if it was a ray or not, and put on our detective snorkels, figured out which part of the lagoon the photo was taken in, and the next day set off to try and find it.
After hunting under almost all the round corals in the mini bay, I finally spotted a blue tail and we very excitedly watched the little ray dozing under the coral! When we went diving, we discovered that there are plenty of them sleeping at the bottom of the reefs during the day. But it was most thrilling to track down the creature after identifying a smidgen of it from an accidental blurry photograph!
I was the only one to see the shark, while we snorkelled in Koh Tao. It was a small black tipped reef shark and it, very jaws like, swam out of the gloom, the water and light rippling over its streamlined body. The shark and I both freaked out when we saw each other, and by the time I grabbed Milos to show him, it was nowhere to be seen. I will, however, live with the very creepy image of its fins and sharkyness swimming out of the blue.