Mu Koh Lanta National Park is home to some of the best scuba diving in Thailand, and the world. Find out all about the fantastic diving and snorkeling sites near Koh Lanta, how you can help protect the coral reefs when you go snorkeling or scuba diving, and how the Koh Lanta Coral Propagation project is helping to restore and preserve coral reefs.
Thailand is one of the most popular places to go scuba diving in Asia. A combination of its beautiful beaches, crystal clear waters, wonderful coral reefs teeming with life, and fantastic visibility, has created an incredibly successful diving and tourism industry in a relatively short space of time.
The first dive shop in Thailand opened up in Pattaya in 1977, after diving was introduced here by American Navy SEALs during the Vietnam War. From then on, the dive industry in Thailand has boomed, but how does its future look?
Mu Koh Lanta National Park
Mu Koh Lanta national park was established almost 30 years ago. It is 134 sq km in size and made up of 52 islands, the largest of which is Koh Lanta Yai. The popular dive sites of Koh Ha, Hin Daeng and Hin Muang are situated within the national park, and offer some of the best scuba diving in Thailand and the world.
Being part of the national park means these sites are protected by various laws, such as fishing being prohibited around coral reefs, and no diving allowed during the low season in some places. However, like all coral reefs around the world, they are under threat from climate change, tourism, coastal development, plastic pollution, and unsustainable fishing practices.
Coral reefs are incredibly fragile ecosystems, and being within Koh Lanta’s marine park doesn’t necessarily mean they are free from risk. However, with proper management and the help of initiatives such as the Koh Lanta Coral Propagation Project, Koh Lanta’s coral reefs can hopefully continue to offer tourists some of the best scuba diving in Thailand.
Koh Lanta’s World Class Dive Sites
The main dive sites to visit from Koh Lanta are Koh Ha, Koh Bida & Phi Phi Islands, Hin Daeng and Hin Muang, which are all just a short boat ride away.
While Hin Daeng (red rock) and Hin Muang (purple rock), famous for its wonderful violet coral, often feature on lists of the best dive sites in the world, Koh Ha is actually equally as good, if not better, than these two sites.
Hin Daeng and Hin Muang are great reefs, especially for seeing manta rays, but they have strong currents and are not suitable for beginners. Koh Ha is suitable for divers of all levels, and is great for snorkeling too. Koh Ha, means ‘five islands’ but is made up of six islands, and is a good site for spotting whale sharks. It has a mixture of shallow and deep water, stunning coral, a swim through, drop offs, a cave, and a lagoon.
Koh Lanta’s dive sites have it all – awesome limestone karsts, clear turquoise sea, white sand beaches, lagoons, caves, underwater pinnacles, drop offs, walls, swim-throughs, and of course stunning coral reefs with an abundance of marine life, including turtles, whale sharks and manta rays.
Snorkelling and scuba diving in Koh Lanta’s marine park are truly wonderful and memorable experiences.
Why Do We Need To Look After Coral Reefs?
Coral reefs are some of the most diverse and important ecosystems on the planet, and are vital to the survival of fish and other marine life, as well as humans living in coastal regions.
They provide food and shelter to almost a quarter of all ocean life. Without reefs, marine life would seriously plummet. Reefs slow down water flow, protecting coastal areas from strong waves and storms. They filter water, improving the quality and clarity of it. Their limestone shell forms by processing carbon dioxide, so they reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the oceans, keeping water conditions optimum for marine life. They provide food and also income for locals, through fishing and tourism.
Without coral reefs, life would be a lot harder, or cease to exist, for many living things. Over 500 million people around the world depend on coral reefs for food, storm protection, income, and recreation. So, clearly, it’s in our best interests to look after them.
Disturbingly though, over a quarter of the world’s coral reefs have already vanished, and almost 90% of the remaining corals are believed to be in serious danger.
In early 2018, Thai marine ecologist Professor Thon Thamrongnawsawat, spoke out about the alarming rate at which Thailand’s coral reefs are decaying. Within the last ten years, coral reef damage in Thailand has increased from 30% to 77%, due to mismanaged tourism, water pollution from hotels and resorts, and plastic pollution.
Are Koh Lanta’s Reefs at Risk?
Scientists predict that the majority of the world’s coral could die within the next thirty years.
Like all coral reefs around the world, Koh Lanta’s reefs are at risk from bleaching caused by climate change. Reefs are very sensitive to small increases in ocean temperature and acidity, making them incredibly susceptible to damage caused by global warming. Of course, they are also at risk from the high volumes of tourists that visit them each year, pollution from the tourist industry, and over fishing.
Over half of Thailand’s coral reefs are located within national marine parks, where they are, in theory, given some protection from over-fishing and mass tourism. However, this protection is no always put into practice.
Sadly, the reefs near Maya Bay and the Emerald Cave are not in good shape, due to the high volumes of tours that operate in these areas.
Krabi region, where Koh Lanta is located, is visited by millions of tourists every year, and the majority go on snorkelling or scuba diving trips.
While all of the dive companies on Koh Lanta follow strict guidelines to protect the reefs and minimise the impact tourism has on them, not all tour operators follow such strict guidelines.
If you want to go snorkeling around coral reefs on your trip to Koh Lanta, you can make a huge difference to their survival by choosing to go on a trip with a professional dive company using certified instructors, as opposed to the companies offering the popular snorkeling trips, such as the 4 Islands and Maya Bay tours.
These companies generally aren’t overly concerned with the impact they have on the environment, don’t use properly trained staff, or have the best safety standards.
The good news is that, for the last couple of years, Thai authorities have closed several national marine parks and islands in the Andaman Sea during the low season, including many areas of the Koh Lanta marine park (such as Koh Ha, Hin Daeng and Hin Muang).
And for the first time since becoming a tourist hotspot after being made famous by the film The Beach, Koh Phi Phi’s Maya Bay is closing to tourists during the low season (June to September). Maya Bay can see up to 5,000 visitors a day during peak season (December to April) and this has been putting a heavy burden on the surrounding environment, and destroying the nearby coral reefs.
Sadly, the closure may be too little too late for Maya Bay, but other areas of the Koh Lanta marine park, may well remain thriving due to the low season closures.
Awesome Things Koh Lanta Does to Protect its Coral Reefs
The Koh Lanta diving community loves and protects its coral reefs.
They understand their importance, and there are many people working to protect the reefs. Dive companies on Koh Lanta are first class, using well trained staff who ensure their customers follow proper behaviour while diving and snorkeling, to minimise the impact they have on the reefs.
At the beginning of 2017, one of Koh Lanta’s dive companies, Scubafish, helped to set up the Koh Lanta Coral Propagation Project – a coral reef restoration and rehabilitation project developed in Malaysia by Anuar Abdullah, the Director of Ocean Quest.
The project grows coral in an eco-friendly way. Fragments of coral are collected and attached to live rocks with superglue. Once the glue has dissolved and the corals have attached themselves to the rocks, they are taken out to sea and placed in a temporary nursery.
After a few months, once the coral has grown to around 10 cm, divers can then place them on the reefs, where they will stay and hopefully continue to flourish. The project is proving a huge success at Koh Ha and, in November 2017, they planted 46 hard corals and 9 sea fans at the nursery.
Koh Lanta’s famous 5-star Pimalai Resort and Spa sponsors the project, and they have also been running a very successful clownfish rehabilitation program at Koh Ha for the last fourteen years.
How Can You Protect Coral Reefs?
Given how fragile and at risk coral reefs are, it’s really important for us to do all we can to look after them when we come into contact with them. Here are some things you can do to make sure you don’t damage coral reefs when you go diving or snorkeling:
Book snorkeling trips through dive companies using certified instructors.
Don’t touch the coral or let your body come into contact with it.
Secure all your diving gear, so it doesn’t touch the coral.
Never stand on coral.
Don’t pollute the water with anything, including sunscreen and other body care products, like shampoo and conditioner.
Don’t break or take away any pieces of coral.
Don’t feed the fish. (It’s harmful to the fish, people in the water, and the ecosystem).
Don’t fish or moor boats near coral reefs.
Reduce, reuse and recycle to prevent plastic ending up in the sea.
Thriving Corals, Thriving Communities
We need to keep our oceans healthy for our own good, as well as the good of all the life they contain.
The ocean food chain needs healthy coral reefs. Many people’s survival, and also enjoyment, depends on the reefs. Koh Lanta is doing a great job of keeping its reefs healthy and magical places, where tourists can come to enjoy some of the best scuba diving in Thailand. We hope the corals remain strong and healthy, allowing marine life and local communities to continue to flourish.
Find out how you can be eco-friendly on Koh Lanta and when traveling.
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