Koh Tao or turtle island, affectionately named from local fishermen and early settlers who saw its outline resembling a sea turtle when viewed from their boats, stands out as a treasure among Thailand's smaller islands. With crystal-clear waters and a vibrant marine ecosystem, Koh Tao has become a haven for divers and nature enthusiasts alike.
The island's moniker, "Turtle Island," perfectly captures the essence of the turtle encounters for both Discover Scuba Divers and those seeking fun dives! Serving as a crucial breeding ground for Hawksbill and Green turtles, the island underscores its significance in marine conservation efforts.
Now, let's dive into an exploration of the turtle species inhabiting the area and where you can spot them!
Different species of turtles found in Koh Tao:
Koh Tao's underwater residents primarily feature the Green and Hawksbill Turtles, and there's always the exciting possibility of encountering a Loggerhead, Leatherback, or Ridley passing through the area. For a more detailed exploration, let's concentrate on the Green and Hawksbill Turtles, as there are significant chances of encountering these fascinating creatures during your time in Koh Tao. There are a few easy tricks to help you recognize them by observing their distinctive characteristics.
Green Sea Turtles (Chelonia mydas):
Named for the color of their fat rather than their shells, these creatures boast a blend of of green, brown, or black on both their shells and skin. The color of their shell also changes as they grow older. Young green sea turtles have dark-colored shells, while older turtles have a lighter color. The carapace of the green turtle is rounder with squales next to each other and a soft edge, which may have algal growth, which is essential for camouflage in some habitats. They often host Remoras during their journeys! Recognizable by their rounded beak, with a serrated jaw that helps them slice through seagrass and other green goodies. The serrations play a crucial role in breaking down the vegetation, enabling green sea turtles to consume it. Unlike other sea turtle species that are mainly carnivorous, green turtles are herbivores. While their main diet consists of seagrasses and algae, they might surprise you by nibbling on sponges and jellyfish from time to time.
Hawksbill Turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata):
Hawksbill turtles are easily distinguished by their pointed, bird-like beak that they use to reach into crevices in coral reefs for food. The sharp beak helps them tear off chunks of sponges and other invertebrates that they feed on. The beak is also used for defense against predators. The hawksbill turtle has a shell with a beautiful and unique pattern of scutes, with each scute being a different color. The scutes overlap each other, creating a mosaic-like pattern that makes each hawksbill turtle's shell distinctive. The colors of the hawksbill turtle's shell include brown, gold, and orange, and the pattern is more intricate than any other sea turtle's shell. Their carapace has a distinctive heart shape, with scales overlapping and a serrated edge, resembling a saw. Hawksbill turtles play a vital role in marine ecosystems as one of the few animals that feed on sponges, preventing them from overtaking the reef. Beyond sponges, their varied diet includes anemones, jellyfish, mollusks, and sea urchins.
Dive sites in Koh Tao to spot turtles:
Koh Tao offers several dive sites where you can have memorable encounters with turtles. Here are some of the top spots:
- Tanote Bay: East coast of Koh Tao
This popular Koh Tao dive site is known for its awe-inspiring stunning coral formations. While diving here, you have a good chance of encountering green turtles gracefully gliding through the water. These turtles are often seen swimming around the coral reefs and enjoying the process at "the cleaning station"!
- Liam Thien: East coast of Koh Tao
Liam Thien is a vibrant dive site teeming with marine life. Besides the colorful corals and schools of tropical fish! Keep your eyes peeled for green sea turtles or the occasional hawksbill turtle gracefully making their way through the currents.
- Hin Wong Pinnacle, East side of Koh Tao
Hin Wong Pinnacle stands out as an amazing dive site, presenting not only impressive depths and beautiful corals but also a lively marine ecosystem. Here, you'll encounter small invertebrates, larger predators, and may even spot Hawksbill and Green turtles.
- Hin Ngam & Aow Leuk, South-East Koh Tao
Hin Ngam & Aow Leuk showcase a diverse array of corals, featuring a Giant Clam nursery and sightings of Juvenile Black Tip Reef Sharks, among other highlights. Additionally, it's a common area for encounters with Green and Hawksbill turtles.
- Shark Island, South-East of Koh Tao
Shark Island stands out as a unique dive site adorned with soft, purple tree corals gracefully covering the rocks. Here, we're fortunate to frequently encounter not only Hawksbill but also Green turtles.
- White Rock, West coast of Koh Tao
White Rock is a vibrant marine haven, renowned for its bustling hub of underwater life. This sought-after destination is perfect for night dives, offering an excellent opportunity to encounter both Hawksbill and Green turtles.
- Twins, West coast of Koh Nang Yuan
As the most popular dive site on the island, Twins boasts a diverse array of fish and vibrant coral life, making it a favorite spot for encounters with both Hawksbill and Green turtles during their feeding activities.
- Buddha Point, South of Koh Tao
also known as Buddha Rock, is a shallow reef teeming with a rich variety of soft and hard corals, along with an abundance of small marine life. It's also a frequent sighting spot for Hawksbill and Green turtles.
- Shark Bay (Tien Og bay), South-Eastern corner of Koh Tao
Shark Bay s too shallow for diving but stands as the prime spot for snorkeling. Here, you can enjoy encounters with Green and Hawksbill turtles, as well as Black Tip Reef Sharks, making it a snorkeler's paradise.
Did you know ?
The Hawksbill turtle, the most endangered among the seven sea turtle species, has seen its beautiful carapace coveted by jewelers and for home decoration for thousands of years. Unfortunately, hawksbill turtle eggs remain a global culinary choice, and the turtles themselves are hunted for their flesh. In addition to these threats, and like other sea turtles, the Hawksbill faces dangers from ghost fishing, bycatch, plastic waste and marine debris.
Sea Turtle Conservation
The diving community in Koh Tao actively engages in marine conservation through citizen science. A dedicated group has formed to identify and track iconic turtles not only around Koh Tao but also in the broader Gulf region. This ambitious project, spanning over a decade of collaborative efforts, aims to monitor and conserve these crucial marine inhabitants.
If you've recently been diving or snorkeling and captured photos of sea turtles, you can contribute by submitting your photos to the Facebook Group Koh Tao Turtles! When submitting each photo, please remember to include the following details if possible:
Location on Koh Tao
Date of observation
Approximate depth and rough size (metric, please)
Behavior (feeding, sleeping, etc.)
Additional relevant information such as damage and markings.
Ideally, images of the side of the face and the top of the shell would be most useful. Your valuable contributions aid in the ongoing efforts to understand and protect these magnificent creatures!
We trust this blog adds to your aquatic adventures, promising a Turtley awesome day exploring the stunning waters of Koh Tao!