Koh Tao Marine Life
Koh Tao marine life is diverse, colourful, and full of wonder! From the smallest critters to the biggest fish in the sea, you can see it all here in the waters surrounding our beautiful tropical island!
What makes Koh Tao marine life so dense and varied is the healthy and vibrant coral reef structures that surround the island. Coral reefs comprise only 0.5% of the world’s oceans, yet they are home to over 25% of all the world’s marine life! So it is the corals that provide the base habitat on which Koh Tao’s marine life thrives. They provide food and shelter for a wide variety of reef dwellers, and even fish species that normally inhabit deeper parts of the ocean use coral reefs as a safe place to spawn and raise their young.
When we go snorkeling or for fun diving trips, we are generally preoccupied with looking of fish, but it’s worth noting that none of the colourful tropical species we see would be there for us to enjoy if it were not for the corals that support the Koh Tao marine life ecosystem.
The corals you’ll see around Koh Tao come in two forms: hard corals and soft corals. Hard corals include species like boulder coral, brain coral, staghorn coral, table coral, and leaf coral. Softer varieties comprise whip coral, fan coral, bubble coral, carnation coral, sun coral, and cup coral. In and around all of the coral structures, marine life on Koh Tao thrives.
The rich array of beautiful fish is the biggest drawcard for divers looking to explore the amazing world beneath the surface on Koh Tao. Species of every shape, size, and colour cruise the reefs and open ocean providing plenty to see. There are several hundred types of fish that reside in the waters here, so we won’t list them all, but the following are some of the most popular and regularly spotted Koh Tao marine life species:
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Anemonefish – There are hundreds of varieties of anemonefish, but on Koh Tao, we have mostly pink anemonefish and a few families of saddleback anemonefish.
Angelfish – Big, bold, and beautiful! The most common type we see here is the blue-ringed angelfish, but sometimes you can see six-banded angelfish too.
Bannerfish – Almost triangular in shape, bannerfish have black and white stripes with yellow tail and pectoral fins, and a long white dorsal fin that trails behind them as they swim.
Barracuda – We see several types of barracuda here on Koh Tao. Schools of yellowtail barracuda hang out at shallower sites, while chevron barracuda, great barracuda and pickhandle barracuda can be seen in deeper waters.
Batfish – Batfish can sometimes be seen singularly or in pairs, but these large grey and white fish with yellow fins are more often spotted schooling at deeper sites like Chumphon Pinnacle and Sail Rock.
Boxfish – The adorable yellow boxfish with its unique black polka-dot pattern is the most common of this species you’ll see on Koh Tao. There are more varieties though, Junkyard artificial reef being a particularly good place to spot some.
Butterflyfish – One of the most common Koh Tao marine life sightings, these beautiful yellow fish are usually seen in pairs, but they are known to school at a few select dive sites.
Goatfish – These sand dwellers are often seen around the shallow, sandy dive sites foraging for morsels in the sand with their ‘whiskers’.
Groupers – Groupers come in all shapes, sizes, and colours here. Blacktip groupers, blue-lined groupers, hexagon groupers, and giant groupers – we have them all on Koh Tao!
Lionfish – Lionfish sightings are rare, but these deceptively spiny fish with beautiful fanning fins are always a highlight when divers bump into them.
Parrotfish – Often dubbed ‘rainbowfish’ because of their vibrant blue, pink, and yellow colouring, parrotfish can be found at most dive sites around the island.
Scorpionfish – The masters of disguise, scorpionfish are hard to spot and are often mistaken for stonefish. The variety we see here is the bearded scorpionfish. Careful not to get too close, as they have very sharp spines!
Sweetlips – Harlequin sweetlips are the only species in this group that we see regularly on Koh Tao. Their spotted pattern makes them very distinctive, although there is a huge variation in visual appearance between juveniles and adults!
Unicornfish – Easy to identify thanks to the large protruding ‘horn’ that is present in all species, the most commonly seen on Koh Tao is the orange-spined unicornfish.
Pufferfish – Blotched porcupine pufferfish are the most common variety seen by divers on Koh Tao but spotted pufferfish and mappa/starry pufferfish can also be found, typically at shallow boulder sites and around artificial reefs. Seal faced pufferfish are also a rarer spot.
Invertebrates & Reef Critters
Koh Tao marine life is about much more than colourful fish. Look a little closer in the reef, peek under ledges, and shine your torch into cracks and crevices, and you’ll be rewarded with some fabulous invertebrates and reef critters such as:
Crabs – From coral crabs and spider crabs hiding in the reef to giant hermit crabs roaming the sands, we have several varieties of crab on Koh Tao. Most are easier to spot on a night dive under torchlight.
Eels – Look under ledges and into cracks in the reef at most dive sites, and you’ll be rewarded with a white-eyed moray eel. Yellow edged moray eels can also be spotted from time to time, and if you are really lucky, sometimes even a giant moray eel!
Nudibranchs – Meaning ‘naked lungs’ in Latin, nudibranchs are mostly incredibly small and difficult to spot, but are very distinctive due to their bronchi being located outside their main body. Nature really is crazy sometimes!
Sea snakes – Banded sea snakes can be seen from time to time on Koh Tao. Although venomous, these black and white striped snakes are usually very shy and have never been known to cause problems for divers unless they are provoked.
Shrimps – From tiny glass shrimps and cleaner shrimps to Durban dancing shrimp and banded boxer shrimp, if you look close enough in all of the small cracks and crevices as you cruise around underwater, you’re bound to see some on your dives.
Stingrays – Stingrays are nocturnal so tend to hide under rocky ledges during daytime hours. The blue-spotted ribbontail ray is the most commonly seen around Koh Tao, although if you get lucky you may spot a Jenkins whip ray occasionally too.
The Big Stuff!
Turtles and sharks are normally at the top of every diver’s wish list when signing up for diving on Koh Tao. Both inhabit Koh Tao waters, but as the reef system that makes up their territory is so extensive and stretches all around the island and beyond, it really just comes down to luck and being in the right place at the right time. So be sure to wear your lucky underwear for your Koh Tao scuba diving trips!
Sharks – Sharks are beautiful creatures and are infinitely more scared of divers than we are of them, so if you are nervous about getting in the water in case you see one – don’t be! One of the best things about sharks on Koh Tao is that you don’t need to go scuba diving to see them. Blacktip reef sharks can be spotted at many shallow beaches and bays while snorkeling. For your best chances at finding them, check out Aow Leuk Bay, Hin Wong Bay, and of course, Shark Bay!
Whale Sharks – In addition to blacktip reef sharks, we are lucky to be a location that is graced with the presence of whale sharks from time to time, generally at the deeper and more advanced dive sites. Whale sharks are the biggest fish in the sea, and getting to dive with one is a truly spectacular experience. They are more prevalent at some times of year than others, although there is no real guaranteed ‘whale shark season’.
Turtles – Koh Tao means ‘Turtle Island’ in Thai, so it stands to good reason that you can expect to see some during your stay. If you snorkel at Shark Bay, June Juea Beach or Sai Daeng Bay you have a good chance of spotting one, and they can also be seen on scuba dives as they regularly pass through many of our beginner dive sites and intermediate dive sites.