As a dive guide and underwater photographer you live in the water. It’s your job to dive almost everyday, in all sorts of conditions. While working on a live aboard dive vessel in the Similan Islands National Marine Park, off Thailand’s west coast, there was one site in particular that had it’s own personality amongst the crew.
Named Tachai, it is a series of pinnacles, rising from the bottom over 60M deep, to near the surface, slightly offshore between the Surin Islands in the North and the Similan Islands in the South. It’s one of the most popular stops for dive operators in the marine park and renowned for it’s marine life encounters and varying conditions. Offshore winds and swell can make for difficult entries and exits, along with strong currents in between the pinnacles. Off the boat and down a wavering buoy line to 16m quickly, without much visual reference, is the preferred method. Whenever we dived at the site, the whole crew was extra vigilant.
I had the opportunity as the vessels staff photographer, to dive the area many times over the season and to witness how significantly it can change from one day to the next. I experienced that the ocean comes alive when the weather turns, and as night approaches and learned it was a privilege we don’t often experience. This provided an understanding of how delicate the balance is between our marine life and their environment. The photographs are encounters and behaviors I witnessed at those times, when the currents were strong, the weather gloomy or after dark.
The sobering news is that this region, like most of the ocean, is in serious peril. It faces an onslaught from a number of angles – pollution, overfishing, lacking resource management, political instability. Conservation has become a necessity. In what took hundreds of hours and a season to capture, could have been seen on a single trip, just a decade ago. The agreed view is that our ocean’s are approaching critical condition. Our megafauna are vanishing – sharks, rays, turtles, tuna, along with base of the food chain, the small planktonic plants and animals, that support the system as a whole. Climate change is fostering conditions that are causing the acidity in our oceans to increase.
Although not visible, this change is so significant that entire eco-systems are affected and species are disappearing. All the animals depicted rely directly on these planktonic creatures to survive. This area attracts life because of the nutrient rich currents that rise from the deep and wash over it’s pinnacles. They represent the result of a cycle, that begins with the sun, descending to the bottom and returning with life from the depths to nourish and sustain.
All pictures and text by Grant Stirton. Visit his website to see more pictures:
Grant Stirton is a Canadian photojournalist based in Toronto, specializing in underwater and adventure. He is a passionate conservationist and has focused on issues looking at how people, marine life, environments and culture intersect.