Ao Suthep is beautiful hard coral garden in the Surin Islands, often visited by Similan island diving liveaboards and accessible by snorkellers visiting the Surin Islands too.
Hard coral levels, Ao Suthep © firstname.lastname@example.org
Despite having been diving in the Similan Islands since 2004 and visited the Surin islands several times, I never dived Ao Suthep until December 2022. Geographically it’s one of the Surin Islands’ many bays with a pristine beach. Underwater, though, is where the real magic is.
Juvenile barracuda over the reef, Ao Suthep, Surin Islands © email@example.com
Having dived it twice now – the first time under gloomy grey skies in December 2022, the second in February 2023 under early morning sunshine, it’s quickly become one of my favourite sites on a Similan Islands liveaboard trip.
Table corals and staghorn, Ao Suthep, Surin Islands © firstname.lastname@example.org
The reason is because Ao Suthep has some do the most abundant and intact hard corals I’ve seen anywhere in Thailand. Tables corals are piled up on one another, with stag horn and plate corals covering every inch of space.
Dory fish and other reef fish around Ao Suthep’s corals © email@example.com
Small reef fish shuttle around over, under and into the corals, using its countless hideyholes for shelter, food and safety. The reef feels truly alive. The density of the corals and the way they’re stacked up on each other, decades of growth still intact, makes itfeel like you’re drifting over an alien cityscape.
Sunburst over hard corals, Ao Suthep, Surin Islands © firstname.lastname@example.org
The real joy is that this isn’t one small part of the reef – it stretches on unbroken for several hundred metres.
Hard coral garden from above, Ao Suthep, Surin Islands © email@example.com
The size of the corals can be staggering, some over three metres wide, endlessly growing outwards and upwards and their delicate structures still surviving the rigours of the ocean’s occasional violent force and the ever present threat of human intervention.
Layers of staghorn corals and table corals © firstname.lastname@example.org
The reason the reef is so rich in this particular bay – apart from it being escaped dynamite fishing and being destroyed by boat anchors – is because many of the nutrients caught up in the ocean currents down from the Mergui Archipelago in Myanmar get swept into Ao Suthep bay and remain here, providing the food for the coral to survive and thrive.
Five layers of table corals, Ao Suthep, Surin Islands © email@example.com
The nutrients can make the water cloudy and the visibility less clear than the often gin clear waters of the Similan Islands, but it’s a small price to pay to see such a healthy reef.
Dense corals, Ao Suthep, Surin Islands © firstname.lastname@example.org
How To Get To The Surin Islands
Both the snorkelling trips depart from Tapla Mu pier which is about 15 minutes drive from Khao Lak. Tapla Mu pier is about an hour’s drive from Phuket Airport.
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