Muck diving is SCUBA diving in areas that have silty or muddy bottoms, and generally reduced visibility (water clarity) compared with dives in a coral reef. Doesn’t sound too interesting? Think again, actually muck diving is an amazing experience for advanced divers or photographers who want to see some exotic or unusual marine animals.
Coral reefs are relatively stable environments, they tend to have consistent habitat and resources throughout the year, in which life can really specialize and flourish. Sandy or Muddy areas tend to change all the time, due to waves, currents, and other forces. Rarely will a soft bottomed area of the sea remain the same for very long. This means that most animals in these areas must be highly adaptive and strong, or short lived. The lack of habitat in these areas means that most animals must burrow or make homes in the sand, or just sit on top of the ‘muck.’ Meaning that we can find them pretty easy, if we look close.
When muck diving, you can expect to see a wide range of animals you would not normally encounter on coral reef or rocky coast dives. There are less fish, but you may end up finding seahorses, soft corals, seasnakes, nudibranchs, flatworms, lionfish, mantis shrimps, cone snails, octopus, sea stars, garden eels, snake eels, and much more. For photographers it is a dream world, as you can see in our Macrophotography Gallery of things we have found in the ‘muck’.
One of our favorite places on Koh Tao to go Muck diving is just in front of our dive school out from the nice coral reef of Chalok Ban Kao. Once you reach about 15 meters you will be outside the coral reef, but in the best area to find some strange and exciting animals. Of course this area has become a favorite for all of our marine conservation students, and we have been making weekly dives out there as part of our seahorse population study.
It does take a bit more skill to enjoy muck diving though. For one, the viz is generally 3-5 meters, so it is easy to get separated from your dive group. Because of the muddy bottom, good buoyancy is essential. Divers swimming to close to the bottom will kick up lots of silt, disturbing the marine life and ruining the dive for everybody else. But, if this is something that sounds within your comfort level, then we strongly recommend you give muck diving a try.
From a marine conservation standpoint, muck diving is a great way to relieve some of the diving pressure on coral reefs by encouraging visitors to explore other areas. On a popular diving destination like the island of Koh Tao we are always actively trying to promote diving outside the fragile and slow growing coral reef areas. Be sure to check out some of the artificial reefs or alternative dive sites that the local community has set-up. You won’t be disappointed!