The staff call him 'Snorkel Steve' at the scuba and snorkel school where he oversees the daily activities. He invited me for a day out snorkeling with sharks.
Someone told me you could dive with sharks at Underwater World (the Pattaya Aquarium). But, that was not what he was offering.
I hesitated at first. But, if you'll pardon the pun, I almost 'bit his hand off' when he explained that it was on their day trip boat to witness the release of benthic sharks into the wild.
The day started early as all the divers and snorkelers met at Seafari Dive Shop close to the beach in central Pattaya.
That's when we got our first glimpse at the sharks, kept aerated inside large plastic containers used for transportation.
There were seven (7) bamboo sharks - each measuring around sixty centimetres long.
The dive plan was to head out to the Pattaya Far Islands and release the sharks into the shallow reefs later on in the morning.
The organisers, courtesy of 'The Dive Tribe', tagged some of the sharks for future identification. They also breed sharks in captivity at their center in East Pattaya, Chonburi.
I learned that the dive boat, named Rung Wala Wan, often departs for the outer islands from the pier at Laem Bali Hai on a weekly basis.
Nonetheless, today around forty enthusiastic and impatient scuba divers and snorkelers joined the ferry from the beach by a narrow long-tail craft to the large boat anchored 300 metres offshore.
In case you were wondering:
As we headed westwards to Koh Rin, we chatted, drank coffee, and had fresh fruit for breakfast. The sharks were kept on the lower deck where the scuba gear and tanks were stored.
The upper 'dry' sunny deck was comfortably equipped with benches, deck chairs, and free-flow refreshments for the passengers.
The plan was to release the sharks around 90 minutes later at the far island pinnacles. But, the captain delayed making the final decision for the destination until the boat entered the open sea.
Most benthic shark species – especially bamboo sharks – are nocturnal timid creatures. The most likely sighting during the daytime is underneath craggy rocks and hard stony corals where they sleep.
Thus, the photographs and video footage of the shark release was a prized moment for our team to capture.
Around 11.00am, the boat moored on the northeast corner of a small pinnacle close to Koh Rin Island.
The organisers of the baby bamboo shark release chose this particular underwater site for the profusion of diverse coral formations.
You can find them at Koh Rin's northern satellite isle – which is appropriately named North Rock.
Following the safety briefing, divers and snorkelers jumped off the deck into the water. The sharks got transferred into plastic bags full of sea water and handed off the boat to the divers.
The group submerged to a depth of around six (6) metres and released the sharks one by one. Next, baby bamboo sharks disappeared with speed to their new habitat under the coral heads.
After the Pattaya shark release had finished, the dive boat moved away and anchored in the sandy bay at the large nearby island.
Koh Rin is a stunning picturesque destination skirted by beautiful white sand beaches. The sea gently laps against the shoreline. It is an ideal destination for Pattaya snorkeling trips.
But wait - there's more:
As we snorkelled close to the shoreline in the bay we could see an Indian movie getting filmed on the beach. In fact, this remote far island destination is a favourite with day-trippers. They go swimming and snorkeling in the shallows. It is one of Pattaya’s unfrequented and noiseless, isolated destinations.
Later that day, the boat slowly heads back to Pattaya. It allowed us some time to rest and reflect on what was a truly unusual experience.
My day out snorkeling the Pattaya far islands was the ideal tonic as part of my vacation. Even so, to witness baby sharks being released into the wild sea was an added bonus.
And finally, the sun setting behind us created the ultimate backdrop for last minute photographs of an unequalled day as we head east back to the mainland.
Note: Article published 18 October 2014