Koh Tao Shark Week

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Koh Tao Shark Week

The last couple of weeks we have been shark-crazy here on Koh Tao! In this article we are going to review all the great things that happened this year on the island.

What happened during Shark Week 2019?

The annual ‘Swim for Sharks’ event was once again a massive success thanks to the hard work of many dedicated individuals, and the enthusiasm of hundreds of shark supporters. Leading up to the day we were treated to a number of events across the island!

  • Presentations – We kicked off the shark mania with our own event, a presentation on the threats of sharks for our PADI Open Water Green Package divers. This short presentation gave a brief overview of the main threats to sharks around the world and how we can help. Stick around and I’ll go over these tips at the end of the blog.
  • Shark Guardian Night – Next on the list we visited a neighbouring dive school for a Shark Guardian presentation. Founder and co-director Brendon, delivered a very informative presentation touching on many subjects. These included the different species we see (and unfortunately no longer) see here at Koh Tao, both international and local threats and how we can support Shark Guardians work to preserve these majestic animals.
  • Movie Night – The following night we were lucky enough to go to the premier of the the long awaited Shark Water Extinction, the sequel to Rob Stewarts ground breaking documentary Shark Water. The movie exposed the shark fin industries across the world and helped answer the question, where are all the sharks disappearing to? The answer was heart breaking and the stakes were always high to capture this footage, continually putting himself at risk Stewart continued to investigate despite threats and harassment. Shark Water Extinction was certainly no different, you could feel the tension in the crowd as Stewart was faced with obstacle after obstacle…
    In a horrible twist of fate, Stewart lost his life in a diving accident, but his legacy will always live on as the world continues to acknowledge and continue his efforts. Both the conservation and diving community truly lost a leading pioneer in shark conservation.
  • Kids Swim 4 Sharks – It wasn’t just fun and games for the adults this week, the children of Koh Tao also took to the water to help save sharks in the Kids Swim for Sharks event. Co-director Liz gave a presentation to the children who showed off their knowledge and impressed both Liz and all the parents. Then one by one the children completed their laps of the pool before playing a number of games to practise their swimming skills. We were then also lucky enough to be visited by some local mermaids who jumped in the pool and wowed the children with their beautiful tails.

Finally, the big day arrived… SWIM FOR SHARKS!

Everyone geared up for an action packed day, but the weather definitely had other ideas. Nevertheless, no one was willing to cancel and the organisers came together to create a new route which would keep everyone safe.

Spirits were high despite the wind and rain, as everyone purchased raffle tickets and t-shirts all contributing to conservation funds. Donning our uniform for the day of rash guards, masks and smiles, we travelled out to Mao Bay to begin the swim.

Competitive swimmers led the way north along the eastern coastline, while support teams on speedboats and paddle boards watched on and guided swimmers. Bringing up the rear fun swimmers with the aid of fins and snorkels, began the much more leisurely journey towards the finish line. Along the 3km route we were surrounded by schools of fusiliers and rabbit fish or just the beautiful open water. Every now and then you could hear the passing speedboats with volunteers shouting encouragement and directions. My personal time of 1 hour and 6 minutes seemed to fly by, as before I knew it the finish line (well, boat) was clearly in sight. This was definitely helped by having a friend stick with me the whole swim and encourage me to keep going (shout out to you Verena).

That was the true theme of the day, friends and strangers all coming together to support one another and raising money for conservation. It didn’t matter how fast you were, or what place you came in, as long as you had a good time. (But if you are curious this years winner from the competitive group was Nick Bufton, with an outstanding time of 45 minutes!)

Lighthouse Bay was full of cheering as swimmer after swimmer reached the ladder, climbed aboard and received congratulations and high fives all round. “Do it for the sharks! Do it for the sharks!” became the mantra for the day.

Do it for the sharks!

But it doesn’t stop there, more money was to be raised at the after party. Companies across the island had all kindly donated prizes ranging from discounts, free meals, free courses, free experiences and more, bringing the grand total worth to over 1 million Thai baht! Like every year there is also a chance to get a shark tattoo from the talented artists from Thai Art, where all profits go to conservation. Some of our staff just couldn’t resist…


Or if you weren’t fancying such a permanent commitment there was always the option to donate your hair. Yep, shave your head for the sharks. This is when that mantra really kicked in, ”do it for the sharks!” One by one volunteers stepped up while the crowded handed over money, one glorious head of hair raised 10,000 Thai baht.

Celebrations lasted long into the night, as strangers became friends and memories to last until next year were made. Once again the entire island had come together for a greater cause, and showed the world how much impact one small island could make. The grand total of money raised was last counted to be approximately 100,000 Thai Baht. What an incredible effort from everybody!

A huge and well deserved thank you to Rachel who worked for months on end to make this event possible. The entire island is indebted to you for another wonderful Swim for Sharks.

What can you actively do right now to help?

If you want to help sharks here are a few things that you can start doing right now.

  • Don’t eat shark – If you’re travelling around SE Asia you have probably come across shark fin soup, this is nothing more then a status dish. It has never been a tradition and holds no cultural significance. So please avoid it at all costs. This also applies to your local supermarkets. Yep, there is a very high chance shark is being sold right under your nose, so always check the label and question your fishmonger.
  • Reduce your fish consumption – Shark populations are not only threatened by being actively fished, but also as ‘bycatch’. In fact, sharks can make up to 40% of a commercial catch and will just be discarded as they were not the target species. Therefore, if you can reduce your fish consumption we can lower the demand for fish and reduce the number of nets and long lines in the water.
  • Talk about sharks – Ignorance is still a huge threat to sharks, and we need more facts rather then fear. The media still portrays them as man eating monsters despite only 3% of all shark species actually being big enough to cause any real harm. If you have the opportunity to dive or swim with sharks take it (as long as its safe for both you and the animals) and then tell everyone about it. Shift this idea of murderous creatures lurking in the deep, to stunning apex predators that need to be respected and protected.

A massive thank you and congratulations to everyone who took part. If you didn’t get a chance this year, then see you at the sign up next year.


Photo credits: private, Nick Thomas, Maelly Faure.

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