Coke Smith Photography & Travelogue

Dive Safari to the Similand Islands!

There is little doubt that seeing a wild Whale Shark approaching from the deep blue is up there with some of my best mammal watching experiences!  What a treat!

Be sure to check out our Pbase galleries from the Similans


Breaking from my normal wildlife adventure, I had the unique experience of spending a full week aboard the spectacular "Junk" exploring the vast marine wilderness of  Thailand's remote Similan Islands, located a full day's steam west/northwest of Phuket, in the Andaman Sea.  This expedition was part of ISB's Global Challenge Week (GCW) during which all ISB students travel to and explore the world!  I had the unique fortune to luck in to chaperoning this amazing expedition.  Sixteen lucky and awesome highschool students, Brenda Perkins, Sonya Roback and I spent the whole week traveling to various dive locations learning about and experiencing first-hand the marine ecosystems of this remote island chain.

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The islands are home not only to an amazing reef ecosystem.  There is quite a terrestrial rainforest biome as well!


"The Junk" is an awesome vessel!  A historical boat, the Junk has starred in several movies ranging from the 007 hit, "The Man with the Golden Gun", "Swiss Family Robinson", and "Shanghai".  Currently it is owned and operated by an outstanding dive operation working out of Phuket.  I highly recommend an adventure on the "Junk"!  (See their website here)


What a great group!


Great partners - Brenda Perkins & Sonja Roback!

Our students received their "Advance Open Water" certification while exploring the Similans.


We had opportunities to explore various reef ecosystems.

A fragile coral species in the Similans.

Whale Shark!

 Whale Sharks are evidently exceedingly rare in the Similans.  On one of our last dives, four students and I were extremely lucky to have a young but large whale shark swim from the deep blue to check us out.  What an amazing experience!

Whale Shark Similan Islands Koh Bon.  He was clearly interested in us and came out of his way to say hello.

Whale Shark Similan Islands Koh Bon.  His approach was within just a meter or so!

"Bye bye!"

Even our dive-master had never seen one during his seven years in the Similans.

Just a cool graphic I stole somewhere from the web.  I like how it shows the complexity of even a simplified glimpse from a reef food web!

The Fish

So as anyone who follows our travelogue can see, this post is clearly a deviation from our normal, mammal-oriented focus.  Although we did see a mammal (a squirrel...), this trip was about the marine wildlife, so why not start there!

Acanthuridae - Acanthuris lineatus - Blue-lined Surgeonfish


Acanthuridae species - Some sort of Unicornfish.


Another Acanthuridae species

Acanthuridae - Acanthurus leucosternon - Powderblue Surgeonfish 

Acanthuridae - Stripe-faced Unicornfish - Naso lituratus

Balistidae - Balistapus undulatus - Red-lined Bannerfish

Balistidae - Balistoides viridescens - Titan Triggerfish

Balistidae - Odonus niger - Redtooth Triggerfish

Balistidae - Odonus niger - Redtooth Triggerfish


Balistidae - Ebony triggerfish - Melichthys niger

Balistidae - Sufflamen bursa - Pallid Triggerfish

Balistidae - Clown Triggerfish - Balistoides conspicullum

Balistidae - Clown Triggerfish - Balistoides conspicullum

Lunar-tailed Bigeye - Priacanthus hamrur 

Humpnose Big-eye Bream - Monotaxis grandoculis

Caesionidae - Caesio species - Fusilier species 

Caesionidae - Yellow-&-blueback Fusilier - Caesio teres 

Caesionidae - Yellow-&-blueback Fusilier - Caesio teres 

Caesionidae - Yellow-&-blueback Fusilier - Caesio teres 

Caesionidae - Yellow-&-blueback Fusilier - Caesio teres 

Caesionidae - Pterocaesio marri - Marr's Fusilier

Caesionidae - Pterocaesio species - Fusilier species

Carangidae - Bluefin Trevally - Caranx melampygus

Chaetodontidae - Chaetodon collare - Vagabond Butterflyfish

Chaetodontidae - Chaetodon collare - Vagabond Butterflyfish

Chaetodontidae - Heniochus singularis - Singular Bannerfish

Chaetodontidae - Longfin Bannerfish - Heniochus acuminatus & Vagabond Butterflyfish

Chaetodontidae - Vagabond Vutterflyfish - Chaetodon vagabundus

Sea Fan - Semperina species

Faviidae - Faviid Coral - Diploastrea heliopora

Unidentified cool fish!

Most of the little ones were lumped in one category - "Glassfish!"


The base of the foodchain looks very intact in the Similans.

Swimming through the massive schools of "glassfish" was an outstanding experience.


Gobiidae - Amblyeleotris wheeleri - Wheeler's Shrimpgoby 

A walking sea cucumber graizing on the reef.

Sea Cuc!

Lutjanidae - Bigeye seaperch - Lutianus lutjanus

Lutjanidae - Blue-stripped Seaperch - Lutjanus kasmira

Lutjanidae - Lutjanus decussatus - Chequered Snapper

Malacanthidae - Malacanthus latovittatus - Blue Blanquillo

Mullidae - Parupeneus barberinus - Dash-dot Goatfish

Muraenidae - Giant Moray - Gymnothorax javanicus

Muraenidae - Giant moray - Gymnothorax javanicus

Nice Octopus species!

Ostraciidae - Spotted Boxfish - Ostracion meleagris 

Pomacanthidae - Pomacanthus annularis - Blue-ringed Angelfish 

Pomacanthidae - Pomacanthus imperator - Emperor Angelfish

Pomacanthidae - Pomacanthus imperator - Emperor Angelfish

Pomacanthidae - Pygoplites diacanthus - Regal Anglefish

Pomacentradae - Chromis iomelas - Half & Half Chromis 

Pomacentridae - Clark's Anemonefish - Amphiprion clarkii

Pomacentridae - False Clown Anemonefish - Amphiprion ocellaris

Pomacentridae - False Clown Anemonefish - Amphiprion ocellaris

Pomacentridae - False Clown Anemonefish - Amphiprion ocellaris

Pomacentridae - False Clown Anemonefish - Amphiprion ocellaris

Pomacentridae - False Clown Anemonefish - Amphiprion ocellaris

Pomacentridae - False Clown Anemonefish - Amphiprion ocellaris

Hawksbill Turtle - Eretmochelys imbricata

Hawksbill Turtle - Eretmochelys imbricata 

Hawksbill turtle - Eretmochelys imbricata

Scaridae - Scarus rubroviolaceus - Ember Parrotfish

Scaridae - Scarus species - Parrotbill species

Scaridae - Scarus species - Parrotbill species 

Scorpaenidae - Scorpaenodes barbatus - Bearded Scorpionfish

Serranidae - Peacock Rockcod - Cephalopholis argus

Siganidae - Siganus species - Spinefoot species


Giant Sweetlips - Plectorhinchus obscurum

Tetraodontidae - Black-spotted Toadfish - Arothron nigropunctatus 

Tetraodontidae - Porcupinefish - Diodon species

Tetraodontidae - Starry Pufferfish - Arothron stellatus

Tetraodontidae - Stars & Stripes Toadfish - Arothron hispidus 

Zanclidae - Morish Idol - Zanclus cornutus

Tridacnai species!


Giant Clam up close and personal!



Terrestrial Critters!

The Similans are in an interesting location being very remote and a full-day's steam from mainland Thailand, yet close enough for the mainland species to be somewhat represented.  One on the questions I have, is how many got there through human introduction and how many got there naturally....hmmm...

Similan Island Grey-bellied Squirrel (Callosciurus caniceps bimaculatus)

Similan Island Grey-bellied Squirrel.

Water Monitor Lizards are very common on the islands.

Water Monitor Lizard

Imperial Pigeons were common as well.  I was hoping to see the Nicobar Pigeon but no luck this trip.  I did hear it though!

Wild Junglefowl

The Junk

A spectacular Similan Islands sunset.

Similan Islands