This dive did not go to plan but no one was complaining when we got back on the Dhoni.
The Thila is large – about 300m long and some 15 metres below the surface. Strong currents usually exist in the area and so the plan was to do a rapid negative descent to the left of the bottom of the thila (down to about 27m) trying to get below the overhands to give some current protection, go with the current along the thila, use reef hooks occasionally to hang around to watch the fish or to rest, eventually reaching the top of the thila at around 20m, reverse quietly into the strong current, watch any sharks which might be in the area and then fin across the current onto the top of the thila and head out into the open ocean for pickup hopefully before we drifted to Sri Lanka some 36 hours away! Because of the strong currents, hard and soft corals abound and many large fish live there because there is a lot of small fish for food.
In the event, the currents were not strong at all at the start of the dive and were going the wrong way in any case so we dropped off at the top of the thila and negatively descended very fast into a shoal of White Tips waiting to welcome us.
As well as White Tips, there were Reef Sharks and Nurse Sharks
(above a number can be seen some distance out) both young and old. They seemed quite interested in us and circled the whole group of divers for around 20 minutes.
Visibility was poor (no better than 10m) because of the current and the amount of life in the area but the sharks were clearly
identifiable although back scatter makes photographs poor. For Sam, here is a video of the first shark we saw. The picture is not too good because the viz was not that good.
Numerous Eagle Rays went past (look hard into the above and one can just be seen). Large fish abounded including
and also some very large Unicorn Fish (above), large Tuna and shoals of medium sized Barracuda. Although murky, the water was so full of large life it was difficult to know where to look next.
By the time we got to the Thila top, the current had reversed
and was gaining in strength so it was time to use a reef hook to attach to the nearest bit of dead looking coral (or convenient if none was dead). Used carefully, they do
not cause damage and are an essential piece of equipment if you are in a strong current and want to hang around. The technique is to sink down to the coral (or approach it if on a wall) and look for a hard coral place to which to attach the hook. It has a blunt end and therefore hooks on rather than digs in. Then (Unless you are attached to a wall) you inflate your BCD slightly to rise up into the current which then holds you firmly in place (although you sway in the surge and therefore do not want to be too close to the next hooked diver). When you want to unhook, you deflate your SMB, unhook and reel in the dive hook rather than leave it dangling (because it could accidently catch on something), re-inflate slightly and proceed. If you forget to deflate before unhooking you will immediately rise towards the surface and have to dump etc. The current was estimate to be 3 knots by the dive guides.
The reef contained numerous corals and other life such as this Sea Star,
and this rather elegant hard coral.