300 find fun under the sea in 1st Pattaya Dive Festival

0
549

 

While often overshadowed by Koh Tao and the Similan Islands, Pattaya grabbed the spotlight of Thailand’s scuba diving world – at least for a weekend – as nearly 300 divers hunted for undersea treasure, cleaned reefs and planted coral in the first-ever Pattaya Dive Festival.

Sponsored by Pattaya’s top three dive shops – Mermaids Dive Center, Aquanauts Dive Centre and Adventure Divers – and four Bangkok outfits, the festival aimed to remind Bangkok-based dive fans they don’t need to travel to southern Thailand to experience great diving. As Thailand’s “shipwreck-diving capital,” Pattaya offers unique adventures for experienced divers and well-explored training grounds perfect for beginners, organizers said.

Pattaya Mayor Itthiphol Kunplome offers greetings in English and Thai to open Pattaya Dive Festival 2010.Pattaya Mayor Itthiphol Kunplome offers greetings in English and Thai to open Pattaya Dive Festival 2010.

The festival drew a wide range of participants, from entire Thai families to Japanese couples to an Australian trying diving for the first time. While drawing only 282 of the originally estimated 500 participants, the festival still proved a great success, both for organizers and for divers themselves, who collected 120 prizes and got to see first-hand the impact trash flushed into the canals of Bangkok have on the reefs of Pattaya.

The day started early, with registration and breakfast starting at Bali Hai Pier at 7 a.m. Mayor Itthiphol Kunplome officially kicked off the festival with opening remarks in both English and Thai, followed by Tourism Authority of Thailand Pattaya office Director Niti Kunplome and sponsors.

Staff from sponsor Reflection Condo enjoy breakfast while prepping signs for the Festival’s “Save the Ocean” theme.Staff from sponsor Reflection Condo enjoy breakfast while prepping signs for the Festival’s “Save the Ocean” theme.

“Today the seven best dive centers in Pattaya and Bangkok are showing that Pattaya offers a rich underwater environment and is a world-class diving destination,” Itthiphol said.

“The Dive Festival not only boosts Pattaya tourism in general, but introduces divers to new, beautiful sites,” Itthiphol said. “It also helps raise awareness about environmental conservation, garbage disposal and coral planting that can bring life back to the seas.”

One of the Bangkok divers on the Aquanauts Dive Centre boat shows off the 16 tokens she found in the Festival’s underwater treasure hunt.One of the Bangkok divers on the Aquanauts Dive Centre boat shows off the 16 tokens she found in the Festival’s underwater treasure hunt.

From there, divers boarded the seven boats needed for the day. Organizers originally envisioned as many as 500 divers descending on Pattaya for the festival. But non-participating dive shops in Bangkok, they claimed, went on a smear campaign against the festival and participating centers, perpetrating rumors about crowds, safety and the weather.

Hundreds of divers take the “giant stride” off Koh Larn Vak.Hundreds of divers take the “giant stride” off Koh Larn Vak.

As it turned out, the weather was perfect for the day, with flat seas and no current. Even the sun made an appearance, after starting to hide behind thick clouds in the early morning.

The first dive of the day was the popular undersea treasure hunt. Divers searched the reef off Koh Larn Vak for steel pots, each containing small pink animals. Find a figurine, win a prize. Some did, with one lucky diver on the Aquanauts Dive Centre boat scooping up 16 of the little dolls. Unfortunately, another young woman diving a few minutes behind her found only empty pots!

Divers counted their treasure over lunch, a sumptuous multi-course meal of Thai and western food and fruit. Then it was back into the water after noon for the reef cleanup.

Aquanauts Dive Centre instructor Gary Gwilliam, center, waits with his charges to begin the underwater treasure hunt. Aquanauts Dive Centre instructor Gary Gwilliam, center, waits with his charges to begin the underwater treasure hunt.

Each armed with gloves, scissors and bags, the 282 divers scoured the bay, removing bottles, cans, plastic bags and other assorted trash thrown carelessly into the sea or washed into the bay by rainwater. The amount of trash pulled up shocked many of the Bangkok residents, who didn’t realize much of the garbage that pollutes Pattaya’s waters comes, in fact, from the capital.

Treasure and trash collected, the diving armada set sail back to Pattaya. After a shower and some rest, the divers reassembled around the pool at the Captain’s Corner restaurant for a huge buffet and party. Free cold beer went down well after a day in the sun and models dressed as sharks and clownfish made for interesting entertainment.

The festival continued for a select group of sponsors and public officials Sunday as they assembled on Koh Larn for a coral-planting exercise.

While disappointed by the suppressed turnout, organizers were still pleased with the Festival’s results, saying success is measured by the enjoyment of those who participated, not by the number of people who didn’t.

Already having garnered new support from the Tourism and Sports Ministry, organizers are already planning next year’s festival, promising an even bigger event that will be marketed overseas, not just to Bangkok divers.

A fleet of seven boats was needed to shuttle all the divers to Koh Larn.A fleet of seven boats was needed to shuttle all the divers to Koh Larn.

A select group of sponsors and public officials assembled on Koh Larn for a coral-planting exercise.A select group of sponsors and public officials assembled on Koh Larn for a coral-planting exercise.

A full day of diving was topped off with a buffet dinner and entertainment at the Captain’s Corner restaurant.A full day of diving was topped off with a buffet dinner and entertainment at the Captain’s Corner restaurant.

Some of the organizers, crew, sponsors and local officials begin the day with a group photo.Some of the organizers, crew, sponsors and local officials begin the day with a group photo.