Koh Tao is an island in Thailand and forms part of the Chumphon Archipelago on the western shore of the Gulf of Thailand. It covers an area of about 21 km². Administratively it forms a tambon within the district (Amphoe) Koh Pha Ngan of Surat Thani Province. As of 2006 its official population is 1,382. The main settlement is Ban Mae Hat.
The economy of the island is almost exclusively centred on tourism, especially scuba diving.
Koh Tao was named by its first settlers after the island’s turtle-like geographic shape. Coincidentally, the island is an important breeding ground for Hawksbill turtles and Green turtles. Development of tourism has negatively impacted the health of these grounds but a breeding programme organised in 2004 by the Royal Thai Navy and KT-DOC, a coalition of local scuba diving centres, has reintroduced hundreds of juvenile turtles to the island’s ecosystem.
The island is well known for scuba diving and snorkeling, as well as hiking, rock climbing and bouldering. The most popular place for tourists is Sairee on the West coast, which has a white sandy beach of 1.7 km interrupted only by a few huge boulders and a scattering of medium budget resorts and restaurants. Chalok Baan Khao, to the south of the island is becoming increasingly popular as an alternative for those wishing to escape the crowds. A multitude of beautiful granite boulders, which nestle both in the forests and on the beaches of Koh Tao, attract a growing number of climbers.
Koh Tao is less developed than Koh Samui and Koh Pha Ngan, but has become increasingly popular especially with the mid-20s backpacker crowd in search of relatively inexpensive scuba diving certification. For the last two years the demographics of the island has seen an age increase with many of the visitors that first visited the island over ten years ago are now returning with their families.
As of December 2005, Koh Tao had about 150 resorts offering accommodation and approximately 50 bars/clubs. Most of the resorts are still bungalow-style, not hotel/resort style. As of 2007 there is a trend to more upmarket resorts which do not concentrate singularly on diving. Free WiFi is provided in increasing numbers and even the first sailing charter company on Koh Tao has opened.
Koh Tao is increasingly becoming a mecca for game fishermen on a budget. Species targeted include marlin, sailfish, king mackerel, cobia, baracuda, trevally and snapper.
Diving conditions have improved dramatically in the past few years with the continuing education of locals by the dive community. The El Nino weather pattern of 1997 caused a warming of the waters which resulted in the loss of a great deal of the shallow corals near the island. Since then, the recovery has been swift and dramatic. Koh Tao now offers some of the best scuba diving in the Gulf of Thailand. And with help by island conservation groups the island environmental outlook is strong.
Chumpon Pinnacle, a dive site to the west of the island has a reputation for divers in search of both whale sharks and bull sharks. However, because of the warmer water temperatures over the last year a great amount of bull sharks have migrated to cooler waters.
(data from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Koh_Tao)