Diving the Coral Triangle
There are many reasons to visit the Indonesian archipelago, but a big reason is diving due to the various locations available. After all, Indonesia is located in the “Coral Triangle” within the marine waters of Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste – a region with more than 500 reef-building coral species and an epicenter of marine biodiversity. Geographically, Indonesia has 17,500 islands scattered over both sides of the equator and spread out in an area that is over 700,000 square miles. You’ll find some of the finest reefs in the world there, but the main reason for my trip to Indonesia was to try muck diving in Lembeh Strait – North Sulawesi.
Getting it “Strait”
Just the word “muck” evokes images like the Pines River in Revere, Massachusetts which usually (if not always) has dark, murky water – to see the bottom your face must be less than a foot away from it. But the Pins River is only 50 miles from home. Lembeh Strait in North Sulawesi is over 9,000 miles away. It’s been two years since my last visit to Indonesia but I’ve been anxious to return and see more of the underwater beauty.
Although Lembeh Strait was at the top of my list, I also considered stops on Bunaken Island as well as Raja Ampat, West Papua. Bunaken Island is known to have excellent wall diving and Raja Ampat is known for having very healthy coral reefs and many species of fish.
So, I started planning and lucky for me a Google search turned up www.divesafariasia.co.uk. Ben Stokes, co-owner of the company, was offering a Trans-Indonesian trip that sounded perfect, and it was. I contacted Ben and he later phoned me that evening to go over details as the trip was departing in less than a month, and there was one spot left. Lembeh Strait was not part of his group trip, but he kindly offered to set up that portion for me, and I would simply go and meet the group the following week in Bunaken Island. By mid-November 2013, I was heading to Indonesia for 18 days.
Ben set up Kungkungan Bay Resort for me on the black sand shore of Lembeh Strait. This is a luxury sea level resort with a professionally run dive shop on-site. The accommodations are superb; a beach front cottage just steps from the water. It had a living room and a large separate bedroom that had a walk in stone shower – and its location is picture-perfect. The resort’s restaurant is open 24 hours with a full-service menu. There is wide variety of deliciously prepared food of quality ingredients. They even smoked their own bacon! The professional and friendly staff ensures you will have a pleasant stay at KBR.
Boat and Shore Diving
The dive operation www.divekbr.com is run very smoothly by Manager Stefan Soh. They offer two boat dives in the morning, one afternoon boat dive and a night dive. There is unlimited shore diving from the long dock, so you never get sand in your gear. All you have to do is let the staff know that you will be going on a “shore” dive. They will have all your gear ready for you on the dock where you will be doing a giant stride in the water. When you are done with your dive there is a ladder to climb out. The staff is always there to help with getting in and out of the water. Shore diving from KBR is done at slack water only due to the currents – but it’s really the current that drives great visibility and fosters an abundance of strange and wonderful critters.
The term “muck” has been used to describe the diving in Lembeh Strait, but that’s really a misnomer. Here’ “muck” simply refers to the black sand, lack of natural hiding spots, and a stark environment many critters have adapted to live and thrive in. So it was quick to see that visibility is far from zero.
Lembeh Strait is sometimes called a muck diving mecca – and for good reason – it’s the reason divers from all corners of the globe go search of the most unusual critters. It did not take long to discover that any critter with odd shapes, copious amounts of hair, psychedelic colors, deadly poisons, cunning camouflage (or prefers to carry other marine life on its back) will simply thrive in Lembeh Strait.
My first dive was a site called Palau Abadi located close to shore across from the very busy city port of Bitung. The site is also next to many fishing boats that were moored. My first thought was; “What could possibly be here besides floating debris?” We all did our back roll and descended to the black sandy bottom, but the visibility was far better than I initially pictured in my mind.
The action started right away when my dive guide Liberty pointed out a peacock mantis shrimp, a juvenile painted frog fish, a xeno crab on sea whip, then an orangutan crab, a frog fish, a sea whip goby, a ghost pipefish, a blue ring octopus, a shrimp fish, a Lembeh Sea Dragon, and a Cuttlefish egg with the developing embryo – all in the first twenty minutes of the first dive. The action just continued throughout the day and the remainder of my stay at Kungkungan Bay Resort.
When we visited sites like Jahir I, Aer Bajo II and III, or TK 3, there wasn’t any coral and the bottom was black sand only. These locations offered visibility around 20 feet, but I also saw the strangest marine life. On the other hand, dive sites like Nudi Retreat offered a wall covered in hard coral and yellow soft coral. Dive site Angles Window had a wall covered in hard corals, and at 80 feet there was a swim-through with a resident pigmy seahorse. Across from the resort was a dive site named Pintu Colada where we experienced a sandy slope with critters. After finishing the dive in the shallows, there were several healthy coral heads to swim around in the bright shallow water. These dive sites had visibilities that exceed 50 feet. Pintu Colada was also the site of the Mandarin fish dive. This was my first Mandarin dive and we were not disappointed. Several large Mandarin fish greeted us for their mating ritual – this dusk to night dive was truly spectacular.
During the initial dive briefing, the manager invited us to suggest any particular critters that we wanted to see. I arrived with a wish list of “critters” – 32 in fact – and 75% were nudibranchs. The first day of diving, I just wanted to get in the water to see what it was all about. It was incredible, and my guide showed me so much that I practically forgot about my list. When I looked back at the list that evening, the most sought after for me was the “boxer crab”. I couldn’t stand the thought of going home without seeing it, but the following day during the afternoon dive the boxer crab was unveiled in all its radiance.
I saw things there that I never thought I would ever see. It was almost common to see several Blue ring octopus, different species of pygmy sea horses, ghost, banded and robust pipefish, soft coral crabs just to name a few.
Moving Past Lembeh Strait
The second leg of my trip required a three hour drive to Tasik Ria Resort where I would finally meet up with Ben Stokes from Dive Safari Asia. From this point on, I was traveling with Ben and a group of 15 diving at Bunaken Island, and then off to Raja Ampat.
I only had one day of diving Bunaken Island. The spacious dive boat leaves in the morning and stays out near Bunaken Island all day. Lunch is served for all the divers during the surface interval. The dive boat’s guides give a descriptive briefing and are safety conscious. There were four divers to one guide.
The diving here involved gorgeous wall diving with tiny critters sprinkled about. The wall itself is basically vertical and there is some current to contend with, but the visibility was at least 100 feet. There were huge barrel sponges, gorgonians, and big stands of staghorn coral along with giant turtles. There was also smaller stuff including colorful ascidians, soft coral, nudibranchs and more. It was amazing to look around and see all the life.
The third leg of the trip involved a late day flight from Manado, North Sulawesi to Sorong, West Papua. During this two hour flight we crossed the equator into the southern hemisphere. We spent a memorable evening at the one and only Royal Mamberamo Hotel in Sorong.
The following morning, we had a two hour speedboat ride to Mansuar Island in the area known as Raja Ampat and stayed at the Raja Ampat Dive Lodge (www.komodoalordive.com) located on a brilliant white sandy beach with the verdant green mountain backdrop. The cottages were very comfortable with good food and a friendly staff.
The location and setting of this dive resort was absolutely gorgeous. It also had a fantastic house reef, though all of the house reef dives were done by boat (again, sand never ended up in any gear). The crew would have us board the boat at the dock, and the captain would either drop us at the end of the long dock or drop us off further up the reef and then follow our bubbles. We would usually have two guides in the water with two or three divers per guide. The briefings for each dive site were very informative, well-illustrated, and well-planned. Our guides were Dovan and Roy, they did a great job pointing out critters during each dive.
The boat schedule included two dives in the morning and one in the afternoon with a choice of evening or night dive before dinner. After the morning boat dives, we would stop at an uninhabited island or village for our surface interval which included coffee, tea or water along with fresh fruit and baked snacks. One day we visited Arborek Island and had our second boat dive of the day there. It was a fantastic location with a huge variety of marine life. We had macro critters pointed out to us, witnessed giant clams, and watched a school of Napoleon Wrasse foraging in the shallows before parading off to deeper water.
Another fantastic site worth mentioning is Frewins Wall. I could have spent several days at that one site. It started out as a slope with hundreds of tiny yellow sea cucumbers, but the highlight was a deep cut/overhang that the current took us by. This overhang went on and on with soft coral just draping out of the wall with black coral and gorgonians. It ended with a shallow shelf where we spent some time observing anemones with resident clown fish swimming about; just beautiful.
Raja Ampat had a lot of odd critters, and some were difficult to make out. One of the oddities was a hermit crab with tiny anemones growing on its shell, then the half-inch red crab that looked like it didn’t have legs, but closer observation showed me that the legs were clear. Then, in the white sand, Dovan pointed out a sandy colored 2×1/2-inch flat worm-like critter, but a closer look showed me that it was a tiny flat crab – and these were all spotted on the night dives.
Good Planning and Great Guides
This was truly a fantastic trip! Ben really knows how to put a well-organized dive trip together. It was a long journey but he made everything seem effortless. I enjoyed every aspect of this trip and having him as a guide.
Dive Safari Asia run their ‘Trans Indonesia Tour’ twice a year. The next dates for the trip are:
7th – 23rd November 2014
20th March – 5th April 2015
For more information or to book, call 0800 955 0180 or visit www.divesafariasia.com.
Diving with… Aydin Dinc, The Cenote Guy, Mexico
In this ongoing series, we speak to the people who run dive centres, resorts and liveaboards from around the world about their businesses and the diving they have to offer…
My name is Aydin Dinc.
What is the name of your business?
The Cenote Guy – Cenote Diving.
What is your role within the business?
Founder. I’m guiding in the Cenotes and I’m the manager of the business.
How long has the business operated for?
We started in February 2018.
How long have you dived for, and what qualification are you?
Professionally diving since 2017 in Mexico.
Got certified in 1998. I was mostly diving for fun during vacations in the Mediterranean.
2017 MSDT Padi instructor
2017 TDI full cave Diver
What is your favorite type of diving?
For sure, cavern diving. I also love Ocean diving, the Big Blue and marine life.
Cavern and Cave is more like a living style, a daily ritual, a spiritual thought process for me.
Diving in caverns in very addictive. I enjoy the caverns on a daily basis and practice cave diving on my days off.
If you could tell people one thing about your business (or maybe more!) to make them want to visit you, what would it be?
We are specialized in cavern diving and that´s what make our strength. The dives are tailormade taking into consideration the diver’s experience and skills. We are not doing any courses; we are not doing Ocean dives. We want to give you the best in cenote diving. Fully concentrating on GUIDING. Safety being our biggest focus. And, word of mouth, that’s how our customers choose us. That’s a niche we have chosen because it is not “regular diving.” It’s special, it’s Cenote Diving.
What is your favourite dive in your location and why?
Little Brother is by far the most enchanting dive of all. My personal favorite. Incredibly beautiful and with the most features you can have in Cenote diving. I am proud to guide in this place where you have the feeling of being on another planet, where the words are missing when trying to describe the experience.
What types of diving are available in your location?
We only do cavern diving. So, the main parameter is how much you get inside the overhead environment. I personally categorise them as:
Semi open water dives: The open water surface is wide and easy to spot, like Kukulkan, little brother, eden, Barbie line, carwash, casa Cenote etc.
Penetration dives: You have this real feeling of getting under the ground and tunnels, adventure lovers are welcome! Tajmaha, Batcave, dreamgate etc.
Open water dives: Technically open water dives, but all around 30 meters / 90 feet of depth, for advanced divers. Like Angelita, zapot , Kinha etc.
What do you find most rewarding about your current role?
I’m into guiding and sharing my passion with my fellow divers is the best reward. It’s amazing how diving creates bonds after having done a Cenote dive. I have seen people crying after the dives, being moved. It’s impacting, calming and so out of this world. It’s a spiritual calling. And believe me, to be someone witnessing the emotion and in a way being the one that is facilitating such moments, is the greatest reward. Back in time, my first cenote dives were the most exciting things I have ever done in my life. And I know that it’s the case for the majority of our divers. A life changing experience.
What is your favorite underwater creature?
My favourite underwater creatures, that we are lucky to spot in a couple of cenotes, are the crocodiles. They are laying on the rocks and watching us calmly. They are the real inhabitants of the cenotes. They are small and very inoffensive. Always a nice encounter for our divers.
As a center what is the biggest problem you face at the moment?
The fast growth of the region is somehow menacing our beautiful cenotes. We would like to keep this activity as an off the beaten path one!
Is your center involved in any environmental work?
We care about the environment and we are trying to reduce our footprint. No plastic cups and bags, no chemicals in the cenotes. We are helping and working with the local Mayan community to minimize our waste.
Are there any exciting changes / developments coming up in the near future?
We are very happy and proud to have very competitive pricing. Having a high demand, we are doing way better in our offer for the people willing to have a very private experience to celebrate birthdays, honeymoons and special days in the cenotes. As our team of instructors is getting bigger, it’s easier to separate private divers from the other divers. We are into diversifying our offer to match with the demand. Keeping the quality and the safety as our main concern.
How do you see the SCUBA / Freediving / snorkeling industry overall? What changes would you make?
From what we can see in the Riviera Maya, tourism activity is increasing. This region is the pearl of Mexican tourism. Radical measures should be taken to allow this blooming to be regulated in order to respect the nature. Unfortunately, the educative ‘pink’ approach is not working anymore – my humble opinion.
From the Airport on arrival to the departure day, the tourist should be hammered with preventive (and punitive) measures to make sure the preservation and protection of the environment is ensured.
Finally, what would you say to our visitors to promote the diving you have to offer?
Cenote diving is a different way of diving. The open water certification is more than enough to enjoy this very amazing adventure. We have seen a lot of divers never going back to “normal” ocean diving after having experienced Cenote Diving 😊
Where can our visitors find out more about your business?
WhatsApp messages only: +52 984 100 78 65
Ultimate Raja Ampat – The Last Paradise (Part 3 of 3)
When you visit a place like Raja Ampat over 11 days you really have a lot to talk about. The biodiversity and landscape of the region are inspiring and this is why it’s taken me three blog articles to explain how wonderful this experience was. If you haven’t had the chance already to read the previous two blogs, you can find them here: Part One and Part Two.
After a crossing of around 14 hours – quicker due to a southerly current working with the boat – we found ourselves in Farondi diving Razorback Rock, Anchovy, Nudi Rock (yes, it looks like a nudibranch) and a night dive at Yilliet Slope. I have to admit, it was the south and around Misool that I was really looking forward to on the trip, but it didn’t really get off to the best start and never lived up to the high standards further north had set. To be frank, this was more down to the weather really and the visibility wasn’t brilliant.
A storm meant the dives were pretty dark and in fact, the dive at Anchovy in particular was more like a night dive than a day dive. Unfortunately, we can’t control the weather and on other days these sites could have delivered a lot more. The sea fans on each dive were equally as impressive as further north, and I’d probably say more abundant. The dark atmosphere did mean I could try some fun and different shots with clownfish in anemones but I probably should have switched to macro quicker that day. There are always fun critters to find on every dive site and Nudi Rock showed just that, with a few sea fans being infested with skeleton shrimp. While I’ve seen skeleton shrimp before, I’d never seen anything like this; every bit of the fan was covered. There must have been thousands and it was quite fitting that it was actually Halloween as well.
After a moody day, where I’m guessing the weather gods were celebrating Halloween, I finally switched to macro on the night dive and my photography was rewarded for it. An elusive pygmy squid started the dive but didn’t allow me to get a photo with its tricky movements. Still fun to watch and see, before once again, nudibranch were the stars of the show. A free swimming black and orange flatworm mesmerised mid-water, but it was a super tiny nudibranch of only around a centimetre long that I admired most and took some time to photograph. Then it was the turn of crustaceans once again. A couple of different types of decorator crab, a couple of lobster species and a whip coral shrimp finished off the dive after the sea slug starter.
The next day, the wide-angle opportunities improved drastically. Although, rather annoyingly, I stuck with macro on the first dive at Neptune’s Fan Sea. I hadn’t seen a Denise pygmy seahorse before and was desperate to get a shot of one before the trip was over. This site was a great opportunity. It was sea fan heaven, but that does mean there’s a lot more places to look. The topography was incredible on the dive, a cliff of sea fans greeted us and made wide angle a good option. It was such a relaxing dive with a small school of bumphead parrotfish making the occasional pass, and the soft coral formations continued in huge numbers and were so impressive. I did manage a couple of nice nudibranch shots but the seahorse remained elusive for our group.
I decided to switch back to wide angle for Four Kings and that was certainly the right choice. A swarm of jellyfish greeted us on the dive and made it one of the most memorable of the trip. There was so much life around the pinnacles as the fish life danced a merry dance. The game of dodge the jellyfish entertained throughout and it was interesting to see as they’d get trapped on the sea fans. Something I’d never experienced before on such an incredible dive site. Barracuda point finished off the day’s diving in relaxing style, with a stunning top reef. Yes, I saw my first two Denise pygmy seahorses here, but no, I had my wide angle on. It was a great site for photographing lionfish though and there was a small school of barracuda giving the site its name.
Although “The Jellyfish Dive” was an amazing highlight of the day, it wasn’t actually diving that finished the day in style. A sunset cruise in Wayilbatan delivered those feels. You know the ones, when you’re in a beautiful place, at a beautiful time and with only a handful of people. You get that completely content feeling and just forget all your worries and live for that moment. It was a spontaneous trip out as well, as the itinerary was to trek to Love Lagoon. However, the guests on the trip before advised it would probably be best to take it off the itinerary for a bit. Unfortunately, with a forced Covid break and lack of maintenance care, the stairs have become slightly dangerous for trekking. The alternative didn’t disappoint and in fact excelled. An exploratory journey, where even the crew didn’t really know where we were going, took us to some breathtaking views with an amazing sunset backdrop. The glass like sea provided the perfect stage with its mirror like reflections. Then in the shallows we could see every bit of coral and life we passed, before tilting your head and following the cliff face up to amazing limestone islands covered in lush green rainforest. Just beautiful!!
With only two days and six dives left, one of my main goals was to photograph a Denise pygmy seahorse. I was in a catch 22 though, there were some memorable wide-angle dives to come. Starting with Boo Window and the arch swim through creating a dramatic image with a diver. I was happy with those wide-angle photos, but guess what? We did see a pygmy again. Still, I wasn’t to be defeated and we also had the friendliest hawksbill turtle on the dive too.
Next up was Shadow Reef (a.k.a Magic Mountain), in the hope to see the majestic Oceanic manta rays. We entered through a concentrated section of bad visibility and then the weather also changed with a storm passing over while we were below. It went dark underwater once more and unfortunately there were no mantas to be seen during the dive. It was still such a special dive site with schooling jackfish, a small school of batfish, another friendly hawksbill, Napoleon wrasse and my first whitetip reef sharks of the trip.
I had to switch to macro and hope for a pygmy at Whale Rock. No such luck unfortunately, but it was an amazing macro dive with numerous crustaceans and my favourite photos of whip coral shrimp. A Pikachu nudibranch was another great nudibranch find by one of my dive buddies. There might have been no seahorse due to skeleton shrimp infesting all the sea fans, but I was really happy with the macro photography success on this dive.
The night dive at Romeo carried on with the magnificent macro theme. We were there to try and see a walking shark again but unfortunately it remained elusive on this dive. Typical, when I have all my equipment working! However, a friendly cuttlefish, some pygmy squid and more crustaceans made the dive memorable still. Can I get to photograph a Denise pygmy with only two dives left?? I really hope so…
We finished our diving in Raja Ampat at Tank Rock and Boo West. I was advised both dives would be preferably wide angle. I knew I needed to stick to macro though, with seeing three Denise pygmies previously while shooting wide angle. I didn’t want to miss the opportunity before I left Raja Ampat. Then, as the dive started, I began to lose hope once again. Skeleton shrimp filled the sea fans once more and I thought that would be enough to scare any seahorse to another site. BUT!! It wasn’t long before my guide Aghi worked his magic and found a beautiful little Denise pygmy seahorse for me to photograph. Phew!!! The pressure was off for the dive early on, but now I just needed to get a photo of these difficult to photograph critters. Skeleton shrimp were still sharing the sea fan with the seahorse and parts of them tended to get in the way but without a nice composition of both. I did manage to get some decent in focus shots and my diving in Raja Ampat was complete. Mission successful for another new species for me. An orangutan crab and some nice photos of the skeleton shrimp completed the dive before a switch back to wide angle for Boo West.
While the visibility wasn’t great (but not terrible) for the final dive, it was another stunning dive in paradise, with once again amazing sea fans littering the reef wall in pristine condition. Then came my favourite schooling fish to see, as what must have been around a hundred batfish/spadefish were seen cruising in the current. Such an amazing sight, with a couple of blacktip reef sharks also coming to say goodbye. The real surprise and the memorable moment of the dive came from a tiny cuttlefish that was just bobbing around in the blue away from the reef. I really wasn’t expecting to see it there, as I caught it in the corner of my eye. It took me a second to confirm I wasn’t seeing things but sure enough it was there. It was super friendly and came right up to my mask and I can only hope it stayed safe away from the protection of the reef once we left.
I’d been desperate to visit Raja Ampat for so long and thankfully it didn’t disappoint. La Galigo was the perfect vessel, with the perfect hosts to explore the area with that really made my time extra special. It’s certainly a place I won’t just want to visit once. I could see myself returning again and again and still being amazed by all the things I’d see. I ticked off so many new species in this biodiversity hotspot and took countless photos.
I now had a long journey home of two days, with 22 hours in Jakarta airport. I wasn’t fazed though, as I had so many photos to go through to keep me entertained and those memories kept me smiling throughout the journey. I’d recommend everyone (not just divers) to put Raja Ampat on your travel bucket list. It really is a true paradise and I can perfectly understand where the nickname – “The Last Paradise” comes from.
For more information about diving in Raja Ampat:
Whatsapp: +62 812 2000 2025
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