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The allure of Alor

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Diving in Alor and the surrounding islands brings rich variety to any dive trip, not only from the different types of dive sites there are to choose from but also the wealth of marine life to be found. As the nutrient-saturated currents flow through the Pantar Strait they bring with them fuel for corals and fish; enough to support an abundance of creatures and subsequently the numerous villages dotted about the islands.

Life buzzes all around, schools of fish sway in the tides and tiny odd-shaped creatures find a place to camouflage from predators. As fishermen go about their day, young children laugh and splash in the shallow water from their tiny dug-out boats and the ladies supplement the family income through ikat weaving sales. It is impossible to put a finger upon one thing that makes diving in Alor so attractive, it is the whole that comes together to bring a wondrous experience.

Critter Diving

Beangabanga small inlet bay in the south west of the Pantar Strait, offers dives along a dark sand slope dotted with soft corals, anemones and algae where all manner or odd creatures have made their homes. As we back-rolled in an instant hit of cold water raced down my 5mm wetsuit. Brrr its only 23C but in a moment this is forgotten as the critter hunt begins. Day dives brought forth frogfish in a range of colours and sizes, Ambon scorpionfish, too many snake eels to keep count, flabellina, armina, and thecacera nudibranchs, a whole host of decorator crabs, numerous crinoid shrimps and squat lobsters, Tozuma shrimp, seahorses, sea moths and harlequin crabs. During our night dive I lost count of the vast numbers of octopus we spotted scurrying about and a couple of bobbit worms poked menacingly out of the sand … if you have seen the recent Blue Planet 2 episodes you’ll understand we were a little afraid!

Pak Jan’s Villageon the north of Pura Island, is probably one of the most iconic sites within the strait itself. This is famed as a critter hotspot and it was here we eagerly anticipated seeing the delightful Rhinopias. We spotted both Weedy and Paddleflap varieties during our dives dive, along with ornate ghost pipefish, ribbon eels, crinoid cuttlefish, day octopus and squid. In the shallow, and slightly warmer water, groups of anemones were attended by clownfish, many of which had tongue parasites. Not so nice for the fish but macro photographer Annie was utterly thrilled for the opportunity to photograph this behaviour.

Mucky Mosquejust beyond the entrance to Kalabahi Bay is a classic “muck dive”. Ropes, clothing and other man-made debris can be found along the sloping reef, caught up around sponges and algae to provide homes for all manner of odd-shaped creatures. Thorny seahorses, colourful ceratasoma nudibranchs, zebra crabs, colemani shrimp, crinoid cuttlefish, squid and day octopus were among the favourite sightings. Whilst a night dive turned up a starry night octopus, frogfish and schools of razor fish. My favourite though, and a first time sighting for me, was the harlequin ghost pipefish.

Walls, Slopes & Seamounts

The coral laden walls of Pantar, Alor, Pura and Reta islands simply stun divers. Schools if triggerfish, surgeonfish and wrasse are the most common sightings but you can have the odd surprise of a manta ray or for us lucky few – a mola mola. At certain times of year schools of hammerheads can be seen cruising along the outer reefs too.

Valley of the Clowns was a definite favourite with our groups for its carpets of multi-hued anemones and resident anemone fish, porcelain crabs and commensal shrimps. Wobbegong sharks can also be found here and watching the sea apples feed is always fascinating.

Babylon Wall was quite probably my favourite of the wall dives as we found  provided an extra-special surprise when Indra found a microscopic example of the rare Rumigans Thread Pipehorse, otherwise known as the Lembeh sea-dragon, along with tiny “ladybugs” typically seen when diving southern Komodo. With a light current the many leopard anemones dotted along the walls open up to provide stunning scenery cryptic shrimps can be found amongst them but I’m still hunting for my first one of these critters.

Kal’s Dream, named after anthropologist Kal Mueller, is on the western side of Alor Kecil and is a stunning submerged seamount covered in soft corals, resembling cauliflower bulbs, as well as orange tube corals and a variety of hard coral species. The first thing to hit me was the noise. With thousands of fish all clicking away I was reminded of the sound whizzbangs make as they fizz on your tongue. Orange and purple anthias, neon-lined fusiliers and red-toothed triggerfish gathered in swarms over the reef slope, obscuring the almost crystal visibility. Become surrounded by schools of barracuda, batfish and powder blue surgeonfish as you swim down the ridges and look out for dogtooth tuna too.

Piers

Our liveaboard cruise took us from Maumere to Kupang so along the way we stopped for dives in Waiwawong. The pier here is totally laden with corals and a haven for schooling batfish and jacks, whilst the sandy slope is a great place to find short-tailed pipefish, frogfish, flying gurnards and octopus. For us nudi-spotters we spent most of the dive hunting over the fallen supports to find numerous red-lined flabellina, ceratosoma and eurobranchus species.

Beangabang also has a fabulous pier and in the year of diving the area we saw that the corals had grown and become very rich indeed, providing an ideal spot for some wide angle photography and another chance for the nudi hunters to rack up the trip tally.

Something Unique

The children in Alor, particularly those at Pak Jan’s Village, love divers – or perhaps the treats that the dive boats bring? Armed with just their homemade goggles and their wits they bravely skin dive down to where the divers, with cameras at the ready, rest on the sandy bottom. Their laughter on the surface is intoxicating and gives visitors a truly unique experience.

Getting there and Diving Options

Alor can be reached by short flight from Bali via Maumere or Kupang. There are a couple of resorts to choose from, each with highly experienced teams, particularly when it comes to hitting the right time for hammerheads. Alor can also be reached by liveaboard. Our groups dived with Damai 1 liveaboard from Maumere to Kupang, however there are a number of top quality liveaboards offering a variety of itineraries which include Alor.

When choosing sites it is very important to review tide charts and make another current check before getting in the water. You may experience upwellings or swift changes so bring a reef hook or be prepared to go with the flow.


Find out more at: www.dive-damai.com.

Susie has been enjoying the life of a dive instructor, travelling the world diving and teaching. Susie is somewhat of a liveaboard junkie after working as a cruise director in the Red Sea, the Philippines and Indonesia. She has also led trips to Fiji, Palau, Similans, Myanmar, East Timor, the Maldives and the Galapagos, yet she still finds time to do some shore based diving at her favourite sites in the Philippines too. Find Susie at www.heritagediving.com

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Get moving with the new RAID DPV training programs

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The thrill of speeding through the water behind a diver propulsion vehicle (DPV) is an experience that really gets the blood racing. Using a DPV provides divers both immense fun and the means to achieve goals that would be impossible without their use.

RAID is proud to announce the new two-tier DPV training program with certifications for DPV and Advanced DPV.

Why DPV and why now?
Recreational and technical divers are using DPVs to access sites that would be difficult to reach and explore using traditional propulsion methods; to help propel large amounts of heavy equipment; to increase the safety of dives in areas of strong current; or just for the pure exhilaration of shooting through the water at speed and performing underwater acrobatics.

By extending your capabilities and extending your range, using a DPV opens new vistas for exploration and fun.

DPV
This certification option is aimed at the recreational diver who wishes to learn how to use a DPV to enhance their diving by using mainly natural navigation.

Advanced DPV
This certification option is available to anyone who is familiar with longhose configuration, has logged a minimum of 20 dives and is certified as Navigation specialty divers.

This certification option is aimed at the slightly more experienced diver with preexisting navigational training and diving on a single, twin or sidemount setup with a longhose. Although this level is slightly more challenging, the more advanced navigation exercises provide an important base for more complex types of DPV diving within a team.

PREREQUISITES
You must:

  • Be a minimum of 12 years old.
  • Be certified as RAID Open Water 20, Junior Open Water or equivalent.

Just visit www.diveRAID.com to put some extra dash into your dives.

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Marine Life & Conservation

Beers raise cash for ocean clean-up

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The Driftwood Spars Brewery, a pioneering microbrewery based on the North Cornwall coast, is donating a percentage of all profits from its Cove range of beers to Fathoms Free, a certified charity which actively cleans the ocean around the Cornish peninsula.

Each purchase of the small-batch, craft beers – there are four different canned beers in the Cove range – will help generate funds to purchase a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) and fund retrieval dives; every brew will raise the equivalent cost of a fully-funded dive. 

Fathoms Free is a Cornwall-based charity whose day-to-day mission involves dives from their fast-response specialist vessel to recover ghost fishing gear; abandoned nets, pots, angling equipment and other plastic causes severe damage to the marine environment and the death of countless seabirds, seals, dolphins and other sea life.

The campaign to raise funds for an ROV is a new initiative which will take the clean-up work to a new level; the highly manoeuvrable underwater vehicle will be used to scour the seabed, harbours and remote parts of the coastline for abandoned fishing gear and other marine litter.

Project Manager Natallia Paliakova from Fathoms Free said: “Apart from helping us locate ghost gear underwater, the ROV will also be capable of recording underwater video which is always great for raising awareness about marine pollution issues.”

She added: “We are really excited to be partnering with The Driftwood Spars Brewery and appreciate the proactive support of Mike and his team in bringing the purchase of an ROV a step closer to reality.”

Head Brewer Mike Mason personally approached the charity after their work was featured on the BBC 2 documentary, ‘Cornwall with Simon Reeve’.    

He said: “As a keen surfer I am only too aware of the problem of marine litter and had heard about Fathoms Free, but seeing them in action prompted me to find a way of contributing. The scale of the challenge is scary, but the determination of organisations like Fathoms Free is inspiring.”

Photo by Beagle Media Ltd

Photo by Beagle Media Ltd

The Driftwood Spars Brewery was founded in 2000 in Trevaunance Cove, St Agnes; the microbrewery is just a few steps away from it’s co-joined brewpub, The Driftwood Spars; both pub and brewery are well-regarded far beyond the Cornish cove they call home. 

You can hear the waves and taste the salt on the air from the door of both brewery and pub, and the rough seas along the rugged North coast often throw up discarded nets and other detritus; Louise Treseder, Landlady of The Driftwood Spars and a keen sea swimmer, often collects washed up ghost gear on her daily beach excursions.     

Louise commented: “This is a great partnership to support a cause close to our hearts – I know the money we raise will have a positive and lasting impact. The Cove range was inspired by our unique surroundings and the artwork – by local artist Jago Silver – reflects that. Now donations from each purchase will contribute towards the vital ocean clean-up taking place right on our doorstep.”

The Cove range can currently be purchased online here, and is available in good independent bottle shops in Cornwall.

To find out more about Fathoms Free visit their website here.

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