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Tulamben, Bali: USAT Liberty, Bumpheads and Bargibanti



The smell of stale pee hung like a miasma in the still early morning air over the entry point to the USAT Liberty Wreck in Tulamben. It was still dark at 5.45am when we crept out of our beautifully cool veranda villa in the Mimpi Boutique Hotel Resort for our eagerly anticipated Bump Head Parrot fish encounter. We walked along the sea wall that protects the beach front resorts from the ravages of the ocean, crunching over the black stone volcanic rubble in our sandals as the sky lightened and the sea began to glow.







Tulamben is a small resort village in the East Coast of Bali, nestled against the towering Mt Agung, one of Bali’s three active volcanoes. It depends almost entirely on divers for its income who come to explore the wreck of the USAT Liberty, a deliberately beached WW2 ship that was landlocked for 20 years until 1963 when the volcano erupted, killing over a thousand people and finally sinking the ship. It now lies in a depth varying from just 6m down to 28m of water, wedged against the undersea slope.

With natural disaster always lurking in the background, and an active volcano to propitiate, the Balinese practice a very active form of animist Hinduism in their daily lives. They surround themselves with well tended gardens and natural beauty. Even the most humble dwelling often has an exquisite pot or planting on the pavement, and almost every family has a temple, or sacred place. Daily offerings are made to the gods of earth, wind, water and fire. It is almost as though the Balinese are afraid their environment will suddenly disappear, so they make everything beautiful while they can, asking help from their gods to keep their world safe.

There are divers swarming over the wreck from 7am when the porters arrive to carry the tanks to the ocean side, until 10pm when the last night divers surface. Incredibly, where every dive entry point we visited had gear washing facilities, ablutions and loos, this one with the most diver traffic has only a few bamboo platforms to kit up on, hence the stench of pee. All the gear is carried from the resorts on the heads of the staunch Balinese women porters.

35 year old Nengah carries 2 sets of kit on her head

Ages range from 24 to 50 years old, and most of the women are married with children. They move in a circuit, from kit-up and ablution area with full kits to entry point returning with empty cylinders. They are paid by the dive Operators through the Dive Guides and most have worked for the 11 years since the system’s inception.

We met Parman, our personal dive guide, at the restaurant rendezvous and he was on his cell to a friend with a motorcycle to organise for our gear to be transported the 200m to the entry point, as it was too early for the porters. We strapped on our weight belts, picked up our fins and wearing our Rockies over our booties we stumbled across the stones and boulders to the entry point. After 30min, no gear, the sun was showing and the dive boats had arrived, depositing 20 divers onto the wreck.  By 6:30am it was clearly too late for the parrot fish encounter, but the gear arrived and we kitted up anyway.

The Bump Heads sleep in the wreck and we had seen one on our night dive the previous evening, sleeping under an overhang. They leave at sunrise to disperse across the reef, grazing on the coral and trying to convert the black volcanic silt to white coral sand with their droppings. A single Bumphead consumes 5 tonnes of coral in a year. You rarely find them in the wreck after sunrise. Surprisingly Parman finned away from the Liberty. We soon saw why. As we reached the 11m coral line, 43 Bumphead Parrot fish arrived for breakfast. Like a bovine herd, they hung beside us, benignly sleepy-eyed, the little ones pushing and shoving at each other while the gigantic herd bull tried to maintain order. He had an enormous bump, so big there was room for a tenacious remora, which clung optimistically to the edge of it.

Side on they are huge, but they are almost two dimensional, as they are very narrow creatures. As young fish they are a drab grey, but as they get older and bigger, their colour lightens to an exquisite turquoise blue with rich blue fin outlines. When the dominant male in an area dies, the largest female changes her sex and gains the stature and ponderous gravitas of an elder statesman, taking over the role of herd bull. There can be only one male in any area.

We headed back to the Liberty and plunged straight down to 34m, where Parman expected to find the exquisite minute pink pygmy seahorse. At this depth our bottom time was limited, so we had 8 minutes to find him. As the deco warnings on our computers began to flash Parman’s rattle sounded, and there he was. Minutely exquisite, clinging tenaciously to his Gorgonian Fan, we saw the Pink Pygmy Seahorse, (Hipocampus Bargibanti) and then to top off a perfect dive, the Dragon Shrimp ((Phyllognatha ceratophthalmus).







We ascended through the wreck, passing stunning hard and soft corals, Catfaced Rock Cod, dozens of unfamiliar butterfly fishes, two relaxed Regal Angelfish and a huge Malabar rock cod. There were several beautiful Oriental Sweet lips relaxing on the sand against a fallen boom, with hungry goatfish burrowing in the sand around them. A patch of garden eels waved in the slight current as we ascended, and to complete a perfect dive, a huge school of kingfish circled us overhead, hoping we would stir up a meal for them at the 3m mark.

We trudged back for breakfast through an oregano field filled with grazing goats, and were stunned by the ancient wisdom of a nation that had the foresight to pre-season its meat. Every meal we had in Bali was deliciously seasoned, elegantly served by exquisite Balinese hostesses and the most expensive dish, pre-ordered Bali Roast Goose was around £2.50 per person, for 3 courses.







Words: Jill Holloway

Images: David Holloway

Copyright: Ocean Spirit

Jill Holloway lives in Mauritius and at Sodwana Bay Isimangaliso Wetland Park in South Africa. A PADI qualified Nitrox diver with over 1,500 dives, she is a passionate observer and preserver of the marine environment, and has a database of over 35,000 fish pics and hundreds of Gopro videos on fish behaviour, which she shares with her readers.

Gear Reviews

Gear Review: Mares EOS LRZ Torch Range



What does LRZ stand for I hear you ask? The answer is: LED lights, Rechargeable, Zoomable. Mares have created a versatile set of seven underwater lights in the new range to suit all needs and budgets.

I tested the most powerful of them – the EOS 32LRZ at Capernwray on a cold but bright spring day. I was diving with Alex Mustard, and so all the underwater images are by him, showing me trying out the torch in both the shallows and in some of the wrecks at this site.

All the torches in the new line have an LED visual battery charge indicator that allows you to keep the battery level under control.

Want to use it out of the water? No problem! The new EOS LRZ torches feature an innovative temperature control system that allows you to use them both underwater and on land. I can see myself using this on gloomy dog walks later in the year!

As you can see from the video I filmed just after getting back from a dive, the torch is easy to use, even with thick gloves in cold water. The zoomable light beam means that you can highlight a particular spot, or have a wide beam, which is great for both modeling for a photographer, and exploring different underwater environments.

The EOS 32LRZ has a powerful beam with 3200 lumens of power and 135 minutes of burn time. Perfect for some of the darker dives you can experience in the UK, but also for exploring overhead or enclosed environments. I easily got 2 long dives out of a single charge, and then was able to recharge it in my car using a USB cable on the way home, ready for the next day of diving.

The look and feel of these torches are great. In your hand you can feel the quality of the torches. They are solid and well built. They also look great. Each torch in the range comes with a padded case to keep them safe during transport.

For more, visit the Mares website by clicking here.

All underwater images by Alex Mustard

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Marine Life & Conservation

Reef-World launches Green Fins Japan!



The Reef-World Foundation, the Onna Village Diving Association, the local government, and Oceana are delighted to announce that Japan is now the 14th country globally to implement the Green Fins initiative – a UN Environment Programme initiative. Onna Village in Okinawa is the first Japanese tourist destination to adopt Green Fins environmental standards to reduce the threats associated with diving and snorkelling on the marine environment.

Green Fins is piloted in Onna Village, Okinawa prefecture, an area renowned for its marine sports and has been working to protect its reefs for many years. Green Fins is implemented as part of the national Sustainable Development Goals project, which aims to manage and illustrate to the local industry how sustainable tourism can play a role in reef conservation. The economic benefits of the reefs benefit not only the fisheries industry but also the tourism industry as it has rocketed in recent decades.

If the project is successful – proving the value of sustainable tourism – the model has the potential to be escalated to a national level. A wide rollout would allow Reef-World to focus on uptake and expansion into other marine tourism and biodiversity hotspots across Japan. Green Fins implementation in Japan would provide practical solutions to many of the common problems faced in the area. It would also help to promote high standards for diving in the country. Improving the quality of the diving industry through Green Fins would demonstrate the added value of Onna Village’s tourism product. This, in turn, will encourage tourists to spend more time and money diving in the region.

Following a week of training by Reef-World (23 to 28 May 2022), Japan now has a national Green Fins team comprised of four fully certified Green Fins Assessors and two Green Fins Coordinators from Oceana and the local government. They will be responsible for recruiting, assessing, training and certifying dive and snorkel operators to become Green Fins members in the country. This involves providing training about the ecology and threats to coral reefs, simple and local everyday solutions to these threats and Green Fins’ environmental standards to dive and snorkel operators. Green Fins membership will help marine tourism operators improve their sustainability and prove they are working hard to follow environmental best practices as a way of attracting eco-minded tourists.

James Harvey, Director at The Reef-World Foundation, said: “We are really excited to finally introduce Green Fins in Japan. We have been planning this for almost three years, but the travel restrictions related to the pandemic hindered progress. The diving industry in Okinawa and the marine life upon which it has been built is so unique, it must be preserved for generations to come. The Okinawa diving community is very passionate about protecting their marine environment, and Green Fins has given them an opportunity to collectively work to reduce their environmental impact and pursue exemplary environmental standards.”

Diving and snorkelling related damage to sensitive marine ecosystems, including coral reefs, is becoming an increasingly significant issue. This damage makes them less likely to survive other local and wider stressors, such as overfishing or plastic debris and the effects of climate change. Based on robust individual assessments, the Green Fins initiative helps identify and mitigate these risks by providing environmental consultation and support to dive and snorkel operators. Through Green Fins implementation in Japan, Reef-World aims to reduce negative environmental impacts in the region by reaching 10 marine tourism operators, training 50 dive guides and raising awareness of sustainability best practices among 10,000 tourists in the first year.

Yuta Kawamoto, CEO of Oceana, said: “Green Fins will help to unify all the conservation efforts in Okinawa by applying the guidelines in many areas and raising tourists awareness. We hope this will increase the sustainable value in the diving industry and in turn increase the diving standards in the country.”

Green Fins is a UN Environment Programme initiative, internationally coordinated by The Reef-World Foundation, which aims to protect and conserve coral reefs through environmentally friendly guidelines to promote a sustainable diving and snorkelling tourism industry. Green Fins provides the only internationally recognised environmental standards for the diving and snorkelling industry and has a robust assessment system to measure compliance.

To date, four dive operators in Onna Village have joined the global network of 600+ trained and assessed Green Fins members. These are: Benthos Divers, Okinawa Diving Center, Arch Angel and Pink Marlin Club. There has also been significant interest from other operators, even those that are not located in Onna Village, for Green Fins training and assessment.

Suika Tsumita from Oceana said: “Green Fins serve as an important tool for local diving communities to move towards a more sustainable use of their dive sites; so that they can maintain their scenic beauty and biological richness to provide livelihoods for many generations to come.”

For more information, please visit or Dive and snorkel operators interested in signing up for Green Fins can find the membership application form at:

Dive and snorkel operators in Japan interested in signing up to be Green Fins members can contact the Green Fins Japan team at

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