Spice Islands Expedition Part 2; The Oceans and The Islands
I have been remiss in sharing with you some thoughts and pictures of the ocean environment while on our recent Indonesian dive trip through the Flores and Banda Sea’s, and Southern Raja Ampat. I hit the ground with a significant thump upon arriving home after such an incredible diving trip and have struggled to get my fingers attached to the keyboard!
Let me say this – the diving in this region of Indonesia is without any doubt the best I’ve ever experienced. It’s spectacular. I have been spoilt now for the rest of my life. If I had to sum it up briefly so you don’t need to read the rest of my rant below, come here for the unbelievable marine bio-diversity, the sheer number of fish in the oceans, the variety and number of dive sites, the beautiful corals and fans (they are everywhere – and wow) and it’s not crowded. Over the 40 dives completed, we did only one dive where there was another boat on the same reef we were diving. Magic.
So what’s it like diving this part of Indonesia? There are currents, a lot of currents, that feed through corridors between islands and over and around bombies, sweeping nutrients that feed the reef as it falls into the welcoming arms of hundreds of sea fans. They stretch out from either wall to ensnare passing food and are present in a dizzying array of colours. Bright oranges, luminescent yellow, deep purple and vital green combine to launch an all-out assault on your senses.
Even in conditions of mediocre visibility (which you get some days because the sea here is so rich in these nutrients) the effect can be stunning. Depending on the current, you may either drift past this jutting, multi-coloured army of webs, or, if calm, you can stop and discover the little gems that call these great walls home (you can’t help but fall in love with the huge variety of nudibranchs – they are stunning!).
Along the walls (and believe me, the walls are epic) are an amazing variety of soft corals in every colour imaginable – orange, green, yellow and purple, small fans, foxtail corals and whip corals. In the deeper sections are masses of large pink, lilac and purple gorgonian fans and sea fans, green branching cup corals and sheet corals with barrel sponges abundant. Really – this place is unbelievable.
With current and nutrient-rich water, the dive sites are thick with fish, dizzyingly so. Hundreds of slender fusiliers and giant fusiliers fall cascading down the wall. At 20 metres, you’ll come across another overhang with fans, and purple wire corals, protective shelter for juvenile coral demoiselles and yellowtail damsels. Ringed pipefish and ringtail cardinalfish watch out at you from their safe hiding holes. Lion and scorpion fish are common.
6-banded angelfish and blue-girdled angelfish weave amongst the branches of coral whilst orange-spotted trevally stalk past looking for their next meal. Redtooth triggerfish and schooling bannerfish school off the reef in their hundreds. Surgeonfish, napoleonfish sleek unicornfish, and many species of snapper – humpback, red, black and white and one-spot – all aggregate in large numbers here, as well as resident blue dash fusiliers swarming around you in large numbers.
It is common to spot a marauding legion of bumphead parrotfish here, crunching hard corals with their impressive teeth. In the same shallow water, green turtles are often seen while eating or swimming to the surface to get a breath of fresh air. There are also larger species to be seen away from the wall in the channel. Schools of jacks, giant trevallies, barracuda and tuna are voracious predators. Mobula rays and occasionally passing eagle and manta rays dazzle your senses. Sharks were spotted on almost every dive – and they get close! It’s beautiful to be in a region where the ocean accepts you as part of its environment
Despite all of these fascinating creatures both large and small, it is the spectacular colourful scheme that will most likely impress you and etch this underwater wonderland deep in your diving memory.
There are some interesting and unexpected dives in the area – do a bit of a google search on Indonesian jellyfish lakes and you’ll find inland water bodies that are brackish and filled with non-stinging jellyfish. Swimming through these jello infested waters will freak you out, no really, try it!
The ocean journeys where just as spectacular. Crossing the Banda Sea with the sun going down and a large pod of whales breaching not far from the boat with a cold beer in hand was a magical moment on the trip!
The islands themselves are stunning with crystal clear waters through the channels allowing for near perfect viability – from the boat… Islands in their thousands were covered in lush jungle with palm trees protecting white sand beaches.
So, would I recommend this region of our planet for a dive trip? Yes; it’s hard to get to, but that’s why it’s so bloody spectacular. This is a dive bucket list must.
Footnote – credit for the underwater photos goes to Justin Troiano, our dive master, organiser of fun and generally all round good guy. My Canon 5D isn’t that big on swimming…