that the area within a traingle connecting Indonesia, the
Philippines, and Papua New Guinea supports the greatest amount
of marine species in the world. When I try to think of one
phrase that best sums up my experience diving in Indonesia's
Sulawesi Sea, the description that immediately comes to mind
is "truly amazing diversity". No other place that I'd dived in
the past could even come remotely close to matching the
incredible variety of marine life that I found here.
I honestly believe
that it is no exaggeration to say that in the first 25 feet
of water of almost any given site, I encountered more species
than on 10 dives in the Caribbean. From Giant Frogfish (Antennarius
commerson) to Longnose Hawkfish (Oxycirrhites typus)
to Crocodile Fish (Cymbacephalus beauforti) to Pegasus
Seamoths (Eurypegasus draconis), the diversity of
species found in this region is simply mind-boggling.
During my three
weeks in Indonesia, I spent time diving three different
areas which each offered something unique. My first four
days were spent at Murex Dive Resort diving the sheer walls
of Bunaken Marine Park. Virtually every dive had a similar
feel here. The reef would come out from shore a few hundred
yards with virtually no sign of getting deeper,
only to reach a near vertical wall that would drop off to
hundreds of feet deep in the blink of an eye.
these were some of the most beautiful walls I've ever seen.
Creatures commonly encountered here included Raggy Scorpionfish
(Scorpaenopsis venosa), Ocellaris Clownfish (Amphiprion
ocellaris), and Humphead Parrotfish (Bolbometopon
muricatum). Also frequently found at most of Bunaken's
sites were a cornucopia of crinoids coming in virtually
every color imaginable.
Murex, I ventured on to Kungkungan Bay Resort (KBR). In
the past year or so, KBR has received a ton of press in
most of the American dive magazines. Hailed as the new mecca
of "macro muck-diving", I had very high expectations for
the diving and photo opportunities that I would find here.
Suffice it to say, I was not disappointed.
Texan Divemaster Larry Smith and his excellent group of Indonesian dive guides
really have the system downpat here. They have approximately 15 or 20 dive
sites that they regularly dive. Because of the fact that they
spend so much time diving the same group of sites, they really
begin to learn them like the backs of their hands. Additionally,
most of the unusual creatures found here are territorial and
rely on camouflage for survival which means more often than
not, they can be found in virtually the same location dive
after dive. When you combine these factors with the fact that
Larry and his guides have some of the best eyes for hard-to-find
creatures in the world, you have an underwater photographer's
divers to come to KBR with "Top Ten" lists of their dream
creatures. More often than not, divers will get 8 or 9 in
a given week.
the size of a football?"
"Not a problem."
"How about the
size of my thumbnail?"
"In what color?"
"How about yellow."
And so it goes.
What really makes
KBR so memorable is that after a few days, creatures that
are extremely rare almost everywhere else become the norm.
From Pegasus Seamoths to Fingered Dragonets (Dactylopus
dactylopus) to Cockatoo Waspfish (Ablabys taenianotus),
after a while, unless the animal is doing something unusual,
you don't even bother photographing it. At the beginning
of my stay at KBR, I marveled at how many of the other guests
brought down 2 different camera set-ups on each dive. After
a couple of dives, I understood. KBR is one of those special
places where 36 frames simply aren't enough.
The final ten
days of my trip to Indonesia were spent aboard the M/Y Crescent
diving the Sangihe-Talaud Islands. Unfortunately, luck was
not exactly on our side on this trip. We hit the windiest
10 days the crew of the Crescent had encountered in the
entire time they had been diving this area.
Because of this wind and the subsequent 6-8 foot seas it brought,
we were unable to dive a number of the region's best sites. However, the diving that
we did do wasn't totally disappointng. An unexpected encounter
with a school of about 15-20 Scalloped Hammerheads (Sphyrna
lewini) while diving an active underwater volcano was
certainly one of the highlights of the trip. Also, encounters
with Crocodilefish, a school of at least 35 Humphead Parrotfish
(Sphyrna lewini), and at least a dozen new (to me)
species of nudibranchs topped my list.
Now that I've
finally had the chance to dive the Western Pacific, diving
the Caribbean will never be the same. While there certainly
is worthwhile diving to be found there, I now understand
why so many of the divers that I've spoken with call the
diving in the Indo-Pacific the best in the world.