Senin, 27 Juli 2009


Bunaken Island has become an icon of the city of Manado, and indeed of North Sulawesi, since an underwater paradise was discovered by several North Sulawesi diving pioneers, among them Loky Herlambang and Ricky Lasut. The vertical coral reefs that seem to go down forever immediately made Bunaken one of the world’s favorite diving venues. The underwater walls of Pulau Bunaken are full of colorful corals and exotic fish.

Like mushrooms in the rainy season, in the mid 1990s diving resorts sprouted up along the beaches of Malalayang and Molas, not far from the Manado city center. Bunaken is now home to dozens of diving resorts; over 30 diving operators are eager to take you on a dive trip to Bunaken every day.

The run over to Bunaken takes only around 50 minutes on a motorboat specially designed to accommodate diving tourists. As long as the seas are fairly calm and the sun is gently shining, it’s an ideal time for those who want to sunbathe before the sun’s rays get too fierce.

There are more than 12 diving sites around Pulau Bunaken. Some of these dive sites are characterized by steep walls quite densely covered

with coral to a depth of 40 meters.

Others are more gently sloping but covered even more densely with coral. Typically one will see many types of reef fish – butterfly fish, wrasses, angelfish, snapper, surgeonfish, damselfish, anthias, parrotfish, groupers, and fusiliers, as well as pelagic species such as barracuda, mackerel and tuna. Shark species are also occasionally encountered, and gobies and rays hiding in the sand. There are also small caves that are great places for photography.

If you’re lucky, you may also see marine mammals such as whales and dolphins passing through. Bunaken Maritime National Park has over 2000 species of reef fish and 58 genera of coral.

The tides at Bunaken are not usually very strong, though occasionally one must be prepared to deal with rapidly changing tides. With information and direction from an experienced diving guide, diving at Bunaken is quite safe. The water temperature is comfortable the year round, averaging between 27 and 30 degrees Celsius.

bunaken21The diving spot we chose this morning is Lekuan I, just off Lekuan village on Bunaken Island. Lekuan I is a series of underwater walls that is part of the same diving route as two other dive sites, Lekuan II and Lekuan III.

From the surface, I could see far into the depths: steep, seemingly bottomless walls, with deep blue sea on the right and walls covered with corals on the left. Our dive started by exploring to a depth of around 20 meters, examining the coral-covered walls; it felt as if we were flying along the side of a colorful skyscraper. A great swarm of yellow-and-white pyramid butterfly fish suddenly appeared, in such numbers as to almost block our way. The visibility at this point was over 20 meters; from this depth, we could still see the surface clearly. The visibility at Bunaken is extraordinary; often up to 30 meters, a diver’s dream. But you mustn’t let this visibility lull you into a false sense of security, feeling that you’re at a shallow depth and therefore safe. In addition to the colorful reef fish, in this dive we also saw leaf fish and hawk fish, with their nearly perfect camouflage.

The local community and the tourism operators at Bunaken recognize that they have a valuable asset here, which can easily be damaged if diving boats drop their anchors carelessly.

For this reason, the boats operating in this area are not allowed to drop their anchors just anywhere; instead, mooring buoys are provided for the boats to stop at. One of these is at the Fukui diving site.

This diving site is quite different from Lekuan. Here we found an expanse of coral creating a rather gentle slope. The coral cover was fairly thick, though at certain spots we found places that showed signs of past damage. The main attraction at the Fukui dive site is the giant clams. After admiring these clams, we continued our dive, taking a route to the right.

Unexpectedly, we encountered a school of barracuda.

The aim of our next dive was to discover and document a species of pygmy sea horse, a tiny creature that lives in symbiosis with a species of gorgonian (sea fan) at relatively low depths.

We were specifically looking not for the common type of pygmy sea horse, but the Pontoh’s Pygmy Sea Horse. This tiny sea horse was discovered a few years ago by a diving guide from Manado named Hence Pontoh and has since then been known by the species name Pontohi.

bunaken31It is not well known and is believed to be a new species; it lives not on the gorgonian but rather in the cracks between the coral. We headed to a dive site on the west side of Pulau Bunaken, not far from the Mandolin dive site.

Diving to a depth of around 15 meters, we came to a cluster of coral.

After examining the reef centimeter by centimeter for around ten minutes, suddenly we saw a small creature wiggling its head to catch something in the water; it was a Pontohi, eating. We had finally discovered this rare creature. This tiny sea horse, no more than 1 cm in length, constantly moves its head to catch any food in the water.

I first went diving at Bunaken in 1992, but its attractions never cease to amaze me. Bunaken’s success in conserving and even enhancing the reefs’ esthetic value has made it a valuable asset for Indonesia and the world.

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