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Return to Lembeh – North Sulawesi, 26 – 31 Dec 2012

Lembeh Resort

Lembeh Resort

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Lembeh Resort

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Second time to the luxurious Lembeh Resort, also booked through critters@lembeh. We were arranged adjourning garden rooms, which were very conveniently near the restaurant. :-) SL took her advanced open water with patient Lauren, it was a good time to tune up her buoyancy and dive confidence.

Fandy was our guide for most of our dives there. It was good to see that he had gained much experience since our last trip to Buyat and still very enthusiastic about his job. :-) The dive guides will record all the critters we saw during the dive on the dive slate, guests can conveniently take a photo of the dive slate. :-) At check-out, the dive centre will prepare a list of the dive sites that we had visited.

After being transferred from Bangka, it was in the mid afternoon, so we went for a check-out dive at the house reef. Saw anemone shrimp, pipefish, signal goby, pinnate batfish, coral crab and nudibranch.

The sweet LR staffs brought a surprise birthday cake to our room for T’s bday!

27 Dec 12

Nudi Retreat 2 – strong current. Whip coral shrimp, pygmy seahorse, octopus and nudibranch. TK3 – crab with fire urchin, devil scorpionfish, stonefish, a pregnant seahorse, mantis shrimp, baby filefish, figered dragonet, stargazer snake eel, emperor shrimp hitching a ride on the nudibranch and box crab. Aer Prang 2 – coconut octopus, slender pipefish, black saddle snake eel, orangutan  crab, zebra batfish, cuttlefish, baby sweetlips, nudibranch, commensal shrimp. Dusk dive – Mandarin dive – mandarin fishes hiding amongst broken staghorn corals – only 1 pair mated, flatworm, dwarf cuttlefish.

Emperor shrimp hitching a ride

Emperor shrimp hitching a ride

28 Dec 2012

Tanjung Kubur – Porcelain crab, robust ghostpipefish, zebra batfish, napoleon snake eel, juvenile barramundi cod, juvenile bi-color parrotfish, zebra oyster, nudibranch, BLUE RING Octopus! Critter Hunt – scorpionfish, jawfish, velvet ghostpipefish, moray eel, blue ribbon eel, cuttefish, cowfish, pygmy seahorse, moray eel, pinnate batfish, solar powered nudibranch (spotted by me!), nudibranch, mantis shrimp with eggs! (finally!). Pintu Colada 2 – scorpionfish, blue spotted stingray, juvenile barramundi cod, banded pipefish, razorfish, seamoth, baby filefish, black ribbon eel, peacock mantis shrimp, pale chin moray eel, snow flake moray eel. Night dive –  Jahir 1 – carpet sole, cuttlefish, scorpionfish, blue spotted stingray, squid, painted frogfish, fireworm, flounder, cockatoo waspfish, robust ghost pipefish, spanish dancer, longhorn cowfish, moon head sea slug.

Blue Ring Octopus - BRO

Blue Ring Octopus – BRO

29 Dec 2012

Hairball 2 – Fingered dragonet, napoleon snake eel, orangutan crab, star grazer snake eel, flounder, crinoid crab, devil scorpionfish, hairy frogfish, scorpionfish, warty frogfish, peacock mantis shrimp, cockatoo waspfish, cowfish, nudibranch. Makawide 2 – banded tozeuma shrimp (1st time!), ornate ghostpipefish, fimbriated moray eel, thorny seahorse, orangutan crab, painted frogfish, spiny squat lobster, nudibranch, harlequinn sweetlips. House Reef –  double ended pipefish, pipefish, barramundi cod, LEMBEH SEA DRAGON (!!!), spiny squat lobster, unicornfish, harlequinn sweetlips.

Spot the LEMBEH SEADRAGON!

Spot the LEMBEH SEADRAGON!

30 Dec 2012 – Guide: Ramly

Pulau Abadi (a working harbour) – flambouyant cuttlefish eggs, baby flambouyant cuttlefish, sea spider, peacock mantis shrimp, nudibranch. Aer Bajo 3 – 3 tiger shrimps! A pair of ambon scorpionfishs, emperor shrimp, fingered dragonet, crab on fire urchin.

More photos here

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Tiger Shrimps!

First Time to Pulau Bangka – North Sulawesi, 23 – 26 Dec 2012

We were about to leave home, when I suddenly remembered that I had forgotten my underwater torch, scrambled around and after a 10 mins search, finally found it… The better-half/ driver/ dive buddy was pissed that I had left the packing to the last minute. The Silkair flight was over-booked; luckily we had done the internet check-in on Thursday. The flight was uneventful, except that my neighbors were laughing very loudly while watching Gags for Laugh. Borneo looked very green from the air and there were lots of river meandering through it, at the coast, the rivers brought silt into the ocean.

We were promptly picked up by the staffs of Murex Bangka at the Manado Airport and the drive from the Manado Airport to near Paradise Hotel (which was under renovation), was about 1hr, through picturesque little villages, with their numerous small churches and colourful cemeteries. Boat ride across the strait was about 25mins, through choppy seas. Murex Bangka is situated at a beautiful white-sand beach about 300m, on the left side, the surf was strong, the right side was calmer. My bro D and sis-in-law SL went for a quick snorkel around the area, it was quite nice. Our rooms were large and comfortable, equipped with ceiling fan and mosquito net.

Songra was our dive guide for our trip and he was quite good at his job. D had also developed a good set of eyes for spotting critters.

23rd Dec – 1st dive: Tiga Batu (means 3 rocks), about 15 mins left of the resort. The surge was very strong near the rocks. We saw reef cuttlefish, a pair of brown robust ghost pipefish, 2 hippocampus briganti , D spotted 2 cleaner shrimps in a crevice, an orange frogfish, clown frogfish.

2nd Dive –  Tanjung Usi, less than 10mins left (of the resort). We saw 1 black and 1 large sulphur-green frogfish. D spotted an octopus.

3rd Dive – Demak (named after 2 guys who first dived that site), about 5mins right. Songra said he will find Hippocampus Colemani and he did – 3 white with a little green/orange at 1 of the rocks plus a black ornate ghost pipefish and a very small brown Hippocampus Potoni on the other. He found an orangutan crab, D spotted a cute nudibranch halegra.

Image

24th Dec – A super rainy Christmas Eve, it rained the whole day long. On the way to Sahuang for our 1st dive of the day, we saw a rainbow. This site is a little further away than Tiga Batu. The surge was huge, surf was breaking against the rocks, looked very intimidating. I was elated to see a large Napoleon wrasse, it has become quite rare in Indonesian waters. The site was very beautifully endorned with colourful soft coral, towards the end, there was a terrace that looked man-made and pancake rock area – could it be the lost Alantis? A small hairy squat lobster in a large barrel sponge, several nudibranch – a large yellow, and several common ones. The highlights of the dive are 2 white-tip reef sharks that are circling underneath 2 large table corals. There was a very large school of blue-lined yellow snappers.

2nd dive – Tanjung Musi 2, it was chosen because of the challenging conditions at Sahuang. D spotted an octopus and a large black frogfish that looked just like a sponge, 2 spiny lobsters, Sangro showed us a black ribbon eel, reef cuttlefish and a very tiny whip coral squat lobster, SL spotted an elegant fuchsia nudibranch.  T saw 2 orangutan crabs.

3rd dive – Demak 2.  Sangro spotted a cute reef cuttlefish hiding in a barrel sponge and a beautiful peacock mantis shrimp which was uncustomary out in the open. This site had lots of sea pens at the flat area. T spotted a moray eel. 2 types of cleaner shrimps and 2 brown crabs were hiding in a sea plant.

Diving on Christmas was rewarding!

1st Dive – Batu Mandi. Large broadclub cuttlefish hovering above the hard corals, Longhorn cowfish, Moray eel, white baby clown  fish, 2 larger clownfishes – yellow and white, small broadclub cuttlefish hiding in the crevice,  white scorpionfish, nudibranch.

2nd Dive – Sampiri. School of bluestrip snappers and spanishflags, pair of ornate ghostpipefishes – the male was smaller and black and the female was colourful and carrying eggs, black pipefish, orange smooth mantis, anemone shrimp, cute tasseled scorpionfish, painted spiny lobster, violet nudibranch and yellow boxfish.

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Ornate ghost pipefish with eggs…

3rd Dive – Sabora. Orangutan crab, anemone shrimps, pair of large black frogfishes, peacock mantis, 2 gorgonian pygmy seahorses – dark brown and yellow, polyclad flatworm, a pair of nudibranch, moray eel, large pufferfish.

Due to high winds, we weren’t able to make the boat transfer to Lembeh. So, the usual way – boat back to Manado, drive to Bitung and a short 10 mins boat ride to Lembeh Resort.

More photos on Facebook

Dolphins Vs Sharks

Sigh, it is so sad to read news like this…

Dolphins butchered for shark bait in illegal hunt off the coast of Peru

by Lara Whyte, Digital Producer – last updated Thu 17 Oct 2013 http://www.itv.com/news/2013-10-17/dolphins-butchered-for-shark-bait-in-illegal-hunt-off-the-coast-of-peru/

I have first read about dolphins butchered for shark bait in ScubaDiver Australasia, similar to report from Paul Hilton… http://www.paulhiltonphotography.com/index.php/field-notes/41

Have loved dolphins since young (maybe because of Flippers?) Have learned to love sharks since becoming a diver, so this is doubly sad…

Edit:

22 Oct 2013: Add  http://www.scmp.com/news/world/article/1335395/peru-considers-shark-fishing-curbs-stop-dolphins-slaughter-bait

“Peru considers shark fishing curbs to stop dolphins’ slaughter for bait”

“Peru said it might restrict shark fishing to curb the illegal slaughter of up to 15,000 dolphins per year – used as bait by rogue fisherman – following a dramatic increase in sales of shark fins to Asia.

Most of Peru’s shark fin exports, which have jumped 10 per cent in recent years, go to Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore and other Asian nations, the Production Ministry said.”

 

First Time to Palau! 23 Mar to 6 Apr 2012

Happy New Year (2014)!!! It is embarrassing that it took so long to publish this blog entry (there were too many photos to process)… Just received the WordPress 2013 report, it says that I have only published 1 miserable post last year… :-( So,  here it is…

We had wanted to visit Palau, ever since she became a shark sanctuary in Sept 2009 – it was the FIRST nation to do so.  http://www.sharksavers.org/en/get-active/dive-to-help-sharks/ecotourism/ Such a small Micronesian country with about 23,000 people but all of them are equiped with wits & determination.  Shark & ray ecotourism brings in US$18 million to Palau, every year! http://www.sharksavers.org/en/education/the-value-of-sharks/sharks-and-ecotourism/  This scientific blog sums up our sentiments http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/expeditions/2013/06/12/an-interconnected-environment-and-economy-shark-tourism-in-palau/ & from looks of it, this amount would increase – there are new chartered flights from Korea, we saw high-school Korean “kids” in Palau everyday during our trip. Furthermore, we have watched so many of the Taiwanese travel shows featuring Palau (yes, there are quite many of them ;-) )… M & J were quite happy to hear that we had finally took the plunge to plan for a holiday in Palau, they have been there many times… It is high on their recommended list, especially as our dive skills improves…

We flew Cebu Pacific (CP) from Singapore to Manila, it was quite convenient, CP has several flights to MNL everyday… & it uses the new terminal – 3…

Singapore to Manila: 5J 800 Fri 23 Mar 2012, 1420H Singapore Budget Terminal -> Fri 23 Mar 2012, 1755H Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3
Manila to Singapore: 5J 805 Sat 07 Apr 2012, 1325H Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 -> Sat 07 Apr 2012, 1655H Singapore Budget Terminal

Base Fare: 396.00 Fuel Surcharge: 101.04 Passenger Security Service Charge: 16.00 Aviation Levy: 4.40 Passenger Service Charge: 15.60 Web Admin Fee – manual: 20.00
BAG25: 50.00 BAG20: 30.00
Total Amount: 633.04 (for 2 pax)

The airport staff at the boarding area of UA/Continental was very serious about their work, footwear had to be removed, carry-ons were thoroughly searched – every small pocket was searched. Guess it was the requirement of the US immigrations? That was the first time we had to go through it and it was not enjoyable.

FLIGHT INFORMATION
Day, Date Flight Class Departure City and Time Arrival City and Time Aircraft Meal
Fri, 23MAR12 CO1921 H MANILA, PHILIPPINES
(MNL) 9:55 PM
KOROR, PALAU
(ROR) 1:35 AM (24MAR)
737-800
Fri, 06APR12 CO1932 H KOROR, PALAU
(ROR) 8:50 PM
MANILA, PHILIPPINES
(MNL) 10:25 PM
737-800
1 Flight operated by UNITED AIRLINES FOR AIR MICRONESIA. If this is an originating flight on your itinerary, please check in at the CONTINENTAL ticket counter.
2 Flight operated by UNITED AIRLINES FOR AIR MICRONESIA. If this is an originating flight on your itinerary, please check in at the CONTINENTAL ticket counter.

FARE INFORMATION
Fare Breakdown
Airfare: 630 USD
Equivalent Airfare: 827 SGD
Fuel Surcharge: 87
Per Person Total: 914 SGD
eTicket Total: 1,827 SGD
The airfare you paid on this itinerary totals: 1,654 SGD SGD
The taxes, fees, and surcharges paid total: 173 SGD

It was quite an expensive short flight… :-P

Lunch Stop at Beautiful Palau

At Palau’s airport, we were greeted by a poster of a shark & it says “Welcome to Palau, the first shark sanctuary!” – Nice!!! Immigration at Palau was okay,  the staff was quite friendly. The terminal was quite nice, there was a nice ceiling mural depicting the underwater scene – beautiful reef, mantas, eagle rays, sharks etc. We got to see all of them during our stay.  Our dive operation was Fish n Fins (FnF) http://www.fishnfins.com/v2/en/welcome.html the scuba pioneer in Palau & M & J have always been diving with them. FnF sent their staff – Norman & van to meet us & some other divers & sent us to our accommodation West Plaza Desekal, about 30mins from the airport. It was within 15mins walk to FnF. West Plaza Desekal was basic, maybe 3 stars, rooms are of good size, clean and beds were comfortable, beach towels were provided for the day trip, we were happy with the choice. 1 of the front desk staff was a Chinese lady, who had came to work in Palau more than 10 years ago, she was happy to have us to speak Mandarin with and the other was a Filippina. :-)  So, we were always the earliest to reach FnF in the morning, before the morning peak hour started… ;-) It was nice to walk past the school & the policeman who policed at 1 of the busier junctions…

We signed up for 3 dives a day at FnF, for the 1st few days, they returned to “dock” to pick tanks after the 2nd dive, then we would go to 1 of the nearer sites for the 3rd dive. Gradually, there were more people who joined us for the 3rd dive, so we were able to skip the ride back and did those “better” dives  at the outer atolls. The staff did a good job and got us to most of the dive sites in those 11 days.

Cat meets cat

She doesn't love me... :(

Cats at FnF

Diving

The dives at Palau were all nice http://www.fishnfins.com/v2/en/dive-sites.html. My favourite was Blue Corner, having done that site, we were no longer virgin (reef) hookers! M gave us custom-made reef hooks, they were indeed handy and it was comfortable to use the reef hook.. With the aid of the rope connecting to the reef hook, our depth was only about 15m, so it felt quite safe.  It wasn’t very difficult, except to remember 1 rule – remember to deflate all air from the BCD before loosening the reef hook, or risk being blown away (or worse, up!) The guides were on hand to help move us to better vantage points for shark watching. Except on the day that there was exceedingly strong current blowing from the depth, when we felt like our masks were in the danger of being blown away and we struggled to keep our cameras in hand, we had a good experience with the reef hooks. Having said that, I wouldn’t recommend this site to new divers, or a high new divers to guide ratio and the experience of the guides to read the site was very important too, I could see myself freaking out if that day was the 1st time the whole group was deploying the reef hook. We didn’t have much luck with the manta at the German Channel. M had been trying to get Malsol to do the  Ulong Channel but the tide was always not right, until the last diving day. There were a few sharks at the mouth of the channel, I was so reluctant to leave and start the channel discovery… I felt like diving in a small drain – the sides were covered with hard corals, the bottom was sandy,  spotted a few small sharks along the way, the specular sight was the huge school of soldier fish “standing guard” at their cabbage coral fortress – they were actually resting.

Sentry at Ulong Channel

Sentry at Ulong Channel

I have a desire to do Blue Corner everyday. It was nice to enjoy the sight of so many grey reef sharks (resting – in the current), white tip reef sharks, big eye trevallies, moon snappers, red tooth triggerfish enjoying the current. Then, the cute Napoleon wrasse/s that are friends of the local guides and they sometimes play with our bubbles… :- ) I kept wondering how many sharks were there (that I missed), whenever I wasn’t there. I would also miss that Napoleon wrasse…

Blending in

Blending in at Blue Corner

Jellyfish Lake

The day that we did the Jellyfish Lake, we took the transport back to the hotel, we were too tired to walk back. To get to the Jellyfish Lake, we had to climb up a steep hill and then climb back down, it was like visiting a crater… We wished we had brought our fins with us, it was tiring to swim to the middle of the lake, where more jelly fish congregated. The sight of millions of jellyfish was surreal,  Kent mentioned that the amount of jellyfish had decreased over the years and the smell of ammonia at the Lake is overpowering and he had since stopped visiting the Lake. Although the permit to visit the Lake isn’t exactly cheap but most tourists wouldn’t miss it, having gone that far. M & J did their part by not participating, as they had been there, done that…

Pretty fragile

Jellyfish Lake – Pretty fragile

Food

We made sandwiches for breakfast and bento set lunch was included in the dive package. One of the benefits of staying at West Plaza Desekal was that we could walk out to get our dinners at a variety of places and also there was a minimart at the ground floor (but Desekal had no passenger lift, it only had a luggage lift). We have a list of favourites (based on taste and value-for-money) and they are:  1. Suriyothai (Thai food, of course! Pad Si Lew was yummilicious, tom yum was good too. Nice A/C restaurant), 2. Palm Bay Bistro (for the fresh Palau National Beer! & good pizzas & other western cuisines) 3. I Love Noodles (small stall near to the supermarket that sold Thai food prepared by Thai chef, Green Papaya Salad was nice! & prices were very reasonable but no A/C) 4. Emaimelei 2 (Filipino – large portions, milk fish soup was yummy) , 5. Flamingo (“next” to West Plaza Desekal, facing the main road. Nice Japanese inspired dishes – soba/udon & Filipino dishes – Adobo, ask for less salt for the Adobo dishes).  All these were within 20mins slow walk from Desekal, I Love Noodles was the furthest.  Although West Plaza wasn’t within walking distant, the food and beer was scrumptious and not too expensive, the service was good and the view of the harbour is very nice too and we got to know a cop who drives the “cab” part-time.

Thai food in Palau

I Love Noodles – Thai food in Palau

We also tried Little Beijing (non a/c) for the yuan-yang steamboat buffet, just for the heck of it, M & J hadn’t tried Chinese style steamboat but I don’t think they were particularly impressed by it… ;-) The Taj Indian Restaurant – food was quite delectable but the prices were on the high side… Little Italy Restaurant was quite nice too, quaint Italian countryside kitchen deco (with A/C), prices were on a high side… We had bad experience at the Drop-off Bar & Grill – very slow service and we waited 30mins for the 1st dish to be served, then another 10 – 15 mins for each of our order to stagger in, food was ok though.

ATV

For the last day/off-gassing day of our trip, T & I did a full day Polaris ATV (all terrain vehicle) 4WD tour! It was exhilarating! http://www.fishnfins.com/v2/en/off-road-jungle-tours.html We were glad to have Kent  as our guide for day, he was a very experience guide, who worked as a dive guide previously and he was from Peleliu. It was pouring for parts of the day which added to the sense of adventure. We had a nice time eating local snacks at a pavilion (try the banana glutinous rice cake) while waiting for the rain to mellow… One of the locals treated us to some clam sashimi – very nice and fresh!

Waterfall

waterfall

Kent asked ” do you want an eco-tourist who spend US$500 a night, or do you want a mass-market tourist who spend US$100? Which is better for the environment?”

More photos at https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10152070554043052&type=1&l=d4ecb01ed4

 

News: 28 Mar 2014: http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/palau-sharks-ban-commercial-fishing-tuna-industry

“banning commercial boats simply appears to be in Palau’s interests.

Even though the bulk of commercial fishing in the region focuses on tuna, sharks are frequently hauled in as bycatch. Yanking sharks out of the sea directly hits Palau’s biggest moneymaker: the $85m dive tourism industry.”

 

Link

Reblog “Manta Rays Under Attack – Will CITES Save the Manta”

Manta Rays Under Attack – Will CITES Save the Manta

美丽, 神秘的蝠鲼 fu2fen4(熟称“魔鬼鱼“)面临绝种的危机!!! 罪魁祸首:蝠鲼腮,也称”虫彭“鱼鳃 (peng2yu2sai1)!

请大家不要信那些没经科学考证的“疗方“,而破坏大自然!

Manta Rays are many scuba divers’ favourite, including myself. It pains me so much to see them butchered for their gills!!!

Edit:

Shawn’s inspirational talk has been subtitled in Chinese! 原来 manta 的中文名是前口蝠鲼!!!

TEDxBoulder 用艺术的灵感激发海洋保护行动 “Shawn Heinrichs用音乐和摄影向全世界的人们呈现了令人惊讶的海洋生物之美。我们们都会自发地爱护所爱之物,面对惊艳却又濒临灭绝的海洋动物们,你会加入停止海上杀戮的行列中吗?”

More links:

Add (10 June 2014) :   WildAid Report: “http://www.wildaid.org/sites/default/files/resources/The%20Continuing%20Threat%20to%20Manta-Mobula%20Rays_2013-14%20Report_FINAL.pdf

http://www.sportdiver.com/keywords/marine-life/manta-trust-fighting-to-protect-rays-gill-raker-trade
“A huge shadow engulfs us. Confused, we look toward the surface, wondering if the dinghy captain is growing impatient. The late-afternoon sun has been blocked by a massive oceanic manta ray — practically 15 feet across — gliding overhead. Stevens digs out of his pocket a small point-and-shoot camera, and grabs an ID shot. The spot pattern on a manta ray’s belly is unique to each animal and can be used to identify it, much like fingerprints. The manta banks back sharply, as if to watch our work, making three more passes before we’re done. Now that we’re up in the water column, he flies within inches of our heads, taking a moment to make direct eye contact each time.”
“Preliminary fisheries reports gathered by the Manta Trust in Sri Lanka estimated as many as 55,000 mobula rays — and more than 1,000 mantas — being hauled into the country’s fish markets every year.

While a few thousand mantas each year might not sound like much, these amounts might be hugely damaging to manta populations: Consider that over the past 30 years, Rubin has identified fewer than 400 individual mantas in Socorro. Manta populations do not appear to be large, and they’re very vulnerable to exploitation. A mature female manta gives birth to only one pup at a time after 13 months of pregnancy, and most likely only once every two to five years. This slow population growth causes a striking inability to quickly replace large numbers of mantas removed from the population.”

http://www.paulhiltonphotography.com/index.php/field-notes/50 Millions of Dollars lost for Manta Tourism

“Most of Tanjung Luar’s fishermen have always targeted sharks, rays and dolphins. Many of them have done time in Australian prisons and detention centers for illegal fishing and human trafficking. Now most local fisherman can’t afford to head down towards Australian waters, due to the recent fuel hike of forty percent across Indonesia. There, they could fill up their holds with sharks and mantas, within a couple of days. But now, they have been forced to fill up their holds closer to home. The fishermen confirmed that the reef manta that was caught on the 29th was found just off the coast of Sumbawa. They stated that the going rate for manta meat is 8,000 Indonesian Rupiah or US 73 cents per kilo. Then the gills are dried and sold for USD 130.00 per kg to supply the Chinese gill trade.”

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