2010 Nov 12th to 22nd – Buyat and Lembeh
This dive trip started to take shape shortly after we (M, J, T & me) met Danny, Angelique & their lovely kids at Gorontalo in late 2009/early 2010… They spoke enthusiastically about a new dive area called Buyat Bay, North Sulawesi, just 1.5 to 2hours south of Lembeh (by boat). Critters@BuyatBuyat Bay Buyat Bay (Page 18 has a map of the dive sites of the surrounding area). New places are music to our adventurous souls. T & I wanted to include Lembeh into our itinerary & A was able to join us. The history of this area is quite intriguing – it used to be a gold mining area, so rumours of pollution & such kept “plunders of the seas” away & left the area pristine. Alex Mustard said that it has 100% coral coverage! Dive Photo Guide – Buyat Bay & here is another by the Freuds for WWF Coral Triangle Photo Expedition. WWF Coral Triangle Buyat Bay There is a very nice new video by the Critters team (dated May 2011).
Danny & his critters@buyat & critters@lembeh teams took care of all the logistics of this trip & even managed to get Nitrox installed at Buyat Bay. We just had to get our Silkair tickets to Manado & luckily A, T & I have enough Krismiles to claim our tickets. M & J came into Sg 2 nites before our flight out on Friday morning, we had a nice dinner on Thursday.
The Silkair flight was customary full on the 12th Nov, Friday. There were many divers from other countries & many with large amount of equipments. The airline have updated the upholstery of the plane to a more refreshing beige colour. We had a nice conversation with an Filippino man from Dumaguete who was working for a mining company & he was en-route to Ternate. We reached Manado at 1:05pm as scheduled, after a 3hrs 30mins flight… There was a long queue at the Immigration Counter, Manado had also switched to finger-printing its travellers but only 1 of the machines was working! Boy, we were glad to see Angelique & team, Danny was on the flight out to DEMA. We left the airport 2+pm & 2 Toyota SUVs sent us to Buyat Bay, we stopped en-route for some local peanuts (at M’s request & Danny’s recommendation) in the picturesque highlands, the peanuts were great – especially the white ones (putih). The scenery was quite nice but after an hour or 2, the cool highland air lulled me to sleep & I was pretty shocked that it was almost dark when I woke! Thought it was like our Gorontalo epic-journey all over again! Nay, it was just that it got dark pretty early, the drive was just slightly more than 3hrs.
Jerry & Fandi introduced themselves as our guides, actually these 2 hardworking young men were much more, they were also our hosts (they took care of many little things) cum translators, they had their meals with us & took us for village visit. The crew at Buyat were all super nice and as we were there for a week 12-19 Nov, we had time to build rapport with them and we were pretty happy with the food – mixed of western & Indonesia dishes, guessed the kitchen crew had a lot of practise when they were the mining company’s staff. The compounds & the surrounding scenery of the bay, the hills, is beautiful, very green, lush, clean & peaceful. It was a real pity that we were too lazy to explore the nearby villages.
We had 19 dives from the Buyat base, 17 were at unique dive sites. The dives are about an hour, maximum depth 25m. This area is not very deep & doesn’t have dramatic steep walls. The dive boat (captained by the affable Mr Benya) was secured at the Lakban Harbor – Rotatotok Bay, as the guards could get a good view from across the road. Our dive boat was considered quite big around that area, we didn’t encounter big boats during our stay, there were only small local boats (sampan) with small engines or even non-engined… As the days started quite early & got dark quite early, we started our dives day typically at 7:30am for a hearty breakfast & met at the dive boat at 8:30am, to get around the picturesque cape will take 10-15mins. Usually we had 2 dives before heading back for lunch and the afternoon or night dives were at the nearby area (less than 20mins).
13 Nov – Dive 1 @ Pulau Racun aka Poison Island – wide-angle locale, the arch is the main attraction, lots of staghorn corals, we saw a friendly broadclub cuttlefish. Dive 2 @ St (Site) 2, also wide-angle, lots of pristine hard corals, the table corals were particularly impressive, we saw a large crocodilefish. Dive 3 @ Two Rocks – white-sand “muck” site, Terence spotted a large black pipefish, we encountered a Napoleon Snake-eel (1st for me), a marbled Snake-eel, stingray etc.
14 Nov – Dive 4 @ Poison Island – the group tried to locate my missing macro lens, which I dropped yesterday. Dive 5 @ St (Site) 2, we saw a school of beautiful Razorfish. Dive 6 (Night Dive) @ Napo Basaan – white-sand “muck” site, M spotted an interesting hydroid decorator crab, it had a hydroid-like “horn”, also saw a small cuttlefish & a scorpionfish.
15 Nov – Dive 7 @ Fifty-fifty – “proper” “grey” sand muck site, Fandi spotted a tiny 1cm painted frogfish, a Napoleon Snake Eel, a pair of Robust Ghost Pipefish, a juvenile circular Batfish, we also saw a mantis-shrimp getting into a fight with a small octopus (Octopus vs Man vs Mantis Shrimp). Dive 8 @ Fifty-fifty – I spotted a small octopus hiding in a shell, Fandi spotted a tiny 1cm squid, we saw a HUGE stingray (at least 1.5m in diameter) stirring up the sand & creating an impressive “sand-storm”. Dive 9 – The End, sloping reef, not very impressive but any dive was better than no dive… 😉
16 Nov – Dive 10 @ Pulau Tulang (Bone Island) – wide-angle haven, massive hard corals, the broccoli-like, brain-like huge coral boulder was especially impressive & Alex Mustard has a beautiful photo of it in A.Mustard Buyat Gallery 09 (#12), another interest was that huge school of small orange fish hiding in a gigantic sponge & 2 leaf scorpionfish are also residents in the sponge & I spotted a reef octopus. During the surface interval, we “visited” the floating fish farm & saw the Biggest fish of this trip in the nets – lots of coral groupers & even blue-fin jacks & batfish! Dive 11 @ Tanjung Merah Muda, hard corals & whip corals make this site quite interesting. Dive 12 (Night Dive) @ Batu Dua – hard corals & coral rubbles, T spotted a beautiful Pipefish, I spotted a bright red Reptilian Snake-eel & we also saw a cute shrimp and a white juvenile Devil Scorpionfish.
17 Nov – Day trip to further sites. Dive 13 @ King Fisher – very beautiful site soft corals of various colours adorning the boulders, strong surge, schools of anthias & other reef fishes, we spotted several peacock mantis shrimps. Dive 14 @ Pay Dirt – another beautiful soft coral site, also lots of colourful coral reef fishes. A spotted a banded sea-snake here. These 2 sites reminded me of Maldives – so many fish (although fish here were small), such as red-tooth triggerfish, butterfly fish etc…
After lunch on board, we went into a seaside village – Desa Tumbak, we passed by a primary & a secondary school & chanced upon the villagers’ Haji gathering, where the mutton/beef was being distributed. The village kids were shy at first but after awhile, a group of them started to follow us around & posing for photos. Dive 15 @ Ujung Tumbak – a totally new dive site, we were the first to explore it! Black sand, with some patches of corals & a large area of staghorn corals . Jerry managed to spot a fat nudibranch Ceratosoma miamirana while snorkelling (as he had been unwell from flu) & free-dived down to tap me, as I was trying to capture a photo of the scopionfish yawning, imagine my shock when I turned round to find nobody, it was a relief when I saw him when I finally looked up! We had a good dive – encountered an elegant Crinoid Squat Lobster, an Orange-edged Sap Sucking Sea Slug, nudibranchs like the Yellow Tipped Phyllodesmium (our 1st!), flabellina & Reticulated Chromodoris, a school of razorfish & a tasselled Scorpionfish among other critters.
18 Nov – Dive 16 at Kume’eke (30 Goat Slope) – very nice hard coral site with some leather corals & whip corals, there was a banded sea snake hunting & beautiful nudibranches – a Blue Dragon, 2 Yellow Tipped Phyllodesmium (spotted by M!), 2 Tryon’s Risbecia Nudibranch. Dive 17 @ Tanjung Buyat – visibility was poor with some current but we had a wonderful dive. There were 8 yellow pygmy seahorses on a seafan (yellow of course)! We also saw a very feisty jawfish & nudibranchs like Baba’s Phyllidia & 2 Loch’s Chromodoris. Dive 18 @ Mimic’s Point – it was only 5mins boat ride away, dark silty bottom, muck dive. Very interesting dive, we saw a fat & a thin emperor shrimps, a black thorny seahorse, a very cute snake blenny, 2 sea snakes (maybe it was the same one), lionfish, many anemones with their resident anemonefish & some with porcelain crabs & cleaner shrimps & there were a school of colourful bannerfish hiding amongst a patch of sea-grass. After our dive, we finally decided to find strength to climb up the hill to the lookout area, the view of the sunset was beautiful but must bring insect repellent!
19 Nov is the day we headed to Lembeh. Dive 19 – Napo Gorango, still in the Ratatotok-Buyat vicinity. Good for wide-angle, coral bommies, large sponges and a huge area of cabbage corals, encountered a giant moray & a Tryon’s Risbecia nudibranch. Then the boat sailed for another 1 hour north (towards Lembeh Straits) to Pantai Kora-kora (Turtle Beach) where we had 20th dive. It was a shallow dive – white sandy area + coral bommies & some red-tooth triggerfish, we saw a blue-spotted stingray, a few common nudibranchs like the b&w Pustulose Phyllidiella, Reticulated Chromodoris (Chromodoris reticulata) , Chromodoris kuniei & Chromodoris annae & I spotted many spotted crabs in the cauliflower corals. We had lunch on board & reached Lembeh Straits in 30mins. We were surprised to see so many huge cargo ships in the straits, the straits was buzzing with activities, definitely busier than 2007.
We were met by Mr Deky – operational mgr of the gorgeous Lembeh Resort & the front office mgr who showed us to the rooms 3A & 3B. We were very impressed with the huge & beautiful rooms (more like suites), in the LR website Lembeh Resort Accommodation, they are referred to as Cabins, but cabins remind me of camps. Our “suites” are just next to each other, each has large verandah with paranormal view of the Lembeh Straits, sitting room, a huge bedroom & a toilet with 2 shower areas – indoor & outdoor. Even the well-heeled M & J said that that was the most beautiful room they had stayed at…
By 3:00pm, we had gotten ready for our 1st dive in the straits & our last dive with Fandi for the trip – he was due for a well-deserved short break. Dive 21 @ Air Bajos 3, muck diving – black sand, limited viz but the critters! Just naming the more interesting ones like the Showy Headshield Slug (Philinopsis cyanea), those 2 orangutan decorator crabs (1 yellow & 1 orange), the Star-gazer Snake-Eel (the real star-gazer continued to elude me), 2 Multi-pustuled Mexichromis nudibranchs & the star find was a beautiful Rudman’s Phyllodesmium nudibranch – Phyllodesmium rudmani, which looks like the Xenia Soft-coral. Dive 22 @ Serena Besar was our 1st night dive at Lembeh! Just realised that we didn’t do any in 2007! 😦 Anyway, it was a wonderful dive – Day Octopus, a bright red, evil-looking Spiny Devilfish, a delicate looking yellow Thorny Seahorse, a reddish Cockatoo Waspfish, a very small & cute bob-tail squid, a beautiful Harlequinn Swimming Crab, a decorator crab so burdened that it was difficult to see it, a large Tiger Mantis Shrimp & a Jebb’s Flatworm – Pseudoceros jebborum. The wonderful day was completed with an excellent gourmet dinner…
20 Nov Dive 23 @ ROJOS – 2 beautiful Emperor Shrimps feasting near the anus of a fat sea cucumber, 2 Cockatoo Waspfish, a female Broadclub Cuttlefish, a green Robust Ghost Pipefish (1st green coloured one for us), a most beautiful Yamasu’s Cuthona nudibranch Cuthona yamasui (also a 1st), near a Multi-pustuled Mexichromis, then a majestic Ambon Scorpionfish, a beautiful Serpent Pteraeolidia Pteraeolidia ianthina, then another 2 beautiful
Emperor Shrimps on a slim sea cucumber.
Dive 24 @ TK 1 – a strangely beautiful Hairy Frogfish “fishing” with its lure, a Pipefish, a Flasher Scorpionfish, then the much prized find – a small & stunning Wunderpus! (it was worth the 3 trips to Lembeh!), a beautiful Serpent Pteraeolidia Pteraeolidia ianthina & an white-eyed moray “rooming” with 3 other morays of different species. Dive 25 @ Jahir 1 – an Orange & Black Dragonet, a red Frogfish, an orange Flasher Devilfish, a Black-finned Snake-eel, a Black Scorpionfish, a fuchsia Spiny Devilfish, a dark brown Cockatoo Waspfish, a crutch of Flamboyant Cuttlefish eggs in a coconut shell, then another Wunderpus! (bigger than the last one, the body was fist-sized), 2 beautiful Purple-Edged Ceratosoma nudibranchs. T & I were the only ones doing the mandarinfish dusk dive @ Pintu Colada, we saw many mandarinfishes & a few mating encounters, a network pipefish & I spotted a beautiful golden mantis shrimp.
21 Nov was our last day of diving, A & T weren’t feeling well so they skipped the dive. Dive 25 @ Maka Wide 2 was a little “dramatic”. Another guest on the boat had a small “panic” attack & M had to abort the dive after abt 5mins, when he found some water in the casing of new his u/w camera! So effectively, Andi only had to guide me. We had a wonderful dive at this less mucky site – a Spiny Devilfish, a Giant Hypselodoris Nudibranch (I guess in beautiful, not size), a pipefish, a school of juvenile catfish, a black ribbon eel, a beautiful snowflake moray eel, a mantis shrimp, a Reticulated Chromodoris nudibranch, many schools of cardinalfish (trying to evict the resident anemonefish) & my own star find – a beautiful pinnate spadefish/batfish! Dive 26 @ ROJOS was our last dive for this trip & T recovered enough to join & M was there without his camera… We saw a black Thorny Seahorse, 2 Cockatoo Waspfish, an Elegant Crinoid Squat Lobster, a Pegasus Seamoth, an Ambon Scorpionfish, T spotted a Black-Finned Snake Eel with shrimps, a Broadclub Cuttlefish, a green Robust Ghost Pipefish, 2 Emperor Shrimps & a Flamboyant Cuttlefish! Was really delighted to see that Flamboyant Cuttlefish feeding, such a beautiful critter! & an excellent closure to our dive trip!
We spent the morning of 22 Nov doing last minute packing, then payment at the dive centre (with the friendly Jules & Sharon) & bidding farewell to M & J, who proceeded to Bangka (where they reported 4 flamboyant cuttlefish on 1 dive!) & the excellent dive guides – Andi, Oxin, Joni, Fandi & Jerry & Hergen (mgr). What an incredible trip, we had a marvellous time! 😀 Many thanks to all the staff of critters@ buyat, critters@lembeh & Lembeh Resort & especially Danny!
Slept most of the way from the Police Pier to Manado airport. :p Met S, a fellow Scubaboarder on the flight, he went to Raja Ampat after Buyat Bay… A & T had a bad case of stomach flu & I came down with flu 1 day after & didn’t get to meet up with S… 😦
More photos can be viewed here. Facebook Album