Heart & Brain Underwater

Scuba Diving

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. ūüôā 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. ūüôā 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. ūüôā 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 Рstrong current. Whip coral shrimp, pygmy seahorse, octopus and nudibranch. TK3 Рcrab 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 Рcoconut octopus, slender pipefish, black saddle snake eel, orangutan  crab, zebra batfish, cuttlefish, baby sweetlips, nudibranch, commensal shrimp. Dusk dive РMandarin dive Рmandarin fishes hiding amongst broken staghorn corals Рonly 1 pair mated, flatworm, dwarf cuttlefish.

Emperor shrimp hitching a ride

Emperor shrimp hitching a ride

28 Dec 2012

Tanjung Kubur РPorcelain crab, robust ghostpipefish, zebra batfish, napoleon snake eel, juvenile barramundi cod, juvenile bi-color parrotfish, zebra oyster, nudibranch, BLUE RING Octopus! Critter Hunt Рscorpionfish, 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 Рscorpionfish, 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 Р Jahir 1 Рcarpet 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 РFingered 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 Рbanded tozeuma shrimp (1st time!), ornate ghostpipefish, fimbriated moray eel, thorny seahorse, orangutan crab, painted frogfish, spiny squat lobster, nudibranch, harlequinn sweetlips. House Reef Р 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 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… ūüė¶ 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 ūüėČ )… 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 Рmanual: 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… ūüėõ

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. ūüôā ¬†So, we were always the earliest to reach FnF in the morning, before the morning peak hour started… ūüėČ 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… ūüėČ 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.”

 


Pulau Pef – Raja Ampat, 25 Nov to 10 Dec 2011

When we met Claudia & Leon at ADEX 2011 in April 11, they were promoting a new set-up location in Raja Ampat. T & I had heard so much about this premier dive destination & often spoke about saving enough money to afford this dream… The photos of the resort & the island Pulau Pef & most importantly, the diving looked wonderful & with a 20% discount for the quad share room, the price was quite¬†reasonable (in comparison with other locations)… & to be stay & diving at a new location was very attractive to us, so we contacted our usual dive buddies – M & J who were quick to agree to let us join them on this adventure (because they could have jolly well afforded a twin share¬†bungalow :-P). To make the airfare worthwhile, we decided to stay for 2 weeks. We paid the deposit while Claudia & Leon were still in Sg to save on the transfer fees. ūüėČ So we began our 8 months count-down to our trip.

M & J flew in from SFO through HK on Cathay on Thursday, then on Friday evening 25 Nov, we flew Garuda to Ujung Pandang (aka Makassar). The aircraft was a little jaded but at least 20kg of baggage each was included in airfare ($778 for 2) & air tickets were purchased online.

Departure: 19:10 Singapore, Singapore – Changi, terminal 3
Arrival: 22:20 Ujung Pandang, Indonesia – Hasanudin
Airline: Garuda Indonesia GA849, Duration: 3:10

Stayed a night at the airport hotel booked for us by the Raja4divers (R4D¬†http://www.raja4divers.com/) team, if I am not wrong, the cost was 375,000Rp or 500,000Rp. It was ok, clean with shower stall but shared toilets outside, they have a “real” cuppacino machine which M highly recommended… But please be warned, ear plugs are a MUST here, unless you can sleep like a log! Our flight to Sorong was at 8:40am on Express Air, which was ok, baggage allowance was 15kg. Domestic flights were arranged by R4D, total cost for 2 US$740 (exchange¬†rate 8,500 to 1 USD & 10% handling fees)

Express Air: IDR 2,518,000 (Makassar to Sorong), Lion Air: IDR 3,177,000 (Sorong to Makassar via Ambon) Total amount: IDR 5,695,000

We met Sabine, the dive intructor & the rest of the new guests at the small, dusty, Sorong airport, it reminded me of the small domestic airport at Maldives, only that it was more rundown than that… The team was very kind to bring us to use the toilet of the Je Meridien Hotel which stood opposite the Sorong Airport. We were then driven to the port for the 2hrs boat transfer on Pef I. Dolphins were spotted, the scenery was quite monotonous until we reached the Passage area, the cliffs & the rocky islets are those that frequently graced magazines…

The R4D Pef team threw us a welcome party, the coconut drink, their friendly faces, warm smiles, joyous singing & cheerful music refreshed the tired travellers. The¬†bungalow¬†was rustic & huge – 128sqm, about 50% bigger than our flat. No aircon, only the fan & the natural¬†sea breeze. The patio had stairs to the sea, lizards, crabs, birds & frogs were visitors to the open air bathroom. The tide was a little low but I tried to snorkel among the seagrass, still searching for my 1st encounter with a dugong… Island time was 2 hours earlier than Sg. After watching the sunset, we proceeded to have dinner at the “restaurant” – more like the kitchen/dining – a longhouse on¬†stilts… Dinners & lunches were casual sit-down meals at the long table, with several dishes (fish, poultry, vegetables) shared among 4 to 6 guests…

Next morning (27th Nov), we had the checkout dive at the house reef – Karang Sembilan at 10:30am, it was a wonderful introduction to Raja Ampat! School of batfish just at the jetty, pipefish, 3 species of nudibranchs, whip gobies & 2 wobbegong sharks!

Image

Image

The usual schedule was to meet at the jetty for dive briefing at 8am,¬†¬†2 dives in the morning with snacks during the surface intervals, then return to Pef for lunch, plus the 3rd dive at 3pm. My dive buddies were quite lazy, so I only managed 2 night dives during our 2 weeks there… ūüėČ

This is the list of the dive sites that we had visited & some notes:

27/11 – Karang Sembilan (House Reef) & Yembraimuk Utara

28/11 – Wofoh Selatan, Manare & Tanjung Gam

29/11 – Day trip to Fam Island – Fam Slope, Melissa’s Garden & Climbing to the peak of Fam Island, then afternoon dive at Fam Wall.

30/11 РManta Sandy, Arborek (Jetty) & Apibok Wall. Lovely manta cleaning station, up to 8 mantas! Arborek Jetty was also very beautiful, great place for photography.

01/12 – The Passage x 2 & Selat Yembraimuk. *The 1st dive at The Passage was quite easy & delightful, colourful soft corals, 3 cute cuttlefishes, flatworms, nudibranchs & even a electric scallop, then we drifted until the end. For the 2nd dive, we 1st visited a cave system, when we joined the “main traffic”, the current was quite strong, it was quite hairy “flying” through the “river”. However, there was not much danger, as the area was quite shallow…

02/12 – Mandy Sandy, Batu Dalam. Last dives for B & M, they had requested to revisit Mandy Sandy & who would say no? ūüėČ Another wonderful dive with the beautiful reef manta rays.

03/12 – Wasrer at 11:30am & Rep Pef at 3:30pm, then night dive at 6:30pm.

04/12 – Yes Bekar, Sop Ikan & Rep Yembraimuk

05/12 – We lost a dive day due to the bad weather… It was ¬†a scary storm.

06/12 – Batu Meka, Rep Krupuk & Batu Deka East. The eye of the storm had passed but the sea was still very rough at the front, so we had to launch from the mangrove area.

07/12 – Nikson’s Garden, Rep Jembatan & Batu Kapal

08/12 – Tanjung Teening, Ref Pef & Nikson’s Garden. Night Dive at house reef. Last day of diving & it was wonderful to dive the beautiful Nikson’s Garden with the dive guide – Nikson, 1 of the 1st, if not the 1st Papuan dive guide.

Other guides we dived with laughing & singing Danci, serious Yoris & Yolda, all well trained by Sabine & Armin. Although the visibility ranged from 10 to max 20m & average at 15m, the beauty of the dive sites was unforgettable, the colours dazzling. Wobbegong sharks at most of the dives, as Armin said, just follow the glassfish. ūüėČ There was a school of juvenile black tip reef sharks at the shallow lagoon at Pef. We met schools of large barracudas, bumphead parrotfish, numerous large lobsters & some very large (but very shy) groupers &¬†Napoleon¬†wrasses [reminder to self: they were able to grow huge because they are smart & avoid humans]! Macro stuff like cute nudibranchs, pipefish, pygmy seahorses etc.

The resort & operations were well managed by Maya. Yanni & the rest of the staff from housekeeping & kitchen were always so friendly & warm. The other guests at the resort were mostly Europeans. It was a huge surprise that they hadn’t heard about the “Sound of Music”, a movie that was about Austria, the Alps, WWII (a little)… I was in the school choir & “Edelweiss” & all the songs from that show are my all-time favourite…

The staff gave us a warm send-off, most of them were also leaving for their holiday as the resort was closed for 1 week before their peak season. We stayed at the Je Meridien Hotel, Sorong for 1 night, which was quite nice… When we were boarding the very early morning flight, it was raining heavily, the work ethics of the Papuans was impressive, they tried to keep the passengers dry, although they were soaked…

Wonderful introduction to Raja Ampat, how we wish we could afford to join M & J’s 2nd trip to Pef in Nov 2012… Guess they would have another delightful fortnight at the magical island…

Cost of 2 weeks:¬†USD 4175¬†(not inclusive of the 20% discount), Boat Transfer USD120, Raja Ampat¬†Marine Park Fee ¬†IDR 500, 000. Airfares as above…

Other photos here: Photos on FB¬† (FB account not req’d)¬†https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150441214288052.372546.694213051&type=3

 

This is new! Virtual Tour of Raja4Divers Pulau Pef (22 Nov 12)


Watch Shark Eden!

Watch NatGeo’s Shark Eden to get the FACT: MORE Sharks = More of Other Fishes.

Shark Eden (ABC’s broadcast 6+mins)

Addition: 17th March 2014

Where the Shark and the Snapper Roam

http://ocean.si.edu/blog/where-shark-and-snapper-roam 

“two marine scientists compared the fish communities of the main Hawaiian Islands, where people live, with communities near the uninhabited northwestern Hawaiian Islands. To their surprise, they found that where there is no fishing,¬†top predators ruled the waves; in the uninhabited areas, top predators made up more than 54 percent of total fish biomass compared to just three percent in areas near human settlement. Later, a¬†series of expeditions¬†to remote islands of the Pacific have¬†confirmed that this pattern¬†of seeing more top predators than prey can be found on other uninhabited reefs. On Kingman Atoll, for example, sharks and large snappers and jacks represent 85 percent of the total weight of fishes!”


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.

Good people of Buyat Bay

Our bungalow at Buyat

The quiet street in front of the compound

Buyat Bay – Lakban compound

Bay at Dusk

Buyat Bay at Dusk

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).

The picturesque Cape

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… ūüėČ

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.

The Desa Tumbak kids

Ujung Tumbak – site drawing by Fandi

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.

Phyllodesmium rudmani @ Air Bajos3

View from Lembeh resort room

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! ūüė¶ 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…

Hairy Frogfish @ TK1

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

Wunderpus (the bigger one)

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.

Pinnate Spadefish

Flamboyant Cuttlefish

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! ūüėÄ 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…¬† ūüė¶

More photos can be viewed here. Facebook Album