INDONESIA - Dive Atlas Of The World: An Illustrated Reference To The Best Sites - Jack Jackson

Dive Atlas Of The World: An Illustrated Reference To The Best Sites - Jack Jackson (2016)


Introduction by Jack Jackson

ALTHOUGH NOT THE EASIEST OF DESTINATIONS to get to, the thriving, pristine reefs of the islands in the Celebes Sea off Berau on Kalimantan’s east coast are among the best of Indonesian diving. The Island of Sangalaki and its surrounding reefs are protected as a marine park. The main dive sites are located around Pulau Derawan, Pulau Samama, Pulau Maratua, Pulau Kaka ban and Pulau Sangalaki with pelagic species particularly abundant at the latter three. Shoals of tuna, trevallies, barracuda, Eagle Rays, Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks and Grey and Whitetip Reef Sharks frequent these waters. Pulau Sangalaki is particularly known for its inquisitive Manta Rays, some of which have wingspans exceeding 5m (16ft). Others are unusual in that they are totally black.

The most unusual dive here is a brackish lake on Pulau Kakaban. It is similar to the lakes at Palau, except that the jellyfish were not damaged by the 1997/8 El Niño Southern Oscillation Phenomenon. Prehistoric uplifting trapped a lake of seawater that gradually became less saline due to rain, forcing marine life to adapt to the changed environment. The lake is populated by at least four species of non-stinging jellyfish. Three species of Halimeda green algae cover the lake bottom. Mangrove roots coexist with tunicates, sponges, tube worms, bivalves, crustaceans, anemones and several species of gobies.


Pulau Kakaban, attracted interest when Borneo Divers surveyed the area, but Pulau Sangalaki was more suitable for accommodation. First developed by Borneo Divers, Pulau Sangalaki Resort was later upgraded for 2008 by Ron and Aima Holland with Jeremy and Caroline Stein of Rainbow Divers, Vietnam.


There is a tidal range of 2.5m (8ft) at Pulau Sangalaki and the reefs extend 600-1000m (1970-3280ft), continuing as gentle slopes. A small-boat channel is cut through the outer reef and all diving is drift diving from small boats. When the tide is in, divers can board the dive boat at the beach, but by the time they return from that dive the dive boat will ground some 150m (500ft) out, leaving all personnel to walk in. Similarly, all personnel will have to walk out to the boat for the next dive, but by the time the boat returns the tide will allow the boat right up to the main beach again. This walking is no hardship, as resort staff will help divers carry their equipment.


Since Pulau Sangalaki Resort was established, another resort has been set up 50 minutes north-northwest on the larger inhabited island of Pulau Derawan, which has both freshwater and a jetty. The diving at Pulau Derawan is similar to that on Pulau Mabul in nearby east Sabah and particularly good for macrophotography. During the day, most divers concentrate on Pulau Sangalaki, Pulau Kakaban, Pulau Maratua and Pulau Samama.

The visibility in this area is affected by heavy rain on the mainland increasing the river run-off. Pulau Sangalaki usually has better visibility than Pulau Samama or Pulau Derawan because it is further offshore. Pulau Kakaban and Pulau Maratua tend to have better visibility than Sangalaki because they are even further out.


The Sea Star (Choriaster granulatus) is stouter than most Sea Stars that have separate arms and appears to scavenge on coral polyps and other invertebrates. The one shown here is apparently arched over a piece of stony coral. It is also called a Thick-arm Starfish.

Although Pulau Derawan suffers reduced visibility, it has diverse marine life and is good for small critters and night diving. The dive sites cover reef slopes with a variety of corals including one new to science, and appropriately called Acropora derawanensis, walls and caves. Green Turtles (Chelonia mydas), Whitetip Reef, Variegated (Leopard) and Nurse Sharks, shoaling barracuda, Humphead (Napoleon) Wrasse, cuttlefish, Spanish Mackerel (Scomberomorus commersoni), jacks, batfish and colourful reef fish are common.

Some of the best diving is in 5-15m (16-50ft) of water at the end of Pulau Derawan’s 200m (656ft) jetty on the southeast face. It has clownfish, lionfish, scorpionfish, crocodilefish, batfish, pufferfish, anthias, turtles and macro subjects such as pipefish, mantis shrimps, decorator crabs, seahorses and nudibranchs.

Lying 200m (656ft) offshore, northeast of the jetty, The Shipwreck 2 is a burnt-out hulk at 27m (88ft) on sand that harbours countless small organisms. At Blue Trigger Wall 3, blue juvenile Redtooth Triggerfish (Odonus niger) peer out of holes at around 18m (60ft). Blue Trigger Point has Gorgonian Sea Fans, black corals and soft corals. Off the northeast point, Sea Garden 1 has healthy corals at 10m (33ft) and there are many species of flatworms, nudibranchs, ribbon eels, gobies and blennies. Snapper Point 5 and Lighthouse 4 are similar to Blue Trigger Wall/Point.


One hour northeast of Pulau Sangalaki, Pulau Maratua is a large island with a lagoon. The island circles part of the lagoon, the rest is fringing reef. The lagoon is 100-400m (330-1300ft) wide and it fills and drains through a single channel, creating a very strong tidal flow. The surrounding walls are covered with stony and soft corals and have several dive sites, but it is the channel into and out of the lagoon that is the main focus of divers’ attention as the tides produce amazing drift dives twice a day. The pelagic and reef fish life is prolific. A swirling mass of barracuda, shoals of snapper, Dogtooth Tuna, Spanish Mackerel, jacks and surgeonfish, Scalloped Hammerhead, Nurse, Grey Reef and Whitetip Reef Sharks, Manta Rays, Eagle Rays and huge groupers. The currents can be strong and up and down-currents are common. Most dive operators put divers into the water on a flood tide, not only for better visibility, but also to avoid the possibility of divers being swept into the open sea. Sometimes the currents are not too bad, but in general it is not wise to carry a large housed camera.



The magenta patch on male Squarespot Anthiases (Pseudanthias pleurotaenia) seems to glow, giving rise to their alternative common name of Mirror Basslets.


Pulau Samama, 15 minutes northwest of Pulau Sangalaki, has mangroves open to the sea, so the water around the tangled root system is much clearer than you would normally expect, giving access to the interesting small creatures which inhabit them. Away from the mangroves, the reef is great for muck diving and macrophotography among good corals, with lots of nudibranchs, flatworms, pipefish, gobies and blennies, Warty (Clown) Frogfish (Antennarius maculatus) and other species of frogfish.


About 20-25 minutes east-northeast of Pulau Sangalaki, Pulau Kakaban rises steeply with walls to 240m (790ft), visited by many pelagic species. These current-swept walls, decorated with Gorgonian Sea Fans, soft corals and twisted barrel sponges, give high-voltage drift dives. The currents can be strong with upwelling and downwelling, and sometimes reversing direction, but they produce prolific fish life. At Barracuda (the southwest) Point 10 these currents bring shoals of barracuda, jacks, surgeonfish, snappers, trevallies and Grey Reef, Whitetip Reef and Variegated (Leopard) Sharks and Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks. A grab line has been secured at 24m (79ft) across a relatively flat area on the up-current side of the point to help divers ascend to the calmer shallows.

On the wall, Blue Light Cave 9 is a deep cave which should only be attempted by experienced divers and accompanied by a local divemaster. The system starts on the top of the wall at one metre (40 inches) at high tide and descends via a narrow, vertical chimney to the roof of a large, dark chamber at about 21m (70ft). Divers swim out along the ceiling of that chamber towards the wall until they can finally see the light from outside. The exit is a long vertical crack in the wall, which is about 2m (7ft) wide at the top, and it gets wider and wider as it goes down. Divers usually exit onto the wall at about 40m (130ft).


A Pink Anemonefish (Amphiprion perideraion) in a large Anemone (Heteractis magnifica) at Pulau Sangalaki. Anemonefish, popularly referred to as clownfish, live in symbiosis with anemones without being stung.


A cuttlefish (Sepia pharaonis) laying eggs among the coral at Pulau Sangalaki. Cuttlefish are not fish, but molluscs, related to squid and octopuses. They can give a display of intricate colour patterns that change continuously.

Kakaban Lake 8 covers almost the entire island. The 20-minute hike into the interior is on a relatively easy trail starting near the centre of the southern bay. However, it has sharp and slippery rocks so wear sensible footwear and have mosquito repellent as the trek is through rainforest. Most of the lake is only 3-5m (10-16ft) deep so most people snorkel in it. As well as the jellyfish, there are white anemones that eat small jellyfish and the mangroves along the edge of the lake have lots of interesting sponges attached to them.


Pulau Sangalaki is known for its Manta Rays and turtles. A shallow lagoon surrounds the island and the reefs begin well out to sea. With so much reef, there is a large diversity of marine life and since the area is a protected marine park, the reefs are in good condition. The reefs slope gently with many of the sites having a maximum depth of less than 20m (65ft). There are over 500 species of stony and soft corals and a profusion of invertebrate and fish life. On almost every dive there are Manta Rays, cuttlefish, Eagle Rays, stingrays, batfish, barracuda, many species of grouper including Barramundi Cod (Humpback Grouper, Cromileptes altivelis) and Coral Trout. Orangestriped and Titan Triggerfish, squirrelfish, surgeonfish and many species of angelfish and butterflyfish abound, but there are few parrotfish. There are many species of pufferfish, sweetlips, hawkfish, bream, dam-selfish, anthias, chromis and moray eels. Sandy Ridge 15 has garden eels. There are small sharks and shoals of fusiliers, snappers, catfish and jacks. Large barrel sponges and true giant clams are found on the sand. Lettuce coral is interspersed with boulder coral, smaller fields of soft corals, many tube sponges and isolated Gorgonian Sea Fans carpet the seabed.

The currents vary from medium to strong. The speed and direction of drift will depend on the direction of the tide at the time of the dive. Snorkelling is the best way to interact with the Manta Rays, who then keep on coming back out of curiosity.

Just west of the small boat channel, Coral Gardens 12 is a mix of stony and soft corals shelving out gradually to 27m (90ft) and then becoming flat sand. It is possible to drift from Coral Gardens, through Turtle Town 14 to Sandy Ridge 15 over an undulating stony coral bottom with vast fields of lettuce coral. The maximum depth is 28m (92ft).

Turtles shelter under overhangs formed by large boulder corals at 12m (40ft) at Turtle Patch 13. Turtle Town has gullies and small ridges on stony coral in all directions with lots of turtles at 15m (50ft). At the northwest to west area of the reef, the drift from Manta Run 16 to Sandy Ridge is over undulating sand with coral heads at 28m (92ft), where more than 20 Manta Rays repeatedly swim closely overhead. Manta Parade 17 has a flat sandy bottom, interspersed with small coral heads at 15m (50ft), where Manta Rays parade up and down. The drift from Manta Avenue 18 through Cuttlefish Bay 19 to Lighthouse Reef 11 covers the northeast area of the reef over a gentle slope from 16m (52ft) to 5m (16ft).



by Michael Aw

North Sulawesi, the narrow jagged peninsula forming the northern arm of the island, has a population and geography unlike anywhere else in the archipelago. Its marine environment is acclaimed internationally as one of the richest in the world. Shaped like a distended spider, Sulawesi is split into an assortment of four peninsulas. These peninsulas, divided by deep, contoured gulfs, are so completely separate from each other that the earliest Portuguese explorers thought that Sulawesi was a group of individual islands rather than a single landmass.

The longest and thinnest peninsula is Sulawesi Utara, or North Sulawesi. Due to the isolation of this strip of land from the rest of Sulawesi, the local Minahasa people are more attuned to the outside world than to the rest of Indonesia. The geographical proximity of the Philippines, only a few hundred kilometres north, has had a great influence on the area, resulting in many linguistic and cultural links. The peninsula itself is mountainous and volcanic, lushly covered with a variety of vegetation. Lying on a major fault-line of the famous Ring of Fire, North Sulawesi is peppered with volcanic peaks - some of them, like the 1584m (5197ft) Lokon near Manado, still active. As befits an area with such an abundance of coastline, the inhabitants of North Sulawesi take pride in their seas. The peninsula is fringed by extensive coral reefs, but those found at Bunaken/Manado Tua Marine Park at the extreme northwest tip of the peninsula are very rich and diverse.

The geographical crossroads of intercontinental currents of the Indian and Pacific oceans, led scientists to conclude that Sulawesi region is part of the heartland of marine biodiversity. In 1990, a marine scientist from the University of Guam documented over 150 genera of hard corals around Bunaken Island, the principal island of the marine park. Cumulative surveys document that 3000 species of fish are found in Indonesia, compared with more than 2000 in the Philippines and just over 1300 in Palau. As the distance away from Sulawesi increases, the number of species decrease with a species low of 125 at Easter Island, far east of New Zealand. In the early 90s, coral scientists confirmed that most of the reefs in North Sulawesi comprised over 90 per cent live corals, a high percentage relative to reefs elsewhere in the world. Research published by Dr Allan White in 1992 indicates that the number of endemic species here exceed those of the Philippines and Great Barrier Reef systems.

Diving in North Sulawesi centres around Manado, the provincial capital and the closest population centre to the renowned Bunaken/Manado Tua Marine Park. Since the inception of direct flights from Singapore dive centres and resorts mushroomed from three in 1992 to over 15 operating along the coastline and on Bunaken Island itself. The international airport is within easy driving distance from the city centre.

On the southeastern tip of the peninsula near Bitung, the strait between the mainland and Lembeh Island is known to be refuge for rare and weird marine critters. Lembeh Strait is the Mecca for the intrepid diver, attracting the Who’s Who in underwater photographers from all over the world. The Sangihe and Talaud Islands, far to the north, are also known for their excellent diving, which can at present only be accessed by live-aboards leaving from Manado.


Bunaken Manado Tua Marine Park comprises a group of five islands: Bunaken, Siladen, Nain, Montehage and Manado Tua, surrounded by an area of 75,265 ha (186,000 acres) of water. Separated from the mainland by an oceanic trench in excess of 1400m (4600ft) deep, frequent upwellings from the deep, and environs, bring rich nutrients for phytoplanktons (plants) to grow. These in turn provide for zooplanktons, which contain many offspring from the animal, pelagic and coral reef realms. All islands are fringed by a shallow reef zone, with a depth ranging from 1m (3ft) - some exposed at low tide - to 7m (23ft) before edging out to plummet down vertical walls to a ledge at about 60m (200ft).

The five islands in the park are distinctly different. Bunaken, the principal Island, has a deep, calm bay that shelters prolific coral formations; the composition of fauna on the reef flat, edge and wall of this bay is extraordinary and has become the signature dive site for tourists visiting Manado. Curators of Vancouver Aquarium were so impressed that they made a showcase tank in their tropical gallery based on the walls of Bunaken. Along the western side of Bunaken, facing Manado Tua, is a 3km (2-mile) wall, plummeting straight to over 90m (300ft). Large volumes of water swish back and forth through this channel, drawing in pelagics to feed on the reef. Eagle Rays, Rainbow Runners, trevallies and tuna patrol along the steep wall. Here the crucible of creation spellbinds the intrepid visitor with the myriad of life among giant sponges, multicoloured pink, green and gold fans and whip corals. It is not unusual to see a shoal of Pyramid Butterflyfish envelope a diver like a locust plague within seconds. The soft coral formations that surround a huge cavern are among the most awe-inspiring in the world.

Shaped like a cylindrical cone that characterizes volcanoes, Manado Tua seems to rise out from the sea and is the highest island in the reserve. Though inhabited, wild black apes still roam the lush vegetation typical of tropical rainforest, which shroud the island almost in its entirety. Surrounding the island is a narrow fringing reef that plummets to several hundred metres. Oceanographers using satellite imagery recently found an oceanic trough just off the northeast corner of Manado Tua. Here large schools of barracudas, trevallies, Blacktip Sharks and Dogtooth Tunas sometimes come out of the dark blue depths. Along the wall reside huge barrel sponges. Once common, but now seldom seen among the corridors of overhangs and caverns are huge Napoleon Wrasse.


Soft coral on the west side of Bunaken Island, where the reef wall drops steeply to a ledge at 40m (130ft) before plummeting to abyssal depth. At 30m (100ft), stony coral coverage diminishes and soft corals cover caverns and overhangs. This area is the most colourful of Bunaken Marine Park.

Siladen is a small, round island to the east of Bunaken; largely owned by a local scholar, John Rihasia, who proposed the theory that the people of the South Pacific such as Fiji and the Solomons are descendants of people from North Sulawesi. Swift currents constantly sweep the southwestern wall, supporting a terrain of giant coral trees and sponges. Garden and Ribbon Eels are found in phenomenal numbers on the reef flat.

North of Bunaken is Montehage, the biggest island of the five, surrounded by an extensive mangrove and fringing reef. The northwestern wall also plummets steeply and is subjected to the strong oceanic currents. Schooling hammerheads in deeper water and huge schools of barracudas are predictably found on this site. Endless meadows of stony corals, the best that I have ever seen in Asia, are found on the reef slope of Nain, the island furthest away from the mainland. A fringing reef surrounds an aqua-blue lagoon filled with an amazing diversity of invertebrate fauna.


Crinoids are prolific on reef slopes and walls where they feed in passing currents. The are common in Bunaken’s reefs.

The variety of life and dramatic seascapes of the marine park impresses and fascinates even well-travelled divers. Shoals of bright blue fusiliers, tuna and Black Snappers, clownfish playing in the anemones, colourful parrotfish, Butterflyfish, batfish, blue starfish, the occasional sea snake, Napoleon Wrasse, ferns and feathery fans, giant clams, bright orange and red corals and fluorescent yellow sponges are all part of this magical kingdom of nature.


Bargibant’s Pygmy seahorse (Hippocampus bargibanti) escaped notice until recently because of its size, between 3mm (⅛in) and 1cm (⅜in).


During the day lionfish can be found hanging out beneath caverns and crevices, but at night they move out on top of the reefs to feed on passing fish.



20 Manado Tua - Panguilingan

Situated on the northeast corner of the extinct volcano Manado-Tua, this is the most exhilarating dive in the marine park. While schools of barracuda and other pelagics hang out in the blue, Bigeye Trevallies intermittently dash in to prey upon unsuspecting fish.

The steep reef falls quickly to 32m (105ft), where a wall begins. This wall is completely covered with prolific coral trees, sea fans, oversized dinnerplate-shaped sponges and coral colonies. Jacks, Eagle Rays, tunas, Rainbow Runners and Whitetip Reef Sharks are often encountered off the wall or on the coral-covered slope. Soft corals, anemones, whip corals, and sponges are plentiful on shallow reef. Blue water and swift fish action in fast currents are the elements of this site.

21 Bunaken: Lekuan II

This is the signature dive of the marine park. It is located on the south coast of Bunaken, towards Depan Kampung. The reef flat is exposed at low tide, but the deep, vertical wall plummets straight down to over 40m (130ft). This is one of three sites, known collectively as Lekuan, along this outcrop of Bunaken’s fringing reef. The shallow reeftop is perfect for snorkellers. Further down, caverns, canyons, fissures and inlets split the wall. On the reef edge, thousands of Fairy Basslets rise and fall among Acropora formations and Pyramid Butterflyfish feast in the blue water.

Like the majority of south Bunaken sites, the site has extensive coverage of stony and soft corals. Sponges, in barrel and pipe forms, abound, as well as numerous large and small gorgonias. This is a good spot for big fish, with larger reef species and pelagics schooling off the reef-face in respectable numbers. A small school of Bumphead Parrotfish is often seen grazing on the meadow of stony corals.

There are many species of jacks and trevallies in particular, especially Golden and Bigeye Trevally. Snappers, in Red and Midnight varieties, are also numerous. There are unicornfish and surgeonfish, though less abundant. Giant Groupers and large Long-nosed Butterflyfish are common. Teira Batfish, trumpetfish, filefish, huge pufferfish and porcupinefish abound. Big Yellowfin Tuna and the more common Dogtooth Tuna can often be seen in the blue, as can Great and Barred Barracuda. Sharks are less frequent, but Whitetip, Blacktip and Grey Reefs can be seen.

22 Bunaken: Mandolin

On the southwest coast of Bunaken that faces Manado Tua, the reef wall is almost vertical and falls precipitously to over 60m (200 ft). A very wide, flat reeftop extends 200-300m (656-984ft) from shore, providing a lifetime of entertainment for snorkellers. A few lucky ones have swum alongside dolphins and orcas. The reef flat is covered in a profusion of soft corals and stony-coral colonies in various forms. While Gorgonian Sea Fans and Sea Whips reach out from the wall to filter-feed, constant strong currents also bring in some big pelagics and schooling species. Large schools of trevallies, big barracudas and swarms of snappers, unicornfish and surgeon-fish are all common. There are often tuna off the reef, including monster Dogtooth weighing close to 100kg (220 lb). Giant Groupers and other species of grouper are all well represented, and there are some big Longnose and other emperor varieties. The site is home to huge numbers of Pyramid Butterflyfish, in denser concentrations than anywhere else in Indonesia; other butterflyfish species are common here. Regal, Emperor and Blue-faced Angelfish are plentiful. The site has triggerfish, particularly the big Clown variety and some very nice Picassos. Big Whitetip Reef Sharks, Banded Sea Snakes of about 1m (40in), moray eels, smaller tuna of about 90cm (3ft) and turtles are often seen.



The more than 40 dive sites along the 16km (10-mile) Lembeh Strait are mostly patch reefs on a sandy slope. It is the universe of the weird and wonderful. Though there are decent coral meadows on the northern end of the strait, the focus is on muck diving; peeling back layers of life to reveal shy critters such as the Mimic Octopus, the Flamboyant Cuttlefish, Harlequin Shrimp, Wonderpus and skeleton shrimps. The assemblage of extraordinary fish at Lembeh is impressive. Although water temperatures are comparatively cold for the tropics, the sheltered conditions make diving possible all year round.

23 Batu Kapal

In terms of fish life, this is one of the best in North Sulawesi. Situated at the north end of the Sulawesi-Lembeh channel, Batu Kapal is a deep dive on a large rock off the Lembeh coast. The dive begins at 24m (80ft), the foot of the Batu Kapal itself, and follows a submerged ridge running northeast to a large pinnacle at 36m (120ft). The area has many outcrops and pinnacles, but the main attraction is the ridge, which provides a current shelter harbouring big pelagics.

The site has an exceptional variety of good coral cover, with a preponderance of soft and plate corals. Fish include big schools of jacks and trevallies, Dogtooth Tuna, schooling barracuda, Grey and Whitetip Reef Sharks and the occasional Whale Shark, along with a good assortment of the normal reef species. When the current is running, the fish mêlée around this rock is electrifying.

24 Serena Kecil South

Located on the south side of Serena Kecil, this site is the twilight zone of weird and rare critters. It yields more nocturnal life per square metre than just about any other site in Indonesia. It is a shallow, sloping reef, bottoming out at just 18m (60ft), composed of an assortment of coral heads and outcrops. There are sandy areas between some of the larger coral patches, and all the heads and outcrops are contoured, offering plenty of hidy-holes to explore. Slow, gradual progress yields the best results - lots of small attractions might escape attention when moving too fast.


Resembling sedentary sponges, frogfish have a large mouth, relative to their size, and an abdomen that can expand to engulf prey twice their size. Masters of camouflage, they appear in red, pink, yellow, maroon and blue at Lembeh Strait.

Octocorals, bubble corals, anemones, cabbage corals and sea whips are common. There are the usual reef-fish species, but the nocturnal residents are special - common among them are: Shortfin (Dwarf) Lionfish, Leaf and Bearded Scorpionfish, as well as Decorator, Anemone, Sponge and Hermit Crabs (among many other small and medium crabs). The many lobsters include very large Slipper Lobsters. There are Slate Pencil Urchins; moray eels on feeding forays; sleeping parrotfish; many nudibranchs and flatworms, including some small Spanish Dancers. There are Bluespotted Stingrays and Whitetip Reef Sharks off the reef; and beautiful juvenile Pinnate Batfish. Frogfish and Pygmy sea horses can also be found nearby.


Secret Bay, off Gilimanuk, is the only refuge for many young marine animals from the strong currents in the narrow Bali Strait.


Tulamben Bay is calm and sheltered, fringed with coconut palms and set against Mt Agung, the highest mountain in Bali. It harbours some of the best dive sites of Indonesia.