The Seven Seas News - December 2012
Forgotten Islands on the Seven Seas, 23rd Nov to 7th Dec, 2012
Trip Report by Sonia Goggel
Two groups of friends, a jolly and mixed bunch mainly from the U.S., joined their enthusiasm and love for the sea and her creatures to explore the southeast Maluku Islands, or Maluku Tenggara. These are the so-called Forgotten Islands, as they were literally forgotten, after they had been very famous during the many centuries of spice trade boom. The area spans from Wetar Island in the West to the Aru and Kei Archipelago in the East, not quite reaching the Banda group to the north. Our charter was to take us from Yamdena, in the south and centre of this area, west to the Babar group, southwest to the Sermata group, from there north to the Damar group, then northeast to the tiny islands leading to the Banda group, ending our diving around Ambon.
Quite a few of us had been on the beautiful, comfortable and spacious Seven Seas vessel before, and felt completely like arriving Home, welcomed warmly by our dear friends, the exceptional, very professional, very kind and very smiley Crew and Cruise Directors. We immediately forgot the long flight hours and island hopping it had taken us to get to the little town of Saumlaki on the island of Yamdena. There was diving and exploring to be done, and we all were more than ready for it!!
After a yummy breakfast, we steamed south to Pulau ('island') Matakus, where we jumped in for a check dive amongst pristine fields of staghorn coral packed with cardinalfish of many species. Our second dive was a muck dive on a rubble slope, on the nearby Pulau Nustabun. We were lucky to observe a small cuttlefish laying eggs for ages, and two more circling around her.
A very flat sea was to be our companion for most of the charter, which was a blessing, as we had to steam most nights for several hours from one island group to the next.
Our first over-night crossing under a profusely starry night-sky, took us northeast to the little island of Dai, in the north of the Babar archipelago. These islands belong to the outer, limestone, ring of islands and show interesting undercut sea erosion patterns on the rock formations, interrupted by sandy or stone beaches, and with lush forests and palm trees growing on top. Your typical tropical island paradise...
Dogtooth tuna (Gymnosarda unicolor)
We could not wait to get into the water in the morning, needless to say, there were no other dive boats as far as the eye could see... We unanimously named our first dive site around the southeast point of Pulau Dai "To Dai For", as it definitely set the quality parameter of what would be a charter of the most stunning diving any of us had ever done... Most of our diving would be drift diving, around points or along walls or coral ridges, in crystal clear water, miles of visibility, and the diversity and density of the fish population and coral growth, both hard and soft, would be simply breath-taking... we felt immensely privileged to be able to partake in this kind of adventure, nature at its very very best and most unique.
Along we drifted, past fans and soft corals of all colours, black coral bushes, huge barrel sponges, everything 4XL size and densely packed, covered in streams of bluestreak and yellowtail fusiliers, making the reef look like a neon show, sleek and whitetail surgeonfish, redtooth triggers, black, red and midnight snappers, with a few large dogtooth tuna thrown in, large schools of circling chevron barracuda and bigeye jacks, as well as a school of large horned whitemargin unicornfish cruising by repeatedly. It was difficult to choose where to look... action everywhere...
Our second dive site at Dai was around the east point, and stunning like the first one, with a gorgeous reef top, as we would see many in the days to come, completely covered in hard and soft corals, creating gorgeous topographies and no chance to put a finger anywhere to hold on. Above the reef there would be dense schools of black triggerfish, at least fifteen to twenty species of butterflyfish, and on this particular dive a huge giant sweetlips resting close to a coral block, eyeing us suspiciously... we could not wait to get into the water again...
A hearty snack was followed by a visit to Leina village, which Karl, our Cruise Director, had lined up for us. We got a chiefly welcome and a guided walk-about around the village and gardens, and admired a huge white cross set in a traditional fishing boat at the entrance of the village, an effort to bring Christianity closer to the hearts of the local population.
Leina Village, stone boat entrance
After a critter-happy night dive we sailed southwest to the Sermata group, to Karl's favourite dive site... how could it get any better than Dai ?... Surprise surprise, IT DID... mind-blowing diving was coming our way... and, as it was so awesome, we unanimously decided after the first dive to stay another day...
The 'best dive ever' was on Pulau Kelapa ('coconut island'), its northeast point, Tanjung ('point') Ponelu, where we did our first two dives. The drift towards the point was a sensory overload of soft corals of all colours, but mainly orange ones, huge fans, whip corals and black coral bushes growing on a beautiful scenery of vertical walls, overhangs, ridges and sandy areas. In the blue we could readily observe schools of all snappers, sleek unicornfish, chevron barracuda, bigeye jacks, spadefish, bluefin trevally, large dogtooth tuna and even white tip reef sharks and a hawksbill turtle. It was here that we had our first encounter with the gorgeous princess anthias, which blanketed the whole reef densely. Thankfully, they would accompany us on many dives to come. Our able guides Irwan, Tomi and Karl even found the time to break their attention away from the action and find thirteen bargibanti pygmy seahorses on one single fan for us, wow!!!
It was here also, that Linda (our videographer) saw a school of a fish she had never seen before, the black-banded snapper (Lutjanus semicinctus). Wonderful how after so many years diving all around Indonesia, one can still find fish one has never seen before!!
Our third dive was on the west side of Pulau Sermata, a reef slope along a beautiful white beach fringed with palm trees and lush forest. We conveniently named it 'Fish Slide', as the density of fish was astounding: columns of pyramid butterflyfish, redtooth triggers, whitetail surgeonfish, damsels, humphead snappers, clouds of purple and princess anthias and even the rare Lori's anthias, and of course, streaming fusiliers and all larger snappers and surgeonfish. And... the reef slope was again stunning, with all sorts of soft corals, fans and bushes along the slope, and a very dense and pristine reef top, covered in black triggerfish and butterflyfish of all species...
The night dive was not less exciting with lobsters, crabs and flashlight fish.
Pygmy Seahorse (Hippocampus bargibanti)
Bubble Coral Shtimp
On the next day we repeated our favourites and tried a new one: The north side of the atoll encircling both Kelapa and Kepuri islands. We descended on a steep slope with coral ridges interspaced by sandy corridors. There were many ledges where we found spiny lobsters and stingrays. The coral ridges were rich with fans, purple whip coral bushes and soft corals, covered in columns of pyramid butterflyfish, and a variety of snappers and surgeonfish in the blue. Especially the shallow reef top was stunning, densely carpeted in a huge variety of hard and soft corals and inhabited by a myriad of damsels, chromis, black triggers, snappers, bream and butterflyfish. Critters were also well represented, as we found smashing mantis shrimps, bubble coral and whip coral shrimps, orangutan crabs, fat soft coral crabs, crinoid squat lobsters and clingfish, and nudibranchs.
A beautiful highlight of the day was a large pod of small spinner dolphins, which we could clearly hear squeaking during our safety stop, but never saw. Once on the surface we followed them with the tenders and could observe them as they propelled themselves out of the water and, true to their name, spinned themselves before falling back in. We tried snorkelling with them, but only got a fleeting swim-by sighting, as they obviously had another agenda than to play with us.
Only Linda and Karl's promise of equally good or even better dive sites yet to come could drag us away from paradise... And off we steamed north to the Damar Archipelago, crossing depths of impressive 4600m, on seas smooth as baby bottoms. Lucky us!!
At this point a little interlude is necessary to bestow a huge applause on the superb Seven Seas Crew, who with their constant broad smiles and kind spirits tended most effortlessly and efficiently to our every need above and under water, way beyond their call of duty. Our Captains Pai, Bayu and Wahyu not only worked hard by night and day to steam us safely and expertly from archipelago to archipelago, but also helped the magnificent tender crew, of Big John, Bakar and Ardy to drive us to and from the dive sites and help us in and out of our gear. Our very able and smiley engineers Pri, Koro and Bali also helped in the tenders, as well as taking excellent care of the smooth working of our engines and other machines. Our Chefs Niko and Aji fed us superbly, scrumptiously and copiously, and lovely Yaya together with Little gentle John, kept our cabins spotlessly clean and served us like kings and queens. Eagle-eyed Tomy and Irwan were our hero dive guides. They are awesome spotters and wonderful characters, also filling our tanks, fixing our equipment and quickly hanging our towels. And of course, there are Linda and Karl, videographer and cruise director, with their bubbling and tireless enthusiasm for everything in the ocean and above, always ready to offer all sorts of activities, as well as superb dive guiding and videographing, with their absolutely priceless long-term experience of diving all over Indonesia. From a dive guide's perspective, they are the best any company could wish for to call their own, a definite asset to Seven Seas.
Hard to decide at this point of bliss, which dive is one's favourite, but our next two dives at Pulau Terbang Selatan ('south') were my personal favourites so far... again, the variety and density of soft corals and hard corals in the shallows and along the wall was impressive, with very interesting topography of overhangs and ledges, ridges and vertical areas. The whole wall was covered in anthias and streaming fusiliers of many species, as well as red-tooth triggers, whitetail surgeonfish, sleek surgeonfish and the usual snappers, jacks and tuna. What made this wall unique and different was that most of its fans and black coral bushes had been invaded by soft corals, hydroids and, most beautifully and especially, by a large density of whip coral wrapping anemones of all colours... a most magical sight!!
Terbang Utara ('north'), our third dive, was special because of its topography of sloping ridges, wall bits, overhangs, and sandy areas. The sloping areas were covered with very large and very pristine hard coral formations, and also populated by huge barrel sponges, while the most exposed areas to the current displayed very large and very colourful fans. As if this were not enough to occupy one's dive, the reef again was carpeted in anthias and fusiliers of many species, and the blue packed with damsels, triggers, surgeonfish and snappers, with the occasional large tuna cruising by. Our safety stop was again a very busy coral garden, an explosion of colour and movement. The hardest diving rule to follow was to surface after one hour... And everybody typically squeezed in a few extra minutes of safety stop in the shallow sensory overload area...
Busy Karl organized another activity for us between the third and night dives. A few fishermen had come to visit us and told us about an inner salt lake connected to the sea by just a small passage at the island of Terbang Selatan. So off we went to visit the lake with our tender boat. It turned out to be a very interesting visit, with beautiful scenery and fossilized coral along the rim of the inner lake, with even a giant clam embedded in these fossilized layers. The night dive again was very colourful, and Tomy found slipper lobsters, leaf fish and saron shrimps.
On we steamed, still with flat calm weather and full moon, northeast to our next destination, the small volcanic island of Teun, still in the Damar archipelago. We were welcomed by sulphuric rotten egg smells emanating from the crater of the island, visible as a rocky area amongst the forest, displaying many green, red, yellow and brown rocks. Our geologist Ed enlightened us as to the character of this volcano, it being of the exploding and rock spitting kind, rather than the lava flowing kind... in any case the smells were not very attractive, hence it received the slightly undignified name of 'Poopy Mountain'. The diving though was everything but poopy!!
Decorated dartfish (Nemateleotris decora)
Turtlehead Sea Snake (Emydocephalus annulatus)
Our first dive was at its northeast point, off the small and traditional looking village of Yafila. While our second dive was around the northwest point, off the equally small village of Mesa, displaying a comparatively very large church. Both dives were quite different from the diving we had done so far, and amazing in their own way. Sandy corridors separated huge sloping ridges of volcanic origin. The ridges displayed huge and very pristine hard coral formations of many different species, creating a beautiful topography, and were interspersed with the most massive barrel sponges we had ever seen, towering over the ridges like little volcanoes in their own right, a stunning sight!! In the fish department, we had a few very large Napoleon wrasse cruising by, and were visited up close and personally by schooling chevron barracuda, batfish and rainbow runners. Again, schools of the shiny blue-streak fusiliers carpeted the reef densely, and very large dogtooth tuna patrolled it, accompanied by large schools of snappers, surgeonfish and triggerfish in the blue. On a sandy ledge in the deep water we were very happy to observe eight decorated dartfish hovering about.
Our third dive was at Crater Ridge, a huge shallow ridge just off the smokey crater surrounded by a steep slope. The whole ridge and slope were covered in enormous hard coral formations, with very large barrel sponges in between them. Napoleon wrasse, sea snakes and a school of about fifteen large bumphead parrotfish were our companions. Clouds of fusiliers and snappers swirled around in the blue.
Indefatigable Karl offered a hike to the crater after the third dive. We really would like to know where he gets all his energies from... A tender took us to shore, escorted by majestic white-bellied sea eagles. We started climbing over rocks and into the forest, where the orientation and progress was rather difficult, ending up on a hill with beautiful views of the ocean and Seven Seas. On the way back we took the tender along the shore and found a nice sea cavern, which could be entered with the tender and had very nice atmosphere inside. The night dive was on a wall covered in soft corals and orange cup corals, astoundingly colourful!! After another superb dinner we sailed on at midnight, northeast to the Nil Desperandum Atoll, where our mission was to find hammerheads.
Nil Desperandum is the perfect big fish site, with walls going down straight into deep water and currents flowing along. We spent our three day dives drifting along its sides towards the north point, always in the close up company of all sizes of dogtooth tuna, some of them huge. There were also rainbow runners, endless streams of fusiliers and many sleek surgeonfish. Large malabar groupers crossed our path, as well as a very elegant marble ray. At the corner we were greeted by frisky silky sharks on every dive, and Vijay spotted two hammerheads cruising by. The biggest surprise was a hammerhead leisurely passing us by on the safety stop, right over the top of the reef. The third dive was the most active, as tuna and rainbow runners hunted fusiliers and the silky sharks jumped in for some action of their own. The beauty of the hard corals on the reef top was immediately apparent, as was again the enormous size of the barrel sponges on the slopes and walls. The shallows were populated by dense clouds of butterflyfish, surgeonfish and triggerfish, all of which were of an uncharacteristically small size, as if one were in the presence of a fish kindergarten. Astonishingly though, we observed huge amounts of brown quite small-sized surgeonfish spawning in great quantities, which of course made them adults, very small ones indeed. Only the goatfish and bream, present in large schools on the reef top, were of normal adult size.
Great Hammerhead Shark (Seven Seas Banda Sea and Forgotten Islands cruises)
A long and still very calm overnight crossing in a northeasterly direction to Pulau Manuk was next, passing by Pulau Serua, where we could observe the smoking volcano through the binoculars.
As we woke up on our 8th diving day at Manuk ('chicken') island, a cone-shaped small island, covered in dense forest and palm trees, we were welcomed by a very large and chatty gathering of sea birds. There were thousands of majestic great frigates, many with their bright red sacks partially blown up, red-footed boobies and brown boobies, all flying about very busily all day, brilliant to watch. This island is not only famous for its great accumulation of sea birds, it is also known for the huge amount of sea snakes roaming its waters equally busily, as we were soon to see for ourselves...
Just when we thought we could not possibly experience yet another completely different kind of diving, Manuk surprised us with an entirely new and absolutely majestic underwater landscape. The topography was dominated by large square boulders observable also on the land, which underwater created large ridges, slopes and sheer walls. Even covered in dense coral growth, these huge boulders were still quite visible throughout the dives. Typically, the ridges were coated on either side by impressive and very dense, breathtaking fan forests, with giant barrel sponges sprinkled in everywhere.
Our first dive on the east side was at Sulphur Ridge, and sulphuric it was: At first the boulder wall was uncharacteristically devoid of coral growth, and we were soon to find out why... yellow and white sulphuric 'smoke' was emanating from the rocks, hot to the touch, luckily underwater it did not have any odour, but still seemed to be unfriendly to coral growth. As we progressed we came across a beautiful ridge with a pinnacle at its end, covered in fans, fusiliers, tuna, jacks, surgeonfish and chevron barracuda... a gorgeous fish soup... and of course... snakes snakes snakes... and more snakes meandering amongst us profusely but very peacefully, a stunning sight! The reef top boulders were completely covered in sinularia soft corals and leather corals, which in turn were covered in black and yellowtail triggerfish, and the usual numerous species of butterflyfish.
Banded Sea Krait (Laticauda sp.), Gunung Api Island, Banda Sea
Brilliant red sea fans (Melithaea sp.), Komba Island, Flores Sea
Snake Point in the north was our second dive, as there were even more sea snakes than on the first dive, hard to believe but true. Snakes on the reef, in midwater, at the surface, following each other, following us, interlaced amongst each other, hunting in the crevices... snakes close up and as far as the eye could see... the whole dive site was undulating...
Dive three, western Tanjung Manuk, was awe-inspiring... not only did a hammerhead honour us with its presence, but the boulder topography was a dramatic succession of ridges interspersed with vertical walls and slopes, covered in fans, black coral bushes and dense purple, pink and orange soft corals, everything blanketed in fusiliers, surgeonfish, unicornfish, snappers, jacks and tuna, a real joy ride of colour and movement.
The dusk dive was again at Snake Point, where we were lucky to have a good look at an eagle ray, as well as being visited by myriads of sea snakes yet again.
After dinner we lifted our anchor to make our way to the famous Spice Islands, the Banda archipelago, accompanied by a very orange moon romantically rising over Manuk as we left. Karl promised outstanding diving yet again for the next day, and we could not wait to submerge ourselves...
Seven Seas at Banda
As we were sailing away from the Forgotten Islands, we promised ourselves to return soon, as every dive had been in its own way unique, spectacular and breathtaking. A few additional notes on special features, which captured our attention, might be of interest. We remarked on the unusually high density of very large barrel sponges present on most dives. As to fish life, Linda noted that she had never seen such a high concentration of Ornate and Meyer's butterflyfish, which were abundantly present on every single dive, as were pinktail and black triggerfish, the latter especially on the reef tops. Further, a very high count of butterflyfish species was very typical for every dive, usually reaching twenty different ones, which is an indicator of excellent reef health.
The sun was rising as we approached the Banda archipelago from its southeast side, and stopped at Karang ('reef') Hatta to dive its southeast point for our first dive. The reef is named after Pulau Hatta, the small island located to the north of it. One of the highlights was a barrel sponge spawning profusely and continuously in large white streams, as if it was a smoking volcano, most impressive. The wall was covered in large brown vase sponges and orange soft coral, and blanketed in huge clouds of tiny juvenile sleek unicornfish and red-tooth triggers, absolutely beautiful to watch and very brave of them to be exposed in the blue like that. The great quantity of these two species in tiny juvenile form would be a common feature on all our Banda dives. Karl commented that the year before, the reefs had been covered in tiny juvenile tobies instead. At the corner we had a big-eye jack vortex, and on the shallow reef we were again surrounded by dense aggregations of adult black triggerfish and tiny juvenile red-tooth triggers and sleek unicornfish. We also spotted an octopus, a smashing mantis shrimps and two white-mouth morays, a very rare sighting, as Karl had only seen one once before, equally in the Banda area, in all the years he has been diving in Indonesia.
The second dive, Hatta wall, on the west side of Hatta Island was completely dazzling. We started out by descending into a hole on the reef top, which opened up onto the wall creating an archway. The wall itself was composed of multiple shelves, a fantastic habitat for fans, black coral bushes, sponges and whip coral bushes of all colours, and mainly orange soft corals, an absolutely magnificent sight!! The shelves were also great for spotting decorated dartfish, Randall's gobies with huge shrimps and scorpionfish, and we even saw a blue ribbon eel. Along the wall the blue was teeming with tiny juvenile sleek unicorns and red-tooth triggers again, with black and midnight snappers mixed in. The reef tops during the whole charter have been most prolific, and this dive was no exception: a school of twelve very friendly longfin batfish were getting cleaned, while a large school of juvenile bluefin trevallies cruised by and thousands of black triggerfish spilled on to the wall from the reef top... another amazing dive!!
During lunch we approached the largest island of the Banda group, Banda Besar ('large') and moored off its northeast tip, to be close to Karl's favourite dive site in the Bandas, Batu ('rock') Kapal ('ship'), a rock slightly to the north of our mooring, shaped like a ship. Karl's dive guiding experience came in very handy on this dive, as it is crucial to drop the divers in the right tidal conditions and on the right spot, especially with the strong prevailing after-full-moon currents, and he masterfully managed both, offering us a most magnificent diving experience... it was to be our favourite dive, too!! Off the ship rock there are three pinnacles at between twelve and fifteen meters of depth, which, dived in the right current, turn into a fish soup: most remarkably we enjoyed the superb sight of columns of millions of the very handsome pyramid butterflyfish, interspersed by again clouds of tiny juvenile sleek unicorns and red-tooth triggers, with schools of yellow-masked surgeonfish, yellowtail fusiliers, adult sleek unicorns and rainbow runners mixed in...
We almost forgot to look at the pinnacles themselves, but when we did we were highly rewarded, as they were completely enveloped in orange soft corals and blue tunicates, a superb sight! At the end of the dive we saw the largest honeycomb moray ever, massive... as well as a white-eyed and a yellowmargin one, quite noteworthy, as we had not seen that many morays during the first half of the charter. We experienced quite some cold thermoclines and at the end of the dive the current changed on us, which made it possible to go around the whole shallow top of the reef. The whole dive was like watching a symphony by Beethoven instead of listening to it... Absolutely humbling and overwhelming!
After this completely exhilarating dive we moved into the basin of the 'U' shaped Banda Besar island to anchor between the long island of Naira, which also has the main town on it, and the still active volcano of Gunungapi ('Fire mountain'). The two large lava ridges created by the 1988 eruption are still visible off the north side of the perfectly cone-shaped island, and were to be our first dive on the following day. Beautiful forest and palm tree scenery surrounded us for the evening and night.
Off the indefatigable divers went for a night dive in front of the Maulana hotel at Banda Naira, the main town on Naira island, and back they came with fertile findings: a reptilian snake eel, large schools of shrimpfish, two flying gurnards and the very rare sighting of a peacock mantis shrimp holding a very red egg mass between its long smasher appendices.
Peacock Mantis Shrimp with eggs (Odontodactylus scyllarus)
After a quiet night under the Fire Mountain, which luckily decided not to fire, we had a most interesting dive on the Lava Flow of Gunungapi volcano. Many underwater ridges coming from the land were densely encrusted with the most striking array of hard corals, amongst them some huge table corals, as well as giant fields of staghorn and lettuce corals. The butterflyfish count was again very high, and we even spotted a few big longnose butterflyfish of the black variety. We also had three very large bluespotted puffers and a fleeting appearance of an eagle ray. The definite highlight, though, was watching three huge cuttlefish hovering above the reef changing colours, one of which was laying eggs deeply inside the staghorn coral, which nevertheless did not discourage the butterflyfish from picking them out to feast on them. Mary and me had stayed behind, pottering about on the dense hard coral fields, when Karl swam back miles to get us just so we would not miss the cuttlefish show... way beyond his call of duty !!
For our second dive we went to the north point of Pulau Kraka, the little island opposite our night mooring, and it was deep blue tunicate paradise. One particular little wall was completely covered in light blue tunicates with deep blue ones sprinkled in, and another area displayed dense orange soft coral growth with deep blue tunicate clusters amongst them, simply gorgeous. We kept away from the sand because quite some titan triggerfish were nesting, but saw giant and honeycomb morays by the reef, and the shallows were absolutely dark due to the density of fish: tiny sleek unicorns and red-tooth triggers yet again, pyramid butterflies, black triggers, yellowtail fusiliers and the rare yellowtail sergeants. There was absolutely no fish-free space to surface, so we didn't...
For the afternoon, diving was replaced by a cultural visit to the town of Banda Naira. We landed by the Maulana Hotel, a very grand, colonial building, where our able guide Jeffrey picked us up. He led us along one of the main roads, lined with groomed houses from the Dutch colonial period, heavy stone buildings with verandas framed with short sculptured stone pillars. The museum was our first visit, accompanied by Jeffrey's interesting discourse on the colonial history of the Banda islands, very much influenced by the nutmeg craze. We then saw proper nutmeg and clove trees and had explanations about the parts of their fruits and their uses, followed by a climb up to the Dutch fort and a visit to the well. Then we had shopping time, as all sorts of precious colonial and cultural artefacts were on offer, from wooden, native and bronze statues, cannons and cannon balls, colonial coins, Chinese marbles and white pearls, to all kinds of nutmeg products... the display was astounding.
Mandarinfish (Synchiropus splendidus)
Returning to the ship, some of us went on a dusk dive to look for Mandarin fish, which turned out to be a very productive venture. For the rest of us the children of the Seven Seas shuttle program came to visit and sing. The Gunungapi volcanic eruption of 1988 destroyed the local school, threatening to leave the children without a proper education. Seven Seas sponsors a boat shuttle, which takes the children to the school on Naira Island daily and takes them back home again in the evening, as well as a scholarship program for excelling students. Their visit on board was a rewarding experience, made even more special when Deb decided to sit amongst them to playfully and most skilfully teach them English words, while she was getting the equivalent Bahasa Indonesia translation. Smiles and laughter can definitely create an easy bridge amongst cultures.
We could not believe our luck with the weather, flat calm so far and so it would stay until the end... incredibly wonderful!! We only sailed for an hour in the early morning hours to the westernmost islands of the Banda archipelago, Ai and Run, the latter having been the first English colony ever and nutmeg paradise.
Our first dive was at the south point of Ai, Tanjung Batu Udang ('shrimp rock point'). Everybody likes a good hammerhead story, and hammerheads we got !! A very friendly school of five of the scalloped kind circled around us closely several times, graciously aware of our nitrox 110 feet depth limit. A most majestic sight as they gently and elegantly undulated around us, their big round eyes curiously observing us. Not many wildlife encounters can match a close up interaction with schooling hammerheads...
There was also a school of large bumphead parrotfish and a family of napoleons, one of them huge. The wall was also beautiful, displaying large sponges and fans, and dense yellow-greenish soft coral growth. There were rainbow runners, tuna, snappers and the faithful clouds of tiny juvenile sleek unicornfish and red-tooth triggers in the blue. In the shallows we found healthy hard coral growth, densely coated in black triggers and again at least twenty different butterflyfish species.
Close by Run, which the English handed over to the Dutch in exchange for Manhattan, was our next destination. We drifted towards its southwestern Tanjung Noret, floating through our usual sleek unicorn and red-tooth trigger kindergarten, along a wall covered in sponges and fans. Four mobula rays visited us in the blue, and copious pinktail and black triggers, as well as rainbow runners, snappers and tuna were to be seen. On the consistently stunning reef top we spotted a juvenile very frilly rockmover wrasse, an octopus couple, and giant and yellowmargin morays.
At Nailaka Island
The gorgeous little island of Nailaka was next. Even though Vijay and Michael, our blue divers, spotted two eagle rays out there, everybody else preferred to stick to the very rewarding shallows: the most superb hard and soft coral garden with small, sandy areas and amazing 'hilly' topography. We only had to be a bit careful to stay away from the nesting titan triggerfish, guarding large pink egg masses. It was otherwise a peaceful stroll in the garden, with lots of juvenile boxfish, a juvenile midnight snapper, and a very lovely school of about thirty panda butterflyfish hovering about a pinnacle.
We visited Pulau Nailaka again, this time for sunset drinks and snacks on its romantic white beach surrounded by clear blue water. The sunset was magnificently red and we had a great time.
A long overnight steam in flat calm seas took us northwest to Nusalaut ('sea island'), the first of a little chain of islands ending up in the island of Ambon, located off the southwest side of the large island of Seram.
Our three Nusalaut dives were around its northeast point, named after the near-by village of Ameth. We descended over a sandy slope covered in pinkhead triggerfish nesting and were encircled by a very large vortex of bigeye jacks, a very stunning start of the dive. The shallow reef of gorgeous pinnacles on a sandy bottom was not only covered in copious amounts of drummers, black and midnight snappers, streaming fusiliers, black triggers and at least twenty different species of butterflyfish, we also spotted a school of about thirty five hefty bumphead parrotfish and a very sizeable napoleonfish getting cleaned under a table coral. My personal highlight of the dive was an adult convict blenny busily peeking out of its hole, spitting out clouds of sand, surrounded by myriads of its juveniles, themselves commuting in and out of the hole, a rare and most spectacular sight !! We liked this dive so much, we did it again twice. During the second time, Vijay was almost run over by a hammerhead and we were able to observe the wonderful adult convict blenny in action again. Tomy also took us to see the most massive table coral any of us had ever seen. The highlight of the third dive was the lovely sight of two leaffish, a yellow and a brown one, gently rocking on the staghorn coral.
Convict Blenny (Pholidichthys leucotaenia)
Juvenile Pinnate Spadefish (Platax pinnatus)
Before dinner we were treated to Linda's outstanding video, great footage, beautifully shot and excellently edited. Thunder, lightning and rain were our companions during the night sail to Ambon. It was only the second time that our starry nights had been replaced by rain. Equally all our days had been most sunny, lucky us !! We had two fertile muck dives ahead of us at Ambon, our last dives of a charter, which had been packed with some of the most magic and awe-inspiring diving we had ever experienced.
Both dives, Cornucopias and Twilight Zone, completely lived up to their names: they were the horn of critter plenty, with the most abundant concentration of life located in the twilight zone under the ships of one of the Ambon boat mooring areas. We saw almost every critter there is to see... painted frogfish, a rare bandtail frogfish with large claws on its 'feet', scorpionfish and lionfish of many kinds, a very long short-tailed pipefish, many ringed pipefish, one of them with pink eggs stuck to its belly, a pregnant leaf scorpionfish, four different ornate ghost pipefish, a huge reptilian snake eel, lots of snowflake morays, a blue and a black ribbon eel, different species of subadult sweetlips, gorgeous very young pinnate spadefish and bicolor parrotfish, many doublebanded soapfish, a large school of shrimpfish, a gigantic school of catfish, cute cowfish, many puffers and porcupinefish, a school of long jawed mackerel, and many, many more gorgeous critters.
Bandtail Frogfish (Antennarius dorehensis)
Yellow spotted pipefish (Corythoichthys polynotatus)
After the wonderful Seven Seas Crew had washed all our equipment, we were busy sorting and packing during the afternoon, and greatly enjoyed Mary's slide show. A delicious turkey dinner was followed by a triple birthday celebration, brilliant singing by the Crew, dancing by everybody, and general merry-making... a great party!!
On the next day, early morning after a hearty breakfast, we had tears in our eyes as we said our good-byes, hugging our dear friends, the amazing Seven Seas Crew and Cruise Directors, and promising to be back again soon!!
A gigantic TERIMAKASIH, THANK YOU, to you all on the magnificent Seven Seas !!! YOU ROCK !!!