The Ankh-Morpork Times
David Eggerschwiler
Ankh-Morpork Times
Diving pristine Reefs with lots of marine life wit...
A Dugong in Paradise
2'000 kilometers of Biodiversity
Komodo National Park
Diving the Liberty Wreck in Tulamben
Olive Ridley Sea Turtle Nesting Protection Program...
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French Polynesia 2016 Summary
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Friday, October 14, 2016

Diving pristine Reefs with lots of marine life with Raja4Divers

Raja4Divers picked me up on their way from Sorong, which meant that I reached Pulau Pef in half the time :). I was greeted by the Pulau Pef Band and Joram, my former co-worker who now works on Pef as IT/Marketing specialist.

The resort is very relaxed and beautiful and the view from my Bungalow was simply stunning!

Since unlimited diving was included, we had many different options to choose from. In the morning there was a double tank boat dive. In the afternoon another boat dive. Sunset and Night Dives were also offered and there was a very nice house reef just in front of the island.

Most of the diving took place on pristine reefs where the corals were healthy and fish and other critters plentiful.

One of the highlights was diving under the jetty at Arborek where we encountered an enormous School of Scad. They were so relaxed, we could swim into their midst and they would close the circle and surround us.

Just behind Pulau Pef is an area where muck diving is offered. There we spotted a juvenile Sweetlips that wasn't pictured in the fish identification books!

On Tuesday we did a daytrip to Pulau Wofoh, there we again encountered lots of fish and in the wall we spotted a perfectly positioned Giant Frogfish!

I was very impressed with the huge Gorgonias we encountered in many different colors. The yellow ones being my favorite :).

And where there are Gorgonias the Pygmy Seahorses aren't far away!

In front of our bungalows is a shallow reef which currently houses a Blacktip Reef Shark Nursery. It was great seeing the young ones around and healthy! During my trip through Indonesia so far I had seen very few Reef Sharks, a sign of the long and intensive trade in Shark Fins. Up here around Pulau Pef the marine conversation area is slowly showing its benefits. We spotted Sharks on most dives. And at one time four very active Blacktip Reef Sharks who weren't afraid of the divers either :).

There was always so much going on, that I ended up only doing one Night Dive. There I encountered a pregnant Ornate Ghost Pipefish, a gigantic Star Puffer, a Tasseled Wobbegon a beautiful snail and much more. With 80 minutes this was our longest dive!

With so much fish around one can get easily distracted and miss the small things! But the dive guides know their turf and point out all the highlights.

One of the more special dives in Raja Ampat is also in easy reach of Pulau Pef: The Passage. This is a narrow shallow strait between two islands through which a fast paced drift dive is possible. When we were there, the current was very moderate and so we had more time to inspect the small caves and critters along the way. Visibility was a bit lower than normal, but this offered unique perspectives.

Just next to the Passage is an area called Hidden Bay. A huge inlet with many nooks and crannies and only one connection to the main ocean. Since we had some time we explored the area and were astonished by the stunning rock formations.

Pulau Pef has more to offer than just a nice resort and diving. The island also hosts a large number of wildlife. The most impressive being the large Monitor Lizards, which can be seen on the beach and sometimes even climbing the palm trees!

One of my personal goals while on the island was to place the first Geocache on Pulau Pef. With the generous help of Joram, we created an intriguing Multi-Cache, which takes you to three special places.

Amongst all this I managed to complete my 600th dive! For this achievment I earned original Papuan Diving Goggles. The field test wasn't too successfull, apparently a large amount of grease is normally also applied ;).

The week went by much too fast and by the time it was time to say goodbye, Pulau Pef had gained a special place in my heart and I will gladly return when I'm in Raja Ampat again.

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Friday, October 07, 2016

A Dugong in Paradise

From Sorong I headed to Pulau Birie, home of Papua Paradise. One of the first things I noticed after arriving was a sign saying "Welcome to Paradise" and I spent indeed a couple of unforgettable days there.

Right after checking in and inspecting my beautiful bungalow built on stilts in the ocean, I noticed the sea grass in front of my balcony. I was informed that the day before a Dugong was sighted by my neighbors. So I decided to keep a lookout, since Dugongs are still on my list of things to see :).

And indeed, shortly after sundown, my neighbors spotted the Dugong again as it was slowly making its way across the sea grass, right in my direction. Since the sun had now finally set, I fetched a torch and managed to observe it for a couple of minutes and snap a couple of pictures :).

The next day I went diving. After two nice dives on nice reefs with a large amount of fish live, I headed out again for a Mandarin-/Sunset-Dive. The first thing that crossed my path was a juvenile Barramundi, and for once it wasn't shy!

The Mandarinfish were also present, but rather shy if lights were used. After seeing some dashing around the rocks, I noticed a couple that slowly mounted upwards together before swimming back down again. They repeated this several times. And so I was able to observe the mating dance of the Mandarinfish on my second Mandarin-Dive!

The next highlight of this dive were the Picturesque Dragonets, that looked a bit like the Mandarinfish and were found very close by. One of them was eaten by a Scorpionfish while I was watching! (Poor Dragonet!) I was so baffled, that I didn't record the event.

After mostly seeing Bluespotted Ribbontail Rays during this dive trip, I encountered my first Bluespotted Stingray in quite a while.

The next morning held another adventure. We dove down to 30 meters to inspect the wreck of a P-47 D Thunderbolt "Razorback". This fighter plane crashed on 21st October 1944 because it ran out of fuel. The plane is structurally still intact, even if it lays on its head, and it is possible to look into the cockpit and see the guns on the wings.

On the second dive I inspected a crevice under a large bommy and was very surprised to see a Brown Banded Bamboo Shark.

In the afternoon I used the opportunity to explore the island. Even though I didn't spot many birds, which there normally are but I chose the wrong time of day, I encountered spiders, crickets, butterflies and lizards.

Even though I only stayed three days, I had a terrific time and was incredibly lucky to see so many interesting things :).
Should I return to Raja Ampat then Papua Paradise will definitely be on the short list.

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Wednesday, October 05, 2016

2'000 kilometers of Biodiversity

I had three days of resting in Maumere, which I used for a short excursion to the Kelimutu vulcano. Kelimutu is famous for its three crater lakes. Every lake has a different color and the colors change from time to time to blood red or pitch black. When I was there the lakes had a more or less normal color, ranging from turquoise to yellow.

On Monday, I boarded the Pindito again for the second leg of my trip, covering the 2'092 kilometers up northwest to Sorong in 17 days.

Our first stop was the island of Kawula where we had a magical night muck dive. It started with me discovering something strange that was moving through the sand. An Indian Walkman, also known as Spiny Devilfish.
Then we came across a large Winged Pipefish, a Broadclub Cuttelfish, and a tiny Bobtail Squid! Shortfin Lionfish and a Giant Box Crab were next and if that wasn't enough we finally found the fabled Weedy Scorpionfish (Rhinopias), that the other divers had spotted throughout the day :).
Definitely one of the most varied and captivating night dives in my diving career!

On the next day we had a surface interval near Padar island, when Blue Whales were spotted. Some of us took a Dinghi and tried to follow them. I stayed on board. Soon after someone shouted Mola Mola! And indeed a Sunfish was surfacing and waving it's fin out of the water just 50 meters from the boat!

At Paduar we dove a site called Baengabeng Bay and we spotted four small Octopus in very close succession. Some of them posed very nicely for the camera :).
The next day we dove at Wetar, the last large land mass we would see for almost a week, and there was a historic moment, my 555th dive! To celebrate I was honored with a special hat *g*.
One interesting aspect of this trip was to observe the changing landscape, from lush forested islands over semi-active volcanoes to tiny islands and finally the lime-stone formations in Misool. At Teun island we were greeted with a strong smell, a sign that the local volcano was still active.
The next day we dove at Dosborgh reef, a very remote corner in the Banda Sea, there I had a very close encounter with a huge Dogtooth Tuna. I turned my head and was staring right into his ugly mouth! I was so baffled I could only take a picture when he was already swimming past. But that was definitely a memorable moment!
At Gili Manuk, one of the Snake islands of the Banda Sea, I counted 50 sea snakes during the first 45 minutes of diving! The following dives it abated a bit, but in the end the count still ran up to 109. An amazing day with many close encounters of otherwise rather shy creatures.
During the surface interval we were able to observe a large number of birds that were circling the area. And i managed to capture the following moment:

Before heading into Banda Neira we did a small detour to go Whale watching, because on previous trips there always were Whales present southwest of the Spice Islands. And we didn't have to wait long until we spotted two Blue Whales, a mother and her calf! They surfaced several times and through smart maneuvering once very close to our boat! Edi, the owner of the Pindito, used a drone to capture this fascinating scene. From the air one could see the whole whale through the water surface. The video is available on YouTube.
Over the last two days the other groups, we dived in three different groups of four to six divers, were lucky enough to spot a Great Hammerhead. Today was finally our turn, strangely it was always the same dive guide, which are rotated through the groups daily, that had the encounters, which gave him the nickname Mister Hammerhead :). Our encounter was at 31 meters and the Hammerhead was very busy, thus the picture does not meet my usual standards.
 In the Banda Neira harbour we did an afternoon and a sunset dive and I spotted my first Mandarinfish there :). Those creatures are normally extremely shy, here they didn't mind the divers as long as no torch was used.
We also had some time to visit Banda Neira town the next morning. It has a very gruesome history. During dutch colonization in the 17th century most of the local inhabitants were butchered and replaced by slaves from Java. The dutch Fort from that time is still standing and stands as a reminder of this time. For tourists the fort offers a beautiful view of Gunung Api, a volcano that last erupted in 1988.
On our way past Koon into Raja Ampat we encountered the most spectacular sunset of the whole trip.
Our first time in Misool, which is the Southern part of Raja Ampat, was at Magic Mountain, where we had magical encounters with 3 Oceanic Manta Rays :)
Misool was also spectacular for the sheer amount of fish life present, at times we just hooked into the reef and watched one school passing after another. One lucky dive we spotted four Devil Rays (Mobulas) passing by.
But Misool also offered spectacular views above water with its limestone cliffs and wooded islands.
And so, after 17 fascinating dives we reached Sorong harbor and it was sadly time to say good-bye. During this leg of the trip I managed to do 48 dives and observe creatures covering the whole spectrum, from tiny Nudibranches to huge Blue Whales. I had a fantastic time and would like to thank the whole Pindito team and crew for this unforgettable journey!

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Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Komodo National Park

In Bali I boarded the Pindito for a 12-day cruise to Maumere in Flores.

The first dive was breathtaking. So much fish life! And a mostly intact reef. During the second dive we ventured a bit further and found the reef badly damaged, however, there we encountered a couple of very curious Blacktip Reef Sharks. One of them came very close to check us out.

We did more than diving. On the second day we visited Moyo island which had a nice waterfall which was perfect for swimming. In the small town we also encountered many goats, pigs and chickens.

One of my favourite fish was also present on many a dive: The Western Clown Anemonefish.

Even though the white anemone offers great contrast, it is the first warning sign of possible coral bleaching in the area. Which might be a consequence of last years El NiƱo.

Another highlight for me was a visit to Satonda island which features a salt-water lake. And up on the hill a Geocache. I managed to motivate a couple of guests to accompany me and so we started the arduous climb, which was rewarded by the Geocache, which was still perfectly preserved in its hidey hole, and a stunning view.

At Manta corner we did two dives hoping to see some Manta Rays. They did show up, but only for a very short visit. While everyone was hanging in the reef, waiting for more Mantas, I headed to an area where the dive guide spotted a large group of Bigfin Reef Squid. After taking the scene in for a while, I realized that they were mating! So I switched from photos to video and you can see the highlights in this YouTube clip.

Then we finally arrived in the Komodo National Park. First thing in the morning we visited the ranger station on Rinca island, where we received a 90 minute tour and were able to observe a good dozen Komodo dragons as well as deer, monkeys and birds. We then headed to Horseshoe Bay, at the Southern end of Rinca island, where we encountered a group of very active Komodo dragons on the beach. The reason for this is, that some of the other dive boats feed the dragons, which is officially prohibited, and thus whenever a boat approaches, the dragons come to the shore in hope of food. Thus going on land was out of the question.

A highlight on this trip were the night dives. Even though the majority of those dives were on sandy patches, there was so much going on that I never got bored. On one dive we encountered four small Cuttlefish, on others critters so small we needed a magnifying glass to spot them. One one dive we were crowded by hunting lionfish. And on another we spotted four large and beautiful Spanish Dancers.

Overall I had a wonderful trip.

Unfortunately, the internet connection in this corner of the world is not so good, so it will take some time until I can upload more pictures.

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