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David Eggerschwiler
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Lembeh Strait: Muck Diving at its best!
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A Dugong in Paradise
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Friday, October 28, 2016

Lembeh Strait: Muck Diving at its best!

I first heard about diving in Lembeh Strait ten years ago. Since then I spoke to many enthusiastic divers. From their descriptions I expected to find sandy patches covered in trash and in the middle of the trash all sorts of strange creatures. So it was a bit of a surprise, when I started diving how unpolluted the dive sites actually were. Of course there was a bit of trash here and there but no way the amount I expected. It took a couple of days of diving until I managed to snap a picture which represented my expectations ;)

Knowing what was possible to see at Lembeh, I arrived with a short list of creatures I'd like to encounter. On the very first dive we met two of them: A Flamboyant Cuttlefish and a Hairy Frogfish!

A couple of days later we encountered another Hairy Frogfish that wasn't just sitting around, but walking across the sand shaking its lure in hopes of attracting prey.

Some creatures were so abundant that we encountered them on most dives. I especially enjoyed seeing the Banggai Cardinalfish over and over again. They have such a peculiar shape and had formed a habit of living in Anemones, where strangely enough the Anemonefish tolerate them. On the other hand, when I got too close to take a picture an Anemonefish bit me in the finger!

One fish that I always enjoyed looking at in Fish Identification Guides was the Juvenile Many-Spotted Sweetlips, with its big white dots and it's bright coloring it looked so different from the adults. So I was extremely happy to encounter them in all sizes, from tiny (less than 1 centimeter) up to almost adult (15 centimeters).

The smaller ones were very difficult to photograph because they always moved around in a shaking pattern, probably trying to mimic a poisonous flatworm. After a dozen tries I managed to get one picture with the juvenile in focus :)

Night dives were a special highlight, there was even more going on than during the day. And on one night dive I encountered one of the strangest creatures I met so far, a pair of Dragon Sea Moths

The dive guides had excellent eyes and spotted the interesting creatures often from afar. Some of the creatures I had seen previously during this trip were present in Lembeh as well, but in much bigger variations, such as this Emperor Shrimp:

Or these two Harlequin Shrimps

Even though most crabs only came out during the night time, I spotted this strange looking Sea Urchin Carry Crab during an afternoon dive.

During my time at Blue Bay Divers two Bluering Octopi were seen, unfortunately for me I was always in the wrong spot. So I told my dive guide that I'd like to see a Bluering Octopus here. Two times we headed to dive sites where Bluerings normally were seen. The second time we got lucky :)

To round off a perfect Octopus day, we spotted a Poison Ocellate Octopus

and a Starry Night Octopus, which walked along the ocean floor in a very laid-back manner ;)

Another instance where we noticed that some critters just were bigger at Lembeh than elsewhere was when we did a dive at Police Pier, where we spotted very big Mandarinfish darting around the reef.

Or on another day when we spotted this Tryon's Risbecia

One day we were very lucky to spot a Wonderpus Octopus at the end of the dive. Since it was relaxed we ended up spending ten minutes with him :)

This meant that only one Octopus from my list was still missing. The Mimic Octopus. And so we went to a specific dive site to take a look. One of the groups spotted it early in the dive and tried to alert us. While I heard nothing I noticed our dive guide heading very directly back to where we started the dive and so we also got a good luck. Unfortunately, the Mimic Octopus was in a hurry and so we managed to snap only a few pictures.

Another creature we had many encounters with was the Mantis Shrimp. Two of those encounters stood out. One day our dive guide spotted a Peacock Mantis which had a large number of eggs under its belly

and during the last dive we encountered the beautiful Golden Mantis :)

To round up the Octopus Sextet we again had many encounters with Coconut Octopi. From one of those my favorite picture emerged

All in all my one-week stay at Lembeh was a phenomenal success and I can highly recommend it to divers who enjoy muck dives (even if it means staring at sand for ten minutes, without seeing anything) and want to see special creatures. If I get back to Indonesia, then I'll definitely try to dive in Lembeh Strait  again :).

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Friday, October 21, 2016

Diving with Coconut Octopus and other cool creatures

Leaving Raja Ampat I took the plane to Manado in North Sulawesi and from there a car and boat to the beautiful small island Sahaung, just South of Bangka Island. Sahaung is home to Blue Bay Divers and offers a real small island feeling with nice beach side bungalows and a relaxed atmosphere.

The first dive already showed the potential of the area. We saw a small Harlequin Shrimp, several Giant Frogfish, a Pygmy Seahorse and much more.

The dive sites were very varied. Sandy areas for pure muck diving, walls with current for drift diving and nice corral fields. On one memorable wall dive we spotted two Painted Frogfish on a wall, one of them chased after my camera!

Whenever possible I joined the night dive, because there was even more going on than during the day. On one dive I encountered two Bobtail Squids and one showed off it's whole color palette. (You can also see the krill in the picture, which was plentiful and sometimes a bit annoying ;) ).

On another night we encountered multiple smaller Coconut Octopi. One of them found shelter in a small snail shell.

Another used two halves of a clam, which he carried with him when we got to close, to finally retreat in their middle.

On the last day we visited Batu Sahaung, a stony reef just around the corner, which is covered in Soft Coral in all colors! I have never seen so many differently colored Soft Coral in such a small space before. It was simply beautiful!

With so much diving one day merged into the next and then it was suddenly time to continue to the next spot. I had a great experience and am looking forward to return one day!

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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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