It's been a while since we've been diving. Ever since I took my certification in 2004, I've been diving quite actively. Year 2005 was the golden year, in which I did 91 dives including in Bali, Ambon, BerauSea (Derawan) and North Sulawesi. But then I moved to Singapore and my diving trips were cut down. And it was cut down even more when I had to have a knee operation. Hence 2006 was a bad year, and for 8 months from end of 2006 to March 2007 I only had a mere 4 dives! :O(see dive log)
So it's been a while since we've been diving and with a long liveaboard coming (Kapalselam trip) we decided that we needed some brushing up and so we took a long weekend diving trip in Bali. Menjangan was the area we chose.
MenjanganIsland is located in the north-west corner of Bali, not far from the eastern end of Java. In fact in a clear day we can see two East Javan volcanoes, one of which is Mount Raung (3332 meters), looming majestically in the west. But the nearest volcano is Mount Prapat Agung (310 meters) in a peninsula just southwest of Menjangan. MenjanganIsland is part of a national park (Taman Nasional Bali Barat) and there's no resort there, so we have to stay in the mainland.
To go to the Menjangan island you can take boats from Labuan Lalang a fisherman port in the mainland, or a smaller fisherman's port to the east, in Banyuwedang area just next to Mimpi resort. The nearest places to stay in the area are some expensive resorts such as Mimpi and Gawana Novus in Banyuwedang, which have their own piers. The cheaper alternative would be to stay in Pemuteran, about 20 minutes drive away east. Kapalselam had done trips whereby you don't stay around the area at all but drive at dawn from Denpasar, do two dives in Menjangan and then drive east to Tulamben. But it's a looooong and tiring trip.
Thursday night we flew from Jakarta in a flight, but it was 30 minutes late, so we arrived in Denpasar at (the flight is 1.5 hours but Bali is one hour ahead of Jakarta). Well, if you ever want to do this I can tell you now, don't fly too late at night. Take half a day off and fly in the afternoon. We learned this the hard way. The drive from the airport to Mimpi resort near Menjangan where we stayed at took 4 hours. Hence it was when we arrived. We were obviously knackered.
However when a dive instructor who came with us in the car asked if a start would be too early we said no. She was shocked, it looked like she was hoping we'd use the whole day resting and dive the next day. No way. We came all the way here to dive, not lazying in the sun. Besides, we'd have at least 6 hours of sleep and I'd been sleeping in the car along the way anyway :)
mangrove lined bay in Banyuwedang
Dive 1 Menjangan slope
That morning we had Wayan, a divemaster from Mimpi, to guide us (didn't see the dive instructor from last night at all). The boat ride from Mimpi's pier took about 30 minutes. We stopped at the narrow strip of shelf north of MenjanganIsland, geared up and backrolled into the gently dipping white sandy bottom dotted here and there with small patches of corals.
A few fin strokes later we were at the edge, a steeply dipping reef front and wall covered with healthy hard and soft corals, various sponges, ascidians and algae. There were a lot of gorgonian fans and big clams were strewn here and there in the shallower depths. Reef fish are abundant – from the small ones like anthias, damselfish, many small wrasses, lizardfish and occasional blennies and dartfish, to the bigger ones like butterflyfish, angelfish, huge batfish, many tangs and surgeonfish, parrotfish, occasional groupers and lone snappers, and schools of fusiliers.
We found a Periclimenes imperator or Emperor Shrimp on a huge sea cucumber of the genus Holothuria and saw a big Bumphead Parrotfish (Bolbometopon muricatus). But the highlight of the dive was a green turtle (Chelonia mydas) with two remoras (Remora remora) riding belly-up on its back. Wayan the guide tried to look for pigmy seahorses in a gorgonian fan at around 15m depth but to no avail. He found them 4 days ago, he said, but apparently they've moved away.
Green turtle with two remoras on its back
The sun was shining brightly and the water clear resulting in a visibility between 25 and 30 meters, horizontal and vertical. It makes you feel giddy when looking down and see the bottom a long long way away. We didn't dive deep, the maximum depth was only 20.4 meters and we dived for 57 minutes.
Dive 2 Pos 2
After more than an hour of rest in the narrow stretch of sandy beach at the southeastern point of the island, we dived at Pos 2 just off the pier, wearing the gear in the calm water. Again the bottom profile was the same; it started as a very gently dipping shelf covered with white sand and rare patches of corals, followed by a sudden drop at the reef front – a wall covered with healthy marine life offering an explosion of colours.
The creatures are similar to the first dive: anthias, damselfish, gobies, anemonefish, wrasses, lizardfish, blennies, butterflyfish, angelfish, rabbitfish, batfish, cardinalfish, file fish, pufferfish, tangs, surgeonfish, parrotfish, groupers, snappers, and schools of fusiliers. We saw some fierce looking Titan Triggerfish (Balistoides viridescens), a lobster (Panulirus versicolor) and a Yellow boxfish (Ostracion cubicus) pairing with trumpetfish (Aulostomus chinensis).
The highlight of the dive was a strange looking fish just below the pier at around 15 meters of depth. I think it was a Devil scorpionfish (Inimicus didactylus) though it's difficult to be sure as it was all covered with sand. We dived to a maximum depth of 20.1 meters but mostly stayed at around 12 meters. The total dive time was 61 minutes.
Dive 3 Coral garden
In the afternoon we started the third dive at . The weather was still the same – sunny. That time the moon was in the waning phase. The water was calm at surface, and not much current either underwater. The temperature was 29 deg Celcius. Another nice and calm dive. The visibility was also still great, around 25 meters. We dived for 59 minutes, with maximum depth at 18.9 meters and average depth at 11.9 meters.
This dive site was located at the northeastern part of the island. We didn't dive anywhere near the wreck off the northwestern part of the island because Wayan thought the current was bad there. We also didn't go to EelGarden because Wayan said the week before a fisherman had done a bomb-fishing in the area and most of the garden eels have disappeared. Very sad!
We encountered similar bottom profile and similar abundant marine life. Just as we began to descend in the wall a remora tried to hitchhike on Wayan. He shooed the fish away and it decided to hitchhike in my buddy's leg. Remora (Remora remora) is also called suckerfish because the first dorsal fin above its head has adapted into a flat-like structure that can open and close to create suction for the fish to hold on to other animals. Hence it benefits by using the host as transport and protection and also feeds on materials dropped by the host. Remoras are commonly found attached to sharks, manta rays, and other large fishes. Apparently though, they are also known to attach themselves to divers, perhaps confusing them with large fish. This may not be flattering to my buddy but the remora kept attaching itself to him during most of the dive.
a remora hitchhiking on my buddy
At a depth of around 17 meters Wayan observed a pinkish gorgonian fan and found 3 tiny pigmy seahorses of the species Hippocampus bargibanti. He was very happy.
That night we wanted to do a night dive near the mouth of the bay in Banyuwedang. We heard some mandarin fish have been sighted there. But the guide told us these fish have disappeared and he didn't seem to be too keen on doing a night dive. He said visibility is usually bad there. Well, it's a night dive, it doesn't matter, but he looked reluctant so even though disappointed we didn't push.
We decided to do a different dive the next day. There are other dive sites beside Menjangan in the area. There's Pemuteran which is a reef slope off the mainland a few minutes east of Banyuwedang. But the description didn't seem to be too exciting. We wanted to do muck diving, which can be done in SecretBay at the channel between Bali and Java, and in Puri Jati which is located about 30 minutes drive east of Pemuteran. We chose Puri Jati.
black volcanic sand of Puri Jati
Dive 1 Puri Jati East
The car dropped us at a tiny village on the beach surrounded by rice field and vinyard. Under the trees there were several bamboo benches and two tubes of fresh water for divers to use. There was a sizeable temple among the rice field and the grapes from the vinyard was deep purple in colour, smallish and not too sweet. The most interesting feature of the area is probably the duck farms. Hundreds of ducks were kept in coops under the trees in the beach. They kept moving here and there in a harmonious group moves, but their sound wasn't harmonious at all and it never stopped. Quack quack quack quack......
duck farm in Puri Jati
It's a shore dive so we had to walk with our gears across the beach to the water. Luckily the beach was sandy, unlike the gravelly beach of Tulamben, and the waves that day was small so the entry wasn't too painful.
The bottom was very gently dipping, covered with soft black volcanic sand. Marine-life wise, compared to Menjangan this is a desert. The black sand was very soft so a few uncareful strokes of fins could cause quite a storm. The visibility was only about 5 meters without those sand storms. But, it's perfect for muck diving. We're excited and hoped to find the strange creatures that characterised areas like this.
a porcelain crab and anemone fish on the anemone host
The sand was dotted with hundreds of small corals Cyathoceras sp of the Caryophylliidae family. Here and there we found some sea pens (Pteroides sp and Virgularia sp), sea grass (Halophila ovalis and Cymodocea serrulata) clumps, anemone (mostly Haddon's sea anemone or Stichodactyla haddoni but there were Beaded sea anemone or Heteractis aurora and Leathery sea anemone or Heteractis crispa too) and tube anemone. Very rarely we stumbled on some sponges and ascidians.
Armina sp nudibranch
The sea anemones commonly play hosts to several different animals living harmoniously together. These include several types of anemonefish (Amphiphrion sp), juvenile Three-spot dascylus (Dascyllus trimaculatus), cardinalfish (Apogon cyanosoma), anemone shrimps (Periclimenes brevicarpalis and Thor amboinensis)and porcelain crabs (Neopetrolithes maculatus).
There were a lot of Threadfin sand divers (Trichonotus elegans) swimming in groups low near the bottom. Some were perched on the sand bottom but disappeared into the sand in a fraction of a second as soon as we got near. We found a type of Lizardfish (Synodus sp), a crocodile fish (Cymbacephalus beauforti),a nudibranch (Armina sp.), a Leopard flounders (Bothus patherinus), a Comb star (Astropecten polyacanthus) and a moray eel which I can't identify.
the weird crocodilefish
Wayan spotted an Emperor shrimp (Periclimenes imperator) on a worm sea cucumber which looks like Synaptula lamperti, and another on Holothuria sp.
emperor shrimp on worm sea cucumber & a Cyathoceras sp coral
My buddy spotted a Margined octopus (Octopus marginatus) half hiding under a rock (he has very keen eyes, a good spotter) and Wayan showed us a Napoleon snake eel (Othichthus bonaparte) sticking its head out of the sand.
a cute margined octopus looking like a ballerina
Close Encounter with The Fish Net
We were so absorbed watching the bottom closely trying to see if there are eyes sticking out of it that we didn't realise we had swum into a fisherman's net. Until it was uncomfortably close. As soon as we saw it we turned tail and paddled our fins as hard as we could. It wouldn't've been nice to have our gear stuck in the net, to put it mildly.
I'm not sure what they were trying to catch. Big fish are so rare in there. There were some mid sized sweetlips swimming by but that's about it. Most of the free-swimming fish were juveniles. The bottom dwellers aren't only juveniles, but they don't look too appetising and don't look like food, at lest not too human. Are the juvenile free swimers the ones the fishermen were trying to catch? But they're juveniles! Again we became witnesses to a clash between human economy and the environment.
We dived to a maximum depth of only 11.3 meters with an average depth of 7 meters, for 81 minutes. There was a mild current that got a tad stronger as we tried to get back to the village. We surfaced a bit far west of the village and had to swim back against the current. It was tiring but the alternative was to walk along the beach lugging the gear. I knew which one to choose!
Dive 2 Puri Jati West
The second dive was difficult. The current was getting strong though we could still move about with a bit of extra strength. This time we dived a bit deeper, to 14.3 meter maximum, with an average depth of 8.2 meter.
acrobatic show from a Periclimenes brevicarpalis or anemone shrimp
As soon as we were down at the bottom we were welcomed by a bunch of garden eels (Heteroconger hassi). Despite the current and worse visibility (3 meters only) we managed to find a juvenile lionfish (Pterois volitans), moray eel, a white-spotted pufferfish (Arothron hispidus), a few file fish which seem to have each adopted a sea grass or sea pen to hide in, a mantis shrimp (Haptosquilla stoliura), an octopus (Octopus sp), a school of baby catfish (Plotosus lineatus), a sea snail of the Cassidae family and a sea star of the Protoreaster genus.
An octopus all curled up
The current was getting stronger and stronger and I was struggling at the end of the dive, so we finally surfaced after 61 minutes with my air depleted quite low (30 bar).
Dive 3 Puri Jati
We almost didn't make the third dive. If the current was still as strong as before there's no use going down and do a muck diving. This isn't a wall diving in which you can enjoy a kind of colourful film wheezing past a wall full of corals and fish. In a muck dive you have to observe things closely, so current wouldn't help. But after over an hour it seemed that the current had stopped. Other divers who just got out confirmed that. They said they've spotted a frogfish rather deep around 18 meters. So we geared up and went in.
Sea star, probably Protoreaster sp
The current had abated, there's still some but only mild and visibility was back to 5 meters. In this kind of situation I really love muck diving. You just can't guess what you might find and the boring dark sand could turn all sort of exotic animals. As you look around and adjust your vision what you thought was sand could suddenly move and reveal that it was a flounder. Something that looks like a rock with clumps of anemone on it suddenly moves and reveals that it's a hermit crab.
The sand has eyes! The face of a flounder
That's exactly how we spotted the Leopard flounder (Bothus patherinus), hermit crab (Dardanus pedunculatus), and Kuhl's stingray (Dasyatis kuhlii). This stingray is similar to Blue-spotted stingray (Taeniura lymma) and a bit difficult to distinguish. But the latter has more rounded wings than the former. We saw more Threadfin sand divers (Trichonotus elegans) and some shrimpfish (Aeoliscus strigatus).
Threadfin sand divers (Trichonotus elegans)
Relationships between the animals also seem to be different, closer here than in a reef which is crowded with life. In a desert like this an anemone can host many different other creatures. And it's rather touching to watch a filefish living around a sea pen, like it's its sole friend.
stargazer out of hiding
At this dive we found some Comb star (Astropecten polyacanthus), a Heart urchin (Lovenia elongata), more moray eel, baby catfish, some snails of the family Conidae and Terebridae, a decorator crab and a Red spot razor wrasse (Xyrichtys pentadactylus).
The highlight of the dive was a White margin stargazer with its distinctive black dorsal fin (Uranoscopus silverous) which is not buried under the sand, a napoleon snake eel (Othichthus bonaparte) venturing outside the hiding place and a small octopus hiding inside a hole in a stone.
Napoleon snake eel
We dived to a maximum depth of 18 meters but didn't find the frogfish or the reported Mimic octopus, seahorse and pipefish. But it was a good dive anyway that we spent 64 minutes of bottom time.
Puri Jati might not be on a par with LembehStrait in North Sulawesi, but it's not at all bad. There are a lot of monsters and aliens too here.
We spent the last day lazying in the resort, enjoying the beautiful swimming pool that seems to merge with the sea and the plunge pool full of hot water from the thermal spring nearby. The resort is a really beautiful place. The villas are designed in Balinese style with rough stonework that's green with mould and smalls ponds full of blooming lotuses. Even the cheaper room that we stayed at has a touch of that natural style – the bathroom at the back was open to the sky and filled with gravels, stonework and trees.
It would be nice to spend more time there but we had to go early for the long journey back. Well, maybe next time we will come back again. There's still SecretBay to explore and more monsters to meet.
the pool that seems to merge with the sea
Asia Pacific Reef Guide (Helmut Debelius)
Reef Fish Identification - Tropical Pacific (Gerald Allen & Roger Steene)
Indonesian Reef Fishes (Rudy Kuiter & Takamasa Tonozuka)
Nudibranch and Sea Snails Indo-Pacific Field Guide (Helmut Debelius)