A Whole New World

By Annabel Thomas
For The Bali Times

SEMINYAK, Bali ~ These days, anyone who dives beyond their own shores (or is lucky enough to live here) knows the Indo-Pacific is the world’s richest marine bio-geographical region. It is much less well-known that, within this vast region, the triangle from Bali to West Papua to the southern Philippines contains the world’s most diverse tropical marine fauna.

Bali’s diving came to international attention in the 1980s with Menjangan Island, famous for wall diving with great visibility, being the first well-known location. Then came the USAT Liberty shipwreck, the world’s easiest shipwreck, at Tulamben on the northeast coast, followed by the offshore islands of Nusa Penida and Nusa Lembongan.

However, seven years ago I dived Amuk Bay (with Padangbai on the south, Candidasa on the north) and … it was magnificent!

I found prolific marine life set against dramatic backdrops of chiseled black walls, making these, in my opinion, Bali’s most breathtaking sites. The (at times torrential) rich current which sweeps east Bali accounts for the remarkable health and diversity of both corals and smaller marine life, while the cold (note: cold!) upwelling from the deep basin 100 kilometers south of Bali gives superb visibility and brings the vast numbers of fish, abundant sharks and other pelagics for which the area is famous.

Several reputable south Bali dive companies now offer diving out of Padang Bai, with pick-up times being Kuta: 7am, Sanur: 7:30am, Candidasa: 8:30am. It is often possible to do three dives although – as conditions are unpredictable – you need to go with the flow and allow your divemaster to decide about sites and whether a third dive is possible. Keep it safe and enjoyable. The unpredictable conditions, with up and down currents, necessitate using an experienced divemaster. I would never dive these sites without one – and I mean a divemaster experienced at these sites, not simply an experienced divemaster.

As the sites are small and the boat picks you up where you surface, geographically you can’t get lost, but even a mild drift means your dive ends way before bottom time or air dictates.

If possible I do Biaha, a crescent-shaped rock 30 minutes north of Padang Bai, for the day’s first dive. A beautiful and healthy reef surrounds Biaha, but note the northern rocky slope has some tricky currents. The rugged black wall in the south, with the breaking waves above, is absolutely beautiful and at times it is almost as if the fish are superfluous – but not quite! Your dive can cover almost the entire circumference of Biaha or just a small part, depending on your interests, currents and conditions.

The easiest entry point is on the less-exposed inside of the crescent, near a cave in which Whitetip Reef Sharks sleep. The protected area outside the cave has interesting corals with commensal shrimp and crabs, Anglerfish, Leaf Scorpionfish, octopoi, Cuttlefish and Nudibranches.

Closer to Padang Bai, located outside Candidasa, are two quite different diving locations – Tepekong and Mimpang. Although they are only 500 meters apart, the conditions are usually completely different, meaning if one is undiveable, the other may be fine and then, after your surface interval, the first may have become quite calm.

Mimpang (Batu Tiga) is a ridge of submerged rocks with the three largest breaking the surface. The topography is diverse: sloping reefs, craggy rocks and walls – all with good cover of soft corals, stony, staghorn and table corals, sponges and gorgonians. There are big schools of fishes, many Bluespotted Rays, Napoleon Wrasses, Moray Eels, Trumpetfishes and Triggerfishes as well as innumerable reef fish.

September to November, on the white sand slope (7-10 meters) before the reef, you can find Mola-Mola (the weird and wonderfully looking Oceanic Sunfish) being cleaned.

“Shark Point” is the deeper south wall and is great for shark-sightings due to strong (usually predictable) currents.

Tepekong, basically a 300-meter-long rock, is famous for The Canyon (southwest Tepekong, max 40 meters) and offers some of Bali’s most spectacular diving. However, the steep walls, cold water and strong currents make this a site for experienced divers only. Visibility is usually very good.

If conditions allow you to enter The Canyon, and there is no current (a rare occurrence), you can clearly see the dramatic beauty of these stunning, craggy black stone walls. But if there is the usual swirling current, while you can still feel the drama of the site, your view is somewhat obstructed by huge schools of Sweetlips, Bumphead Parrotfishes, Unicornfishes, Batfishes, Groupers, sharks (usually Whitetips) and other pelagics which may include tuna and Mola-Mola. These waters are rich with nutrients that attract smaller fish – and therefore larger fish too.

East Tepekong, with its hard, soft and table corals, offers reef and wall diving with excellent marine life that can include occasional turtles, tunas and many kinds of Triggerfish.

Finally there is Gili Selang, which lies on Bali’s eastern point. Like all exposed sites, Selang can have ripping currents and is therefore rarely dived. However, while Selang itself is very small, the diving extends to the far side of the relatively sheltered bay to the north and so you can do multiple dives without covering the same area; and, as the soft and hard corals are rich and healthy in the shallows, you can do long dives here.

Further down the slope the coral is low-growing due to the currents but is still healthy, with lots of eels lurking in the holes. Here you can expect to see turtles, Whitetips, Bumphead Parrotfish, Nudibranches, Lionfish and abundant schooling reef fish.

On the southeast corner of the island, the currents can get extremely strong, and it is not always possible to dive here. If conditions are right, you may be rewarded with an encounter with pelagics.

I wish I had space to tell you more about these sites – my advice: try them yourself. You may think you know Bali’s diving but trust me, until you’ve dived east Bali, you haven’t seen the best.

So wonderful, in fact, that I opened a scuba-diving company here.

The writer is a director of AquaMarine Diving. www.aquamarinediving.com

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