Salt of the Earth

By Annabel Thomas

For The Bali Times

SEMINYAK ~ Located on Bali’s northeast coast, 15 minutes from the main road, Amed and, a little further along the coast, Jemeluk, with its long curving sand beach, were in years gone by quiet villages dependent on salt-panning and fishing. With the arrival of tourists, the villages have prospered but are still a far cry from the hustle and bustle of Bali’s south coasts. This is an area where people come to stay for a while, and two of the most popular activities here are scuba diving and snorkeling.

As recently as 1997, the reef within the shallow bay at Jemeluk was extremely healthy Рfull of hard corals, magnificent barrel sponges and gorgonian fans. However, in 1998, the coral within the bay, and in places down to 10 meters, was bleached as a result of El Ni̱o. The reef is slowly recovering but we cannot yet tell when it will return to its former glory.

Immediately outside Jemeluk Bay are two dive sites, known (slightly confusingly) as Amed Wall and Amed Reef, both of which can be done as a shore- or boat-dives. The boats are small outriggers (jukung) – long and narrow fishing boats with enough space for two divers.

Due to the easy conditions, the diving is suitable both for novice and experienced divers as well as snorkelers. There are rarely any waves so any surface swims and ascents/descents are worry-free.

Divers have virtually no currents to contend with, so no buoyancy problems for the less-experienced, and there’s an opportunity to get right up close – for those who have perfected their buoyancy – and enjoy all the smaller animals on offer.

The water temperature can be affected by thermoclines (where cold eddies meet warmer waters), and visibility is usually 14-22 meters.

Amed Reef lies in depths ranging from 12-22 meters and is an area where you can find many different kinds of sponges and gorgonians, and where the marine life includes everything from goby and shrimp sets as well as anemones with attendant clownfish, to schools of barracuda and Blue-spotted rays. The reef is home to different kinds of parrotfish, angelfish, surgeonfish and moray eels.

Amed Wall is from 10-35 meters in depth and although the wall itself is a relatively small part of the dive, there’s great diving to be had here. On the wall, you can usually find White-tip reef sharks, Napoleon wrasse and occasionally big trevally. Huge numbers of butterflyfish, bannerfish, snapper, fusilier and triggerfish abound. The deep slope after the wall is rich in corals and invertebrates, with crinoids as well as fish life. Coming shallower you see diverse hard and soft corals, and bommies with sponges and gorgonians.

Three kilometers southeast of Jemeluk is quiet Lipah Bay, home to the wreck of a 20-meter steel freighter. The wreck lies in shallow water, 6-12 meters, between a reef and the black sand bottom, and is encrusted with sponges, gorgonians and coral bushes. Visibility can be greatly reduced if there is a current or any wave action; however the bay is well protected on both sides. The sloping reef is spectacular, particularly around 15-20 meters, with soft corals, gorgonians and sponges. The reef continues in patches to 40 meters and more. The shallowest section of reef (unaffected by the coral-bleaching in 1998) contains table and staghorn corals and is home to clouds of damsels and anthias as well as schooling fish.

About 30 minutes from Lipah Bay (40 minutes from Jemeluk) by outrigger, lying on Bali’s most eastern point, is the small island of Gili Selang that at times has, like all exposed sites, ripping currents. Selang is therefore a site for experienced divers only. It’s also possible to take a speedboat from Padangbai, although that journey can take just over an hour.

The interesting and rich sand slope to the north of the Gili Selang has some stands of hard branching corals and occasional bommies; the deeper areas of the slope are more protected and therefore home to sea fans, soft corals, barrel sponges and coral bushes. Along this sand slope you may see White-tip reef sharks and Bumphead parrotfish. The east side of Gili Selang can provide you with great visibility and, due to the cold water, you may find Manta rays and dolphins here. The south side of Selang is more protected and has an area of low but healthy reef with many Moray eels and schooling fish including trevally. Dotted around are bommies and leather corals.

As mentioned, both Amed and Jemeluk used to be solely dependent on fishing and salt panning, but with the increased numbers of tourists, salt panning is beginning to die out as a source of income. Hotel Uyah (uyah is salt in Balinese) was built with the joint aims of preserving Amed’s traditional salt production and as the area’s first “sustainable development” project. The vision of the owners is to stay in harmony with the natural environment by focusing on environmental issues, and to encourage the maintenance of local traditions and culture.

Both Cafe Garam (garam is salt in Indonesian) and Hotel Uyah were constructed using locally available materials and craftsmen, and in such a way as to use minimal amounts of fossil fuels (oil, gas or coal) and to use solar and wind energy instead.

For divers prepared to spend the time looking, the bare sand slope in front of the hotel and cafe can yield some rare and unexpected treasures, such as Ambon scorpionfish, minute pipefish and juvenile lionfish.

There are currently plans to sink some concrete, steel and terracotta “objects” on this slope, the idea being to provide some protection against currents and waves, and so keep a permanent population of marine life in the area.

Given time, hard and soft corals, sea fans, tunicates and so forth will colonize these manmade structures and hopefully create a small but beautiful reef.

The writer is director of AquaMarine Diving – Bali.

Filed under: Travel & Culture

Comments are closed.