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Trip Report April 2015 Banda Sea

May 7, 2015

Cruise Director: Michael     Dive Guides: Seno and Hekki   Guest Relations: Luca

Guests: Jenny, Michael, Nik, Alan, Hari, Kim and Gitte.

 

Ambon to Alor 04.04.2015

 

MSY SAMATA

 

Guests and crew aboard the MSY Samata

Guests and crew aboard the MSY Samata

 

A juvenile pinnate batfish

A juvenile pinnate batfish

4th of April 2015, Ambon Bay:

The arrival day!

We all met in the morning. Alan and Hari were the first of our group arriving on the boat with our cruise director Michael.
Michael from Germany and Jenny were already at Maluku Divers for a few days when I met them together with Nik. At 9 am the Samata tender boat arrived and the group was complete and we could begin our adventure. As it was still early, we could manage to make 3 dives for the day. One of the diving highlights of the day was when Seno found a beautiful pinnate batfish, followed by Alans outstanding discovery of a Mosaic Octopus. What a great start to the trip!

 

 

Dive 1 : Rhino City

Dive 2 : Laha 1 and Middle point

Dive 3 : Night Dive at Bubble Point

 

Marine Life: the most beautiful pair of juvenile batfish, nudibranchs, frogfish, thorny and estuary seahorses, yellow robust ghost pipefish, thousand of baitfish underneath the boats docked at the jetty, baby cuttlefish, soldier fish, glass sweepers.

 

A bumble bee shrimp

A bumble bee shrimp

5th of April 2015, Ambon Bay:

 

First thing in the morning we went to pick Ali at Maluku Diverss. Ali is one of the best dive guides at Maluku Divers and knows were all the best critters are. The diving was outstanding with multiple special critters sighted. Ali and Seno found subject after subject in a relatively small area of the dive site. We all enjoyed very long and relaxing dives. At sunset we departed and made our way towards Nusa Laut! The highlights underwater were: mototi octopus, bumble bee shrimp and Hari found a beautiful shaggy orange frogfish

 

Dive 1 : Kampung Baru

Dive 2 : Laha 2 ( Twilight Zone )

Dive 3 : Bubble Reef

 

Marine Life: Mototi octopus, harlequin shrimp, jawfish with eggs in the mouth, shaggy frogfish, red painted frogfish, randall’s frogfish, Giant frogfish, bumble bee shrimps, skeleton shrimps, nudis laying eggs, red hairy seahorse, white thorny seahorse, tiger cowrie, schooling anchovies, soldier fish, robust ghost pipefish, ornate ghost pipefish, cardinal fish with eggs in the mouth, yellow and white leafish, orange bearded goby.

 

6th of April 2015, Nusa Laut

 

We arrived in Nusa Laut very early in the morning around 3 am and anchored close by the north west side of the island by the village of Amed, which is very close to the dive site where there is a possibility to spot hammerhead sharks. The conditions were amazing with beautiful 35-40m visibility. We were all very impressed by the hard coral life on the top reef, it was even hard to find a patch of dead corals. On the sandy slope we found an area owned by trigger fish, all busy preparing their nest. Some of us had a funny fight with them. The sand slope was quite fishy with school of jacks, midnight snappers and fusiliers. There were also a few shy marbled groupers in the area. We pretty much dived in the same area all three dives, hoping to see some hammerhead shark, but although we did not, the other group did. For the third dive we jumped on the wall and drifted towards the sandy slope area. We saw a couple of very big napoleons.
In the evening we enjoyed few drinks and relaxed watching the beautiful sunset while cruising to our next destination.

 

Dive 1 Sandy Slope

Dive 2 Sandy Slope

Dive 3 The Wall to Sandy Slope

 

Marine Life: School of bigeye jacks, midnight snappers, goatfish, red-tooth triggerfish, fusiliers, damselfish and rabbitfish, giant napoleon wrasse, marbled groupers, giant marble ray, eagle ray, very healthy hard corals on the top reef, black leafish, many nesting triggerfish.

sunset in the midlle of the sea

sunset in the midlle of the sea

 

7th of April 2015 Banda Islands

 

Early in the morning we arrived at Suangi island which is about 14 nautical miles north of Banda Neira. The dive was nice and easy as we jumped right on the best spot and could dive along the interesting deep ridges. We saw bluefin trevally, bonito tuna, and fusiliers but in small quantity, there was also a school of chevron barracuda and hundreds of crocodile needlefish near the surface. We then moved onto the Banda island group and arrived at Banda Neira in time for the second dive at the site named Lava Flow. It was a very interesting dive as we could see how coral develops and what species grow quickly as all of the coral on this site has grown over top of a lava flow from the Banda volcano that blew in the 1980s. After lunch we went for a small tour on Banda Neira where we visited the museum, Nassau Fort from the 16 century and Fort Belgica from the 17th century. The city of Banda Neira is very beautiful and clean and it was great to see how the spices are part of the daily life.

After the tour we went for a mandarin fish dive, we first explored the sandy slope near the harbor and then finished at the mandarin fish area in the shallows. The weather so far has been fantastic and the Samata crew is treating us well.

 

Dive 1 Suangi Ridges

Dive 2 New Lava Flow

Dive 3 Mandarine Point Bandaneira Harbor

 

Marine Life: School of fusiliers, chevron barracuda, crocodile needlefish, bluefin trevally, bonitos, damselfish, healthy hard corals, napoleon wrasse, mandarin fish, spiny devilfish, giant mantis shrimp, big blenny.

The volcano of Banda

The volcano of Banda

The Volcano of Banda and the coral reef growing on the lava flow

The Volcano of Banda and the coral reef growing on the lava flow

Antiques from the Banda museum

Antiques from the Banda museum

one of the cannon and the tower of the Belgica fort, Banda

one of the cannon and the tower of the Belgica fort, Banda

Antiques from the Banda museum

Antiques from the Banda museum

one of the cannon of the Belgica fort, Banda

one of the cannon of the Belgica fort, Banda

 

8th of April 2015 Banda Islands

 

We started the day with a boooom! Early in the morning we arrived at Batu Kapal, which is 20m boat looking rock sticking out of the surface. The current was quite strong, nevertheless we entered with the current on the south side. We all entered properly and descended together to 27m were a saddle was connecting a small raised section of reef packed with fusiliers, emperor fish, huge seafans and barrel sponges. The main pinnacle was covered in small orange soft coral as well as schools of red tooth triggerfish.

For the second dive we moved to an island to the south east called Hatta. We dived Hatta Hole, a vertical wall with many overhangs and a fairly big opening at 8m which gives access to a huge overhang. The coral life was very good with huge seafans all over the place. Luca was lucky enough to see a hammerhead shark and the whole group could see some very big napoleons and a few turtles.

 

After lunch a few of us went to have a walk to the village of Hatta, a lovely small village with an abundant and healthy plantation of nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon and many different fruit. The atmosphere was very peaceful and the villagers were very friendly it was clean and well kept with a beautiful path.

 

The third dive was at Karang Hatta, an underwater reef (J) south of Hatta island. The place is known for Hammerhead Sharks, unfortunately we didn’t see any, however, we had a nice dive with great visibility, schooling fusiliers, blue fin trevallies and surgeon fish. There were many big elephant ear sponges and the hard coral was quite good. Once we came up from the dive we prepared and start sailing away from the Banda Islands to our next destination, Manuk. On the way, just before sunset we could see some dolphin cruising with us for a while by the bow of the Samata.

The group found its chemistry and we now have a great coordination to enter in the dive sites when conditions are more challenging. Also the tenders are keeping us very well under their supervision and nobody goes unguarded. (Great job guys)

The food so far has been very good, the chef is treating us very well and I have noted that they have made 3 flavors of fresh ice cream and a black forest cake. Cannot wait to taste them.

 

Dive 1 : Batu Kapal

Dive 2 : Hatta’s Hole

Dive 3 : Karang Hatta South

 

Marine Life: giant napoleons, emperor fish, 3 kinds of fusiliers, green turtles, hawksbill turtles, yellow sergeant and sergeant fish, red tooth triggerfish, elephant ear sponges, huge variation of seafans, barrel sponges and elephant ear sponges, hammerhead sharks, very healthy hard corals, Giant trevallies, bluefin trevallies, dogtooth tunas, sardines………

 

The group safely hooked up in the current

The group safely hooked up in the current

A hole in the reef at the wall of Hatta island

A hole in the reef at the wall of Hatta island

A green turtle by a seafan by the island of Hatta

A green turtle by a seafan by the island of Hatta

Drying spices at Hatta island

Drying spices at Hatta island

Drying fish at Hatta pier

Drying fish at Hatta pier

The beautiful peaceful scenery at Hatta village

The beautiful peaceful scenery at Hatta village

 

Manuk Volcano island early in the morning

Manuk Volcano island early in the morning

9th of April 2015, Manuk (The Volcano of the Snakes)

 

We reached the west side of Manuk early in the morning and had a first dive right on the reef nearby. We could see a few sea snakes in the shallow and some other in the deep, the coral reef was very healthy and the dive was nice and easy. There was a boat with a small group of fishermen and we could barter a delicious yellow fin tuna and barracuda for a few packs of cigarettes.

 

For the second dive we went to a ridge in the south side by a small volcano vent. The ridge was packed with small fish and we could see also a very healthy patch of orange seafans down in the deep. Right after the ridge we could hear a loud sound, like a bomb going off! It was the volcanic activity. Fair enough after few more meters of swimming we arrived in a shallow area with no coral at all and very murky. We could see lots of bubbles rising among the big boulders.

 

After the dive we decided to leave the area, as Samata already experienced a volcano going of in the past. Better to be safe than sorry.

Along the way we experienced an engine technical problem, but our capable engineer could fix it while we were enjoying a beautiful sunset at sea. We then arrived in the night in the island of Serua for a few hours pit stop before heading to the next destination.

 

Dive 1: Manuk West Side Slope

Dive 2: Manuk South-West Ridge

 

Marine Life: Chinese and Banded Sea Snake, great barracuda, jackfish, bumped head parrotfish, manta ray, hige seafans, barrel sponges, rainbow runners, volcanic activity – hot sulfuric springs, big booooom, hawksbill turtle, napoleon wrasse.

 

A sea snake comes close to have a look at us

A sea snake comes close to have a look at us

 

10th of April 2015, Nil Desperandum (House of the Hammer Head)

 

Nil Desperandum is a big atoll or also known as the big Underwater Reef J . On the west side there is a sandbar bridging the water surface at low tide. We made two dives there in hope of spotting a hammerhead. We succeeded!! We all had a close encounter with a beautiful scalloped hammerhead which first showed up down in the deep along the steep slope and then it came up to the top reef while we were doing our safety stop. The reef has very healthy hard coral life, fish life and great visibility. After the second dive we moved to the next island called Nila (active volcano) which is about 15 NM from Nil Desperandum. We had the third dive along a steep slope on the south side of the island, right past the volcano caldera in the east. The reef was very healthy and had a huge quantity of schooling red tooth triggerfish. We saw a very big giant grouper in the deep and Seno found a Hippocampus pontohi.

After the dive we went to the west side of the volcano island to find safe shelter for the night.

 

Dive 1: Nil Desperandum North-West corner

Dive 2: Nil Desperandum North-West corner

Dive 3: Nila South Slope

 

Marine Life: Hammerhead shark, big Napoleon wrasses, schooling batfish, fusiliers, snappers, damselfish, giant grouper, Hippocampus pontohi, jacks, dogtooth tuna, very healthy reef and many more!

 

A Hammerhead shark comes up from the depth to say hello

A Hammerhead shark comes up from the depth to say hello

11th of April 2015, Dusborgh, Pulau Nila

 

Early in the morning we moved to the nearby reef of Dusborgh, which is a 2.3 mile long sea mount that surfaces at low tide. The dive there was not the most spectacular especially because of the cold thermocline affecting the area on this day. In addition to this we had the first real day of bad weather and as the divers surfaced a big storm hit the area, forcing us to go back to the island of Nila to seek shelter. The following two dives were at Nila in spots that we haven’t been to before, overall the reef conditions were ok, with some very good areas but also with some areas with less coral. Visibility was not the best, however, Michael’s group had a pretty decent dive with three nurse sharks and several big dogtooth tunas.

 

Dive 1: Dusborgh North Side

Dive 2: Nika Reef

Dive 3: Nila Middle (West side)

 

Marine Life: Dogtooth Tunas, Nurse Sharks, Surgeon fish, decorated dart fish, napoleon fish, dogtooth tunas……..

 

 

12th of April 2015 Nusleur Island

 

After a rocky overnight we arrived in the morning to the island of Nusleur. Nusleur is made of 2 islands on top of a huge oval reef on the east side. The reef is 2.5 nautical miles long. The coral life is outstanding all over the reef and both the North-west and South-west corners were very fishy. Even though the main characteristic of the reef was a wall, the topography was quite interesting with many overhangs and a deep plateau. The highlight of the day was the first dive at the South – West point with current running north. We entered in the right spot and could see right away big schools of fusiliers, surgeonfish, barracuda and big eye jack fish. To make the dive more exciting a couple of grey reef sharks appeared in the deep and cruised back and forward a couple of times. The second dive was very good coral wise but not so much fish wise. During the lunch break another tropical storm. Before the start of third dive the storm was over. We entered in a good spot in the North East Side and we could see many schools of fish like in the first dive of the day. Towards the end of the dive Seno spotted a huge school of barracuda and a big cavern. The current during this dive kept changing in direction and we could drift back and forward more than 4 times. Visibility was pretty good, but unfortunately it was dark as it was cloudy and in the afternoon.

All in all the day at Nusleur was very good!!!

 

Dive 1: Nusleur South-West

Dive 2: Nusleur North-East

Dive 3: Nusleur North-West

 

Marine Life: Grey Reef Sharks, School of surgeonfish including unicorn fish, big school of big eye jacks, school of Barracuda, great barracuda, school of fusiliers, big napoleon wrasses, great variety of black coral bushes, seafans, interesting overhangs, decorated dartfish, healthy reef top. Hawksbill turtle, decent quantity of fish on dive 1 and 3.

Glass sweepers

Glass sweepers

 

13th of April 2015 Nyatta Island

 

We arrived at Nyatta Island very early in the morning when it was still dark and moored in the North West of the island, the place were we would spend the day diving. Nyatta is lovely island with nice long white sand beaches and small green hills.

We made the first dive along a steep coral slope, which developed into a wall. There was plenty of action with large quantities of fusiliers swimming around us, and the usual predators such as tuna and jacks going after them. Hari and Alan saw a couple of gray reef sharks and I saw our first white tip shark of the trip.

The second dive turned out to be my favorite at Nyatta. We dived a site called Nyatta’s Hole, which is a large swim through piercing through the corner of the deep wall. The whole wall had some very interesting overhangs, cracks in the reef and deep canyons were the fish grouped seeking shelter from the current. There was very healthy sponge and black coral growth all along the wall.

The third dive was at a gentle slope/shallow plateau with many patches of healthy reef but also some coral rubble.

There were many small fish among the coral blocks and we had a quite chilly thermocline rising from the depth, which forced all of us to look for warmth in the shallow.

 

Dive 1 Nyatta’s outcrop rocks

Dive 2 Nyatta’s Hole

Dive 3 Nyatta’s desolation

 

Marine Life: White tip and grey reef sharks, midnight snappers, red snappers, soldier fish, fusiliers, napoleon wrasses, sergeant fish, anthias, hawksbill turtle, black coral bushes, damselfish, tunas, bluefin trevallies………

 

 

14th of April 2015, Reong Island and Wetar.

 

Reong island is a satellite island in the north west corner of the larger Wetar island.

The north side of the islands features a sloping reef down to about 20 m to then changes into a vertical sheer wall covered in corals. The fish life was very good with schools of jacks, surgeonfish, snappers and fusiliers. There were a few sharks and napoleon wrasses as well. The top reef had many kinds of little fish and I spotted a school of oceanic triggerfish. Jenny gave us the challenge of finding a zebra dartfish, we could find several on the top reef.

After the first dive, we moved to the west of Wetar and Michael, Seno and Luca went to shore to pay a visit to a local settlement of fishermen and check with them if they knew the recent positions of the crocodiles of the area. Unfortunately the river nearby had little water, making it impossible for us to take the tender boat up river to look for them.

We then went for a couple of decent dives on the west side of Wetar. The second dive in particular was very interesting as a huge colony of small white anemone took over an entire section of the reef attaching on all sorts of living organisms underwater. We named that dive site the “White Christmas Plague”.

The third dive had a very healthy growth of table corals on the top reef. After the third dive we departed towards our last destination of this fantastic journey, Alor! We saw dolphins playing at sunset during the ride.

 

Dive 1 Reong’s dream

Dive 2 White Christmas Plague

Dive 3 Wetar’s Eden

 

Marine Life: White tip Reef shark, Bumped Head parrotfish, decorated dartfish, oceanic triggerfish, schools of fusiliers, surgeonfish, snappers, jacks and red tooth triggerfish, napoleon wrasse, anthias, damselfish………

 

Local people from Alor , transporting wood along the coast

Local people from Alor , transporting wood along the coast

A school of surgeonfish near Wetar island

A school of surgeonfish near Wetar island

A mantis shrimp face

A mantis shrimp face

15th of April 2015, Alor

 

We arrived in Alor early in the morning and guess what, the first thing we did was to get back on our phones as finally, after a week of absence, we finally had telephone signal. We entered in Kalabahi Bay to have a day of critter diving to have a change after lovely walls and many fish. We spotted several kinds of interesting critters including many ghost pipefish, pygmy seahorse, frogfish and very interesting nudibranchs.

We tried to look for the pink velvet ghost pipefish and the rhinopia at a dive site in front of a school but we could not find them.

As the day started a bit late we also had a late afternoon dive and as we came up a gorgeous sunset by the volcano island of Pura appeared. Right after dinner Nik and Luca went for an exciting experience and did their first black water night dive underneath the anchored Samata Liveaboard. Even though no particular creatures appeared the whole experience was very interesting and exciting.

 

Dive 1 Kalabahi School

Dive 2 Kalabahi School

Dive 3 Nudi’s Fantasy

Dive 4 Deep water Bay, Night dive

 

 

Marine Life: Roughsnout ghostpipefish, pygmy bargibanti, strawberry nudibranch and many other interesting nudibranch, clown frogfish, giant frogfish, coleman shrimps, zebra crab, boxer crab, many peacock mantis shrimp.

 

Nik during the black water night dive

Nik during the black water night dive

A Pink Velvet ghost pipefish

A Pink Velvet ghost pipefish

16th of April 2015, Alor

 

On the 16th we spent the day exploring Kalabahi Bay. We first went across to the south side of the bay nearby Nudi’s Fantasy and found the Pink Velvet ghost pipefish that was spotted the previous day by Heikki’s group. This time we found a pair of them and one of those was carrying eggs. Not too far from the pink velvets we saw a roughsnout, a thin ghost pipefish and more nudis.

For the second dive we jumped in near the school from the day before and covered a new section hoping to find a rhinopia; thanks to Alan we succeeded as he found a beautiful purple weedy rhinopia.

For the third dive we tried a new spot, not too far from the exit of the bay on the north coast. It was a peculiar site with few yellow-fin tuna carcasses drifting past! Some of them were enormous with huge heads attached to the body, obviously discarded after being cleaned by local fishermen. Here we found a tiny Thecacera Pacifica Nudibrach also known as the Pikachu nudibranch.

 

Dive 1 West of Nudi’s Fantasy

Dive 2 Kalabahi Mosque after school

Dive 3 Tuna Factory

 

Marine Life: Pink Velvet Ghost pipefish, Roughsnout Ghost pipefish, Thin Ghost pipefish, ornate Ghost pipefish, Coleman shrimp, zebra crabs, purple rhinopia, snake eels, porcelain crabs, peacock nudibrach, Pikachu nudibranch and many more nudis.

 

A purple rhinopia from Alor

A purple rhinopia from Alor

 

 

17th of April 2015, Alor

 

On the 17th our options were to go out from the bay and dive some the nice reefs in the Strait of Pantar or do some more exploration in Kalabahi Bay. Thanks to the great things were found on the previous days everyone was keen to do some more critter diving in the bay. For the first dive we went by one of the few churches approximately in the middle of the north coast of Kalabahi Bay, the dive had some interesting critters including one more pink velvet ghost pipefish. For the second dive we then moved further into the bay to a site nearby one of the few river estuaries in the bay. It turned out to be an excellent dive with one red rhinopia. For the third and final dive of the day we moved to a site not too far from the estuary and had another very interesting dive with juvenile yellow thorny seahorses and Hari found the most beautiful wunderpus of the trip.

 

Dive 1 The Church

Dive 2 Solitary Estuary

Dive 3 The Village

 

Marine Life: Red weedy Rhinopia, peacock mantis shrimp, juvenile thorny seahorse, porcelain crabs, velvet ghost pipefish, juvenile filefish, several shrimps.

wunderpus octous

A beautiful wunderpus octopus

A Juvenile Thorny Seahorse

A Juvenile Thorny Seahorse

 

A red Rhinopia from Alor

A red Rhinopia from Alor

A local fisherman from Pura volcano in alor

A local fisherman from Pura volcano in alor

18th of April 2015, Pura Island (Strait of Pantar)

 

This was our final day of diving and the program featured just two dives. We decided to leave the bay and move to the dormant volcano of Pura that sits right in the middle of the strait between the big island of Pantar in the west and Alor in the east. The day was gorgeous with blue sky and bright sunshine.

The first dive was at a dive site called “Pleasant Surprise”. We were back in blue water with great visibility, the site also featured several traditional fish traps of Alor along the wall. Towards the end of the dive we encountered a friendly local fisherman going to inspect his traps. There was good fish action to the corner of the dive site.

For the final dive of this trip we moved to Boardroom which is located on the west side of Pura Island. On this site as well, there was lots of fish action in the corner, including a huge school of batfish. As we were on the third day after new moon we had a strong current and we all had to push hard as the direction of the current flow was changing often.

Between dive 1 and 2 we have been approached buy two small wooden boats each containing a local family coming to show us the local hand made IKAT (sarong), which we ended up purchasing. The little kids were happy to receive a few sodas as well.

 

Dive 1 Pleasant Surprise

Dive 2 Boardroom

 

Marine Life: Tons of Anthias, fusiliers, bluefin trevallies, batfish, midnight snappers, red snappers, surgeonfish, butterfly fish, damselfish, very good and healthy coral life.

 

A traditional fish trap from the Alor region

A traditional fish trap from the Alor region

 

 

 

19th of April 2015

 

Our journey has come to the end and it was time to travel back to our homes or in the case of Jenny and Michael, back to Bali. On the way to the airport we could see the countryside of Alor, which, on a Sunday morning, was very peaceful with good roads and much green space. Once we arrived at the airport we were all surprised to find it closed as it was already past 9:30 in the morning. Everyoe coped with it very well and patiently waited 30 more minutes before they opened the doors and let us check in.
We all had a fantastic experience on our adventure and created new friendships. The morale of the group was happy and cheerful the entire 16 days and this fantastic trip will remain in our memories for a long time!

 

 

Written by Luca Vaime

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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