jump to navigation

Bali Safari, Jul 07 4 Mar 2008

Posted by cat64fish in Tales from the N2 bar.
Tags: , , ,
add a comment

A long over due posting about our third trip to Bali in 9 months! Might be time to seriously consider getting a house there!

This time, we were a bit more ambitious, and planned for a 9-day tour de force of the Bali dives areas – PJ, Tulamben, Seraya and Nusa Penida. We even brought other people along, to spread the joy of diving in Bali around.


The usual and not so usual suspects – Eunice and me, Derek and Angela (taking the photo), Kelvin, Wei Ling – Shufen and Robin not in picture.

The trip started with just Derek, Angela, Eunice and myself diving in Puri Jati on the 13th. This was our first time to PJ, which was a 2.5 hour drive from Sanur. The entrance to the beach was one of the many side lanes branching off from the main road – I can only say that the vista before us was quite different from the “populated” roads we’d been traveling on. Rice fields to the right, a vineyard to the left, and the sea shore right in front, stretching to infinity (almost).

The local villagers were in the process of erecting changing room facilities – apparently enough people visited the site to warrant this costly concrete structure, unlike the bamboo-weave walls of the sole provision store and the huts in which the duck farmers took shelter in.


The up-and-coming changing room facilities.

The waves (as in our previous trips to Bali) were running high – but at least it was windless. We quickly geared up and made our cautious entry into the surf, one at time. Once we were all safely past the breaking surf, we descended past the murky top layer to relatively clear water near the bottom. As we made our way out of the surf zone, we had to focus on the diver nearby to avoid vertigo from the moving “dust clouds” that bloomed each time a wave hit the shore.

We could see many creatures struggling to stay in place or keep from being buried. Further away from shore, however, things were a little calmer, and encountered whole fields of single polyp corals, occupied by some really interesting creatures, such as ….


… the Mimic octopus (taken by Eunice) and …


… the Coconut octopus in a shell (taken by Eunice) …

After the dive, we explored the area (more to find a place to pee than a genuine desire to explore), and found the pond created by a freshwater stream that drained directly to the sea.

We ended our dives in the early afternoon when the waves got a bit too high, and made our way to the nearby [name of resort] where our very Balianse-style cottages were readied for us.


Eunice in her “Bali” outfit.

We confronted the waves again on the morning of the second day, but decided not to brave the 1-1.5m high waves pounding the beach. We took the easy way out and went instead to Secret Bay, just 45 minutes away from Puri Jati.

The water here, in contrast, was mirror clam. It was not, however, an ideal dive spot, being the site for a bunch of water-based activities – paddle boats, kayaks, motor boats and water scooters. The seascape was not very inviting either … as bits of plastic bags and rusting frames of unknown origin greeting us as we descended into the (very cold) water. Off to the left of our entry point, however, we encountered a smallish seagrass bed, with many, many synaptid sea cucumbers, some in amazing colours, like the orange one below.

Among the debris were several prominant pillar-like structures – which turned out to be “artificial reefs”. Excellent fish aggregating devices, these structures housed what must have been most of the fish population in the bay.


Delicate looking Ambon Cardinals of all sizes congregated around debris and the “artificial reefs”.


The “artificial reefs” were also home to cleaner fish, here seen servicing a catfish.


“Packed like sardines”, except these were catfish!

After we plumbed the depths of Secret Bay, we were off to Tulamben / Seraya, this time coming in from the north, instead of from the south. As always, Tulamben did not fail to disappoint … we met up with some old friends …..


“Two-face”, the grouchy grouper that hangs about on the wreck.

… and some new ones …


Chevron Barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda)


A bright red allied cowrie

Seraya also held some new surprises for us, such as this rare “Tiger” shrimp. There was a smaller on next to it, but getting the two together in one frame was a bit of a challenge, what with the surge and cold water.


The “Tiger” Shrimp … a rare find that made our day at Seraya.

We ended our very short stay at this part of Bali and moved back to Sindhu Mertha in Sanur. Time for molas!!

We didn’t see many this trip, about one on each dive, and usually at a distance. I guess the molas were shy time round, but with the kind of divers visiting them, who can blame them?

Point in case was the next to last dive, when we spotted a mola in a cleaning position, which we approached with caution, so as not to scare it away. Just as we reached a comfortable viewing distance (safe for us, but maybe not for mola?), up swims this blond-haired monstrosity who pops a flash at the mola, startling it. Said blond-haired biped then had the cheek to turn to us, showing a thumbs-up sign. Sheesh!

Anyways …. some mementos of the trip.


Eunice and mola!


Eunice’s encounter with the mola.

More pictures from this trip at: Catfish’s Flickr and Mermate’s Flickr

Seraya Surprise 18 Mar 2007

Posted by cat64fish in Tales from the N2 bar.
Tags: , , , ,
3 comments

Slogging up and down a beach with your scuba gear and camera housing, struggling against big crashing waves and braving cold upwelling currents might not be everyone’s idea of fun, but that’s what we did in Seraya, Bali in March.

We arrived at the Scuba Seraya Resort on the day after arriving Bali, having spent a comfortable night at the Sindhu Mertha Guesthouse in Sanur, and a refreshing message at Rose Garden in Kuta.

The resort sits on quite large piece of beach front property, with intimate cottages or bungalow-style accommodation, right in front of a dive site called . As the friendly staff took charge of our luggage and gear, we had a good view of the big (huge) waves, driven by an off shore wind, crashing dramatically onto the black sandy shore. We were dismayed, but undaunted, as we discussed options with our guide (Menyun, again, from Bali Scuba), and waited for a break in the weather.


The little cottage we stayed in, set amidst our very own greenery.

null
The inside of the cottage – a decent sized room with 4-5 electrical outlets.


What you see when you enter the washroom.

null
The other half of the washroom.

We braved the waves just before lunch, getting in and out of the water using a system we developed during our first trip to Tulamben in Sep 06 (see writeup here). One diver gets in the water with just scuba gear, while the second diver brought the cameras, before entering the water with his gear. Coupled with the fact that the Seraya beach was sandy, rather than rocky (like in Tumamben), this made handling the equipment and dealing with the waves much easier.

null
Eunice trying to frolic in the waves!

Underwater, the waves had churned up the sand near shore to the point where it was like diving in Singapore – visibility was down to about 1m, and fine sand got into everything! Deeper down the shore, the waters were clearer, and scattered in the sandy sea bed were oases of life … rocks covered with sponges, clinging featherstars and scurrying shrimps.

null
Featherstars were all over, like this one, just clinging to whatever substrate they could find. Other animals find refuge in the spiny, feather arms, like this clingfish.

null
A pair of Periclimenes colemani (Coleman’s Commensal Shrimps?). The female was carrying eggs, but they are not easy to see in this image.

Getting out was the reserve process of getting in … and quite a scary situation, as wobbly legs unused to carrying so much weight on our backs and waist high waves could easily topple a diver and roll him (or her) around the beach like so much sand!

It was during the beginning of the night dive, as we were entering the water when, in an effort to run ahead of a wave coming in, that I pulled a muscle on my left calf. Bugger, it hurt like hell! And I thought that my diving stint at Seraya was at an end.

Luckily, with a lot of TLC from my dive buddy Eunice, an anti-inflammatory cream from the scuba shop, calmer weather, and a super-efficient Menyun, I managed to continue diving, hobbling my way into the water with Menyun carrying my tank to me in the water. Luckily as well, the pulled muscle didn’t affect my finning, so I was able to move as fast as the others in the water.

Two days of chancy weather, and we were gritting our teeth in frustration – we’d yet to see all the wonderful things others had seen here. Even so, Menyun managed to find us enough critters to keep us occupied. Harlequin Shrimps, Boxer Crabs, mantis shrimps, and octopus or two …. and nudibranchs out and about doing their thing.


A pair of Harlequin Shrimps – the larger female on the left is carrying eggs under her belly.

null
Two Tasseled Crabs (Lybia tesselata) waving anemones which they carry like pom-poms in their claws for protection.

In the end, on the last day, the weather calmed down sufficiently for us to see the great opportunities Seraya had to offer. The water clarity increased dramatically, and the creatures started coming out.


Two Cuttlefish mating …….


….. Two nudibranchs mating (they are apparently an undescribed species from the genus Thecacera) ……


….. A Jorunna rubscens laying its egg mass ……


… and tiny, tiny flabellid nudibranch laying its eggs.

We were happy …. at least we managed to catch a glimpse of the richness of the place, despite our bad start. One thing that was great about the package, was the use of Nitrox in about 70% of our dives – not only did this mean slightly longer bottom times, but best of all, we felt little of the after-dive aches and pains usually associated with diving on air.

The food at Seraya was great too (no pictures because we ate it up so fast!), especially the crispy, toasted bread slices and warm, soft rolls … yummy with soap and butter.

We never did get to try out the pool at the resort, as conditions got so good on the last day that we went ahead and did three dives before rushing to pack our still dripping gear into the van for the 2-hour return trip to Sanur.

Before I knew it, all our gear was brought to Bali Scuba to be dried (as much as possible, anyway), and we were on our way to Rose Garden (again) for a final round of massage. All too soon, it was time to pack up, and make our way back to Singapore and the daily grind … but we will be back !!

More images of our trip to Seraya can be found here.

Weak-kneed in Tulamben 8 Nov 2006

Posted by cat64fish in Tales from the N2 bar.
Tags: , , , ,
add a comment

Bali …. the mere mention of that island paradise conjures up images of terraced padi fields, exquisitely landscaped water gardens, and a gracious people.

Bali has always been one of my favourite places since I visited it in the early 1990s. This would be my 4th visit to the island, but my first solely for diving – besides Tulamben, I’d be hunting for one of the giants of the deep, the sunfish, also known as the mola mola (see story here).

Tulamben had three sites that I knew of, all within walking distance from Paradise Beach Resort, where I stayed. The Liberty wreck, Coral Garden (the house reef) and a site only known as The Wall. However, this small area has seen the likes of David Doublet, Gerry Allen, Roger Steen, Neville Coleman and many other great photographers had visited. Eunice, having been here before, acted as knowledgeable local guide to my blur foreigner tourist.

On the surface, the dives seemed simple enough. Textbook shore entry scenario – gear up on the shore, walk into the water, put your fins on and start your dive. Simple enough, except that what you read about in books doesn’t always translate in reality.

The “beach” was composed of wave-worn pebbles and rocks, that shift with every footstep and wave, making walking difficult … well, difficult for this city-dweller, at least. The porters didn’t seem to have a problem, even with 2 full sets of diving gear on their heads (yes, you heard me right … on their heads).

null
Our lady porter, with two tanks on her head

These ladies (yes, you heard me right again) have a posture to make a physiotherapist smile, and their daily walking (very rapidly, I might add) on the pebbly beach probably means they have no need for foot reflexology of any kind.

Anyway, in addition to the shifting beach stones, there were the waves to deal with. The waves were about 1m high on the first dive – a dusk dive, to boot. Getting in was trouble enough, but getting out was a “life-flashing-before-my-eyes” exercise. Crawling out wasn’t much of an option, due to the stones, so floundering out of the water like a fish stranded on land was the only way to get out. Luckily there were these two boys who dashed into the water the help me get to my feet – turns out they were the “night porters”, who’d been keeping watch to take the gear back to the dive shop. Each of them got a well deserved can of coke from me for their efforts.

We found out later from a trio of aussies who were eating by the beach-side cafe of our resort that the waves had been riding high for the last week, and that they (burgly fellows with thighs the size of tree trunks), were going to “take it easy” since they were on holiday here for the next month. Great … 😛

Luckily the waves and wind died down sufficiently the next day to make diving a less harrowing experience. Still, with the rocky beach, coming out of the water, especially with my “monster baby” in tow, was no small feat. Not to mention the walking back and forth from resort to dive site. Exhausting for the urban diver like me, who is used to diving off a boat, where you plunge in right on top of your dive site! I’ll have to prepare better (ie more exercise) before attempting this kind of entry / exit again.

The wreck is pretty much … well … wrecked. The ship has mostly broken up into several sections, with lots of hard and soft corals, hydroids and sponges, tunicates and anemones growing on the exposed parts. Inside the wreck, the spaces are filled with … water (what did you expect?). Seriously though, there were lots of fish, many of them extremely big – and un-shy of divers, which led me to believe that they were used to being fed. True enough, the dive operator later confirmed this suspicion. You’d think photographing these fish would be easy, but they came so close that with a macro lens on, the camera had difficulty focusing. And then you worry about the spines sticking out from the tail end of the surgeonfishes and *you* lose focus. But all in all, the wreck is a great heaven – for photographers and fish alike.

null
Parts of the wreck had fallen off, leaving archways such as this for you to swim through without entering the bowels of the wreck


A school of Golden Saddle Rabbitfish hovering above the wreck


A large grouper I nicknamed “Two Face”

And not just in / on the wreck itself – all around the edges of the wreck teemed with life as well – in the deeper part (about 20m), you’d see jawfish, darting in and out of their holes feeding; gobies and their shrimp partners, one keeping and eye out for the big, bad divers while the other busily upkeeps the house. At the shallow end, you’d see lots of garden eels … three types to be exact: the 2-spot type, a “grey” type and a barred type (no picture of this one).

null
Un-shy jawfish darting in and out of their cubby holes to feed


The “watchdog” goby and the “home-maker” shrimp


A field of garden eels (this species is mostly black in colour)

“The Wall” was in the opposite direction, away from the wreck, and involved a similar trek to get to the entry point. It wasn’t as fantastic as I was led to believe … where were the schools of jacks I’d been told about? Definitely not a site that can be compared to the walls of Manado, but the schools of anthias and damsels certainly provided a dazzling display of colour and movement on the reef – not to mention the odd long-nose hawkfish, an octopus and the giant-sized puffers.


Long-nosed Hawkfish on a red seafan (that looked purple in the underwater light)


A giant Map Pufferfish


An octopus, doing its yogi-squeeze-into-a-hole-smaller-than-itself trick

As it turned out, the school of jacks was right in front of the resort! The last dive was again on the house reef, this time in daylight hours – it was a relief not to have to trudge to the dive site carrying my baby monster. Imagine our surprise when, about 10m away from shore and in 2m of water, we encountered this wall of jacks (ok, it was just a small ball of jacks, but when you are close up to it, it looks like a wall). I happily snapped away (digital is free, after all), as they just swam back and forth, occasionally forming a tight ball … before dispersing back into a “wall ” formation.


The school of jacks, in front of the resort, in just 2m of water

The Coral Garden house reef held amazing creatures … most were found in clumps, clustered around the Neptune’s Cup sponges, that acted like mountain oases in this alien landscape. The clusters of featherstars seemed like the leafy branches of trees, in which fish, shrimps, and even clusters of snails could take refuge. So engrossed with these tiny creatures I was that I only realised I was running out of air when I felt a resistance in my 2nd stage. How time flies when you are having fun!!


A really strange nudibranch, Jorunna rubescens (formerly belonging to the Kentrodoris genus)


A cluster of well-camouflaged snails found near the mouth of a featherstar


A juvenile wrasse hiding in the feathery arms of the featherstar


Commensal shrimps blend perfectly with the featherstar host

All in all, my first visit to Tulamben was very good. No boxer crabs or harlequin shrimps, but that just leaves me with an objective for next time I come here; not to mention the new spot that has opened up not 20 minutes away, called Seraya, which by all accounts, is a macro haven as good as Lembeh. I’ll need to see it to believe, because Lembeh is just … WOW!

But that is a story for another time.

Cheers!

More pictures of my Tulamben trips can be found here.

Mola Magic!! 17 Oct 2006

Posted by cat64fish in Tales from the N2 bar.
Tags: , , , , , ,
9 comments

Mola-molas (or sunfish, as they are also known) have been on my list of fish to see for as long as I can remember, right alongside all the other big stuff like whalesharks, mantas etc. So it was with mixed emotions when I heard of people sighting 5, 6, 7 molas in dives in Bali. Previous experience had warned me that I might go and hear those dreaded words “… you just missed them … there were 7 of them here last week …”. However, I put those thoughts behind me … and prepared suitable protection for me and my monster baby for mola hunting on the 21 and 22 Sep 2006.

I was filled with nervous excitement as I prepared to enter the 20 degC plus water, with my monster baby in tow, to catch a glimpse of these strange giants. “The water looks good.” our guide, Menyun said. “Upwelling of cold water and the surface is calm … should be cold, but currents will be ok … and we are the first ones here!”


Menyun, our guide for the day

Indeed, we (Eunice and myself) were up at 6.30am for a bit of breakfast, before loading up onto Bali Scuba’s van at 7.30 for a short drive to the beach, where the boat was moored. There, we were joined by David, Bali Scuba’s owner – who had some new “toys” to try out. A small skiff brought us to he speedboat, where all our gear was already loaded up.


Me loading up my monster baby onto Bali Scuba’s speedboat


Eunice in layers, and her “special” cut off gloves

As we headed out, we were amazed by the surf breaking about 400m offshore … No wonder Bali is a surfer’s paradise, if the surf was this big on a relatively calm day! Once through the break in the fringing reefs, we were off, our twin 250hp engines shooting us through the 2m high swells towards Crystal Bay in Nusa Penida, off in the hazy distance.

The first clear sight of Nusa Penida was dramatic – waves crashing against its sheer cliff faces, bringing to mind the axiom “an immoveable object meeting an unstoppable force”. Then around the bend, the sheltered Crystal Bay … with a beach! We were the only boat there, but not for long, Menyun assured us. We geared up quickly and plunged into the chilly water. What would we see? Would I come up disappointed? More importantly, would I get any good photo?


The coastline of Nusa Pernida, on the way to Crystal Bay

I flashed back to the time on a liveaboard in the Philippines when my group saw a mola at Apo Reef – never seen there before, the veteran guides had told us. Three cameras, one video cam, but we only managed one hazy, blurry photo of the mola swimming away from us. Murphy was really busy that day as one of the divers had her macro lens on, the other’s camera didn’t work and the video cam decided to go on a holiday. And me, slow to react as usual, managed only one shot before the fish vanished into the deep.


A very hazy photo of the mola that got away in the Philippines

Back to the chilly present, I was glad for my 6 mil suit, hood and gloves that kept most of the cold out … that is until we hit the thermocline at about 20m – my dive computer showed 23 degC (down from 25) but it must have been at least 19! The cold literally took my breath away, and I was afraid with all the huffing and puffing I was doing, I’d run out of air and miss the show. Not to mention my depth was beeping and flashing, indicating my impeding exceedence of my normal dive limits.


All suited up and no where to go but down!

And then, in the blue … the unmistakable shape of the mola! Trying to remain calm, as we were told, so as not to startle the fish, we breached 45m for our first clear view of this amazing giant. It was in the typical face-up position it assumed for cleaning, with the schools of butterflyfishes and bannerfishes and the odd angelfish, pecking frantically at its skin for parasites.


The first mola we saw, in a typical “face-up” position for cleaning

So mesmerized by my first clear sighting of a mola, I vaguely noticed Menyun pointing behind the fish …. to another 3 mola lined up in a row in the same face-up position!! Trying not to scream in excitement, I (very calmly, I thought – but it could just have been the nitrogen talking) took a few pictures of the first mola and then proceeded to ascend slightly to try and get the 4 molas in a frame. No such luck as they were too spread out, and the nearest one was beginning to look nervous. Still, I managed to get 3 in a frame, which, now thinking about it, was quite amazing, given that I had to make split-decision thinking at about 45m to reset my camera settings in rapid succession to get the shot.


More-lah molas!!

We finally had to ascend to begin our decompression, elated, but craving for more. On our way back, we saw the 2nd batch of divers (about 5 in the group) heading in the direction we had come from. On the surface, the once empty cove now had 5 other boats with their divers getting ready to enter the water. We could see 4 more steaming in, and Menyun said that as many as 20 boats could be at the site! Wow … that’s about 100 divers in the water looking for molas on a crowded day!

Regardless of the crowd, I now had some pictures in the bag, and was eager to get more. Menyun’s plan was simple … come early, and be the first on the water for each dive, while the others were still finishing up their surface interval time … brilliant! We spotted 5 more molas in our next 5 dives – 3 more on the second dive, but none on the third, as the waters were getting warmer. The cold upwelling currents had gone, taking the molas with them. The next day’s diving was not as exciting as the first, as the upwelling currents didn’t start till the second dive, and only 2 molas were sighted, one each on our second last dive and last dive. We would have had a better session on our last dive with the mola if a diver from another group hadn’t gone rushing up to it and spooked it away. *Sigh* … humans!

With the number of divers and boats coming to this tiny part of the island, one wonders if this activity is sustainable, or if it harms the molas … being cautious divers, we *try* to keep a respectable distance, but our strobes would undoubtedly cause some disturbance to the behaviour of these animals. In the other extreme, impatient divers who rush up to the mola for that “once-in-a-lifetime” shot would cut short their cleaning … leading to who knows what effects? Even the shear number of divers in the water all bubbling away, is probably enough to scare these gentle giants away.


A wall of bubbles – a scary sight, and no doubt a scary sound as well, to the fish

While there is probably no shortage of cleaning stations – Menyun says there are even bigger molas on the other side of the cove, but the currents are so strong it is almost impossible to dive there – it is likely that Crystal Bay will become less of an attraction to the fish if the disturbance continues for a long time. I guess only time will tell.


Man-mola … mola-man?

Here are some links that have info on the sunfish:
http://www.amonline.net.au/fishes/fishfacts/fish/mola.htm
http://filaman.ifm-geomar.de/Summary/SpeciesSummary.php?id=1732
http://www.csulb.edu/web/labs/sharklab/students/current/dan/flash/project_mola.html