North Sulawesi, Indonesia diving – Bunaken, Ganga & Banga Islands

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In North Sulawesi, Indonesia there are other pretty spectacular places to dive, not just Lembeh.  I have been fortunate enough to dive in the Bunaken marine reserve on both trips to the region and went to Ganga and Banga Islands on the last trip.  A perfect trip would be to visit all 3 areas because the diving is diverse and the critter action non-stop at all 3.  Above, are some more of the ever present nudibranchs.  There is less black sand areas and much more beautiful reef in Bunaken and t Ganga/Banga Island you have pinnacles, swim throughs and stunning pristine reef.  The one problem is that there has been some dynamite fishing in areas and the devastation is unbelievable.  It is amazing that things are already trying to grow in those spots.  Thankfully, it is not widespread and hopefully education will help.  It is a sobering sight to see!

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I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised at how many of my favorite critters are found throughout the area.  Above a tassled scorpion fish blends in and a Fimbriated Eel says good morning!  On one dive at Banga Island, my dive buddy and I were constantly behind the others because we would stop to look at something and see a half dozen other things in about a 2 foot square area.  You just couldn’t see it all!

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The large and small of it is shown above.  On the left is a cuttlefish.  They are the coolest thing to watch!  On the right, is a pygmy cuttlefish.  I had the divemaster put a hand in the photo to show how teeny it really is.  The are just like a miniature version of the bigger one.  The entire North Sulawesi area is renown for its “pygmy” things.  They also have pygmy frogfish, and of course, pygmy seahorses like the ones below.

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I love looking for the little stuff.  Believe me, I find my share but not compared to the dive masters that do this everyday.  Just when I think I am doing really well at spotting stuff, they point out stuff I swam right past!

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I was much improved at spotting on the second trip.  The old adage of stop and smell the roses is well represented when diving.  Not from the smells but the sights that are there to behold if you simply take your time, slow down and look.  Any diver looking for a critter intensive trip has got to visit North Sulawesi!

Diving in Lembeh Straits, North Sulawesi, Indonesia

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I have been lucky enough to make it to the Lembeh Straits in North Sulawesi, Indonesia twice to go diving.  It is widely acknowledged to be one of the top, if not the top area in the world to find unique and strange critters. The second time, I dove with Critters at Lembeh, at the Lembeh Resort.  It definitely makes a difference to dive with a dive shop that only dives the Lembeh Straits.  I was very impressed with the system they have in place to be sure everyone gets to see everything spotted on a particular dive.  The dive masters signal each other with lights so everyone gets a turn.  Above is a mimic octopus doing his impression of a snake eel perhaps?  They mimic flounder and other things too.  Another of the strange and different octopus found in Lembeh is the Wonderpus in the picture below.  Also above is a Banggai Cardinal fish.  They are only found in the Lembeh Straits and no where else!

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There are literally hundreds of varieties of nudibranchs in Lembeh.  Above is a picture of a pair of Chromodoris with an Emperor shrimp along for the ride.  There are so many colors it is amazing.  The dive masters at Critters at Lembeh know their ‘real names’ with the genus and everything.  I was stunned & impressed by that!

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Above is another of the colorful nudis.  Everywhere you look, there is something to see.  A lot of the Lembeh Straits is black sandy bottom with some patch reefs.  A lot of the most unique critters are found in the non-descript back sand areas.  On the patch reef, you can see octopus, loads of fish and if you are lucky, the two creatures below.  On the left is a Ghost Pipefish and on the right is a Pygmy Seahorse.  No matter where you go, you don’t see enough of these two species to get tired of seeing them.

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There are a large variety of anemones in North Sulawesi.  One variety hosts the porcelain crab you see below.  They are such beautiful critters but you really don’t see too many of them either.  It is exciting to see so many different and not often seen species in one place.  I would go again in a heartbeat, given the chance.

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The snowflake eel above is only the second time I have ever seen one.  I was glad to have the camera because I was the only one to see it as I was lollygagging behind again, taking pictures.  Love it.  Below is a couple more of the fun and different octopus that can be seen in Lembeh.

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At night, you can see the starry night octopus on the left above.  Very beautiful and shy creature.  On the right is a Poison Ossilate Octopus.  It is a sort of cousin to the Blue Ring Octopus that we didn’t get to see.  These are also pretty hard to find.  It is just a tiny little guy sitting atop a small encrusted bottle.

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Eels are another thing you can see a large variety of there.  In short, you never know when you are going to see something you have either never seen or rarely seen.  It is such an adventure to dive in the Lembeh Straits!  If you have a diving bucket list, this place should be at the very top!  It takes a bit to get there but it is so very worth it.  After all, aren’t most things in life worth the effort it takes to achieve it!

Bonaire, best diving in the Caribbean?

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I don’t know about Bonaire being the best diving in the Caribbean, but it is surely one of the best dive destinations there!  I don’t very often visit a place twice because there are so many places I haven’t been to yet.  Bonaire is one I have been to twice and would go back again.  For me, that is saying a lot.  I love the critters there!  Bonaire was one of the first to make a marine sanctuary around the entire island.  They may well have been THE first.  The success of that act really shows in the health of the reef and fish life.  The second time I went, in 2010, they were experiencing coral bleaching and that was really sad but a natural phenomenon.  The dive staff thought it would rebound pretty fast if the water temperatures didn’t stay too high for too long.  Still, there was some very good diving even in the shallows in certain dive sites.

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One of my favorites, Karpata, didn’t seem to have any damage in the shallows and was still a stellar dive site.  Just down the cliffs, at Rappel, there was damage in the shallows.  We also went around the oil plant and dove the site just on the other side.  It was really great diving too.  I just wish people would pick up their garbage!  If you look at these pictures, you can there is a great variety of little critters in Bonaire.  As I said in a previous post, one of my favorite things is swimming along looking in the various tube and vase sponges to see who is in there.  I love that!  This is a sampling of what you can see.

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I currently have no plans to return but you ever know.  I still think it is one of the best dive destinations in the Caribbean.  Warm water & sunny warm climate year round, great people and wonderful diving – how can you top that!

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Both times I went to Bonaire, it was in November.  It should be after the hurricane season and they are out of the hurricane belt but both times a late tropical depression caused surge that affected where you could shore dive easily.  I always found plenty of diving but I would love to go there when the weather cooperated and got to try more of the shore dives I wanted to try.  Because of that, I would not recommend that time of year.  If I ever make it back, it will be in the winter or spring.

Caribbean vs Pacific diving compared – Where is the best diving?

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The Caribbean has some very special critters that are near and dear to me.  I love arrow crabs and all the little critters and fish you find in the tube and vase sponges in the Caribbean.  I almost never see something down inside a sponge in the Pacific but you find something in nearly all of them in the Caribbean.  I don’t know why.  One of my favorite pastimes on a dive is to leisurely swim along shining a light into all of the sponges along the way.  You can see some of the results above.  Also, the banded coral shrimp (red & white below) is a regular sight in the Caribbean.  They are too cute but hard to get a clear photo of because they seem to be fuzzy in places.

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I love to look for them and always try to get a good shot.  There are of course several things that you find in both the Caribbean and the Pacific but this post is about what makes each different and fun.

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Now for the Pacific region.  That is a bit broad for a region but the Indo-Pacific in particular has some very unique critters.  You see seahorses in a great many locations but pygmy seahorses are only in the Indo-Pacific region.  They are the coolest tiny little creatures. You have to wonder how anyone spotted the first one because they are anywhere from 1/4 inch to 3/4 inch and blend into their surroundings.  Take a look at the little pink one above.  REALLY, how did anyone see that the first time!  Another of my favorites is anemone fish.  From the clown fish (Nemo) to the many orange, pink and black varieties, they are all fun to watch and hard to photograph because they are constantly moving.  Undulating I between the fronds of their host anemone.  I just love to see them and always try to get a good photo.  Sometimes I get success others get the recycle bin.

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Rays are always a hit with divers but the blue spotted stingray in the Pacific is stunning to look at.  There is such a contrast in their green bodies and the brilliant blue spots, I never tire of seeing them.  As I’ve said before, I love to photograph eels.  There are a lot of different varieties in the Pacific and Indo-Pacific regions.  Some I have not seen very many times but my favorite would have to be the blue-ribbon eel.  They are so colorful.  They can be black/yellow, blue/yellow or just yellow depending on the life stage they are in.  I have yet to see an all yellow one but the blue/yellow stage like above is my favorite.

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Hawaii is a divers paradise all by itself.  You see more turtles there and anywhere, I think.  I love that.  Some of the dive sites they come right up to you like they’re tame.  In reality, I think they are curious.  I still haven’t made it to Kona to do the night Manta dive but it is supposed to be one of the best night dives in the world.  I definitely want to go!

Whether Caribbean or Pacific, there is something for everyone at every level of diving in both places.  I can’t say one is my favorite over the other because one is closer and less expensive and both offer a whole world of things to see underwater.  Start someplace in the Caribbean like Roatan, Cayman or Bonaire to get your feet wet and some experience under your belt and then take the plunge!  Go to someplace you have on your bucket list like Palau, Fiji, Indonesia or the Philippines.  It is a real sense of accomplishment to cross off a bucket list item!

The Maldives, diving with critters, large and small

 

I can truly say that there is an astonishing number of things to see underwater in the Maldives!  I was expecting to see large animals like sharks, manta rays and whale sharks.  After all, that’s what I traveled all that way to see.  However, there is so much more to see than I expected.  Colorful nudibranchs, several varieties of pipe fish including ghost pipefish, many colorful varieties of scorpion fish including several leaf fish, stone fish, large and small frog fish, anemone fish (Nemo’s), blennies, gobies, and large schools of too many other fish species to mention.

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Another of my favorites, octopus, are there in abundance.  Some areas of the world, you rarely see an octopus unless you are on a night dive.  We regularly saw them in the daylight.  That was a very nice surprise!  It’s so much easier to get a picture of one in the daylight as opposed to trying to get a picture at night.

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Anyone who has done much diving with me know I love to take pictures of eels.  The are so comical and usually cooperate for a good shot.  There are a great many varieties of them in the Maldives.  From the usual green moray, you can add the black-spotted and yellow margin moray, the white mouthed moray and giant moray, the fimbriated moray and the masked moray as seen above..  Needless to say, I was in eel photography heaven!

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There are also some different varieties of stingrays.  We saw several black-blotched stingrays, usually at night.  We also saw the cow tail stingray and of course, the giant manta rays I was so excited to see.  The turtles here are not afraid of people like they are in so many destinations.  They were naturally curious and would come close to check you out just like you were checking them out.  That was really fun!

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Now for the sharks.  I have never in my life see so many sharks.  Mostly reef sharks and white tips but there were others too.  On some of the current dives, you would hook in with a reef hook and just sit there while the parade came by you.  A friend took a picture from behind, of me, taking a picture of a shark swimming by – very close to me- and you can see the image I am taking in the display of my camera.  It was really a cool picture.  The picture above may be the shot I was taking, I’m not sure.  There were so many dives with sharks it almost became mundane (almost!).  Normally, you just don’t ever get enough of seeing sharks.  I was so impressed with the numbers here.

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In short, the Maldives is a very special dive destination!  It took me several years of planning to get there but it was more than worth the effort.  You can do a live-aboard or a shore based trip but to truly experience the magnificence, you really should do a live-aboard.  They come in all sizes, shapes and price ranges.  You can do a no frills, shared bath type, a step higher – not fancy to fancy -with en-suite bath or you can go total luxury.  It’s all about what is important to you and what you want to spend.  We did a mid-priced one with en-suite bath and a really well regarded dive staff known for finding what you want to see.  It is called the Stingray and the staff did a fabulous job of finding everything we told them we came to see and them some!  We were an eclectic group from the U.S, Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany and Austria.  It made for a really interesting group and you could learn so much.  I couldn’t have picked a better boat with a better staff and dive team!  They did a wonderful job.

Favorite dive destination to date, the Maldives

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As you can see, the variety of life in the Maldives is astounding.  Because of the layout of the atolls, the best way to dive the Maldives is on a live-aboard dive boat.  That way you can travel between atolls and see the variety that they are famous for.  I came to try to see whale sharks and giant manta rays on the same trip.  I accomplished that and more!  We saw one whale shark but we saw at least 30 giant mantas!  One dive was a cleaning station that held at least 25 different mantas.  I have never seen anything like that, ever!!  They are so graceful and majestic.  Our dive masters said we were very lucky because they usually only see a few at a time at a cleaning station.  We just hit it perfect!  For me personally, I will never forget that dive, EVER!

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Besides the whale shark, we saw a huge number of other sharks.  It is refreshing to go somewhere that there are still a healthy number of sharks.  With shark finning and unhealthy fishing practices placing most populations in jeopardy of extinction, I truly enjoyed seeing a large number of sharks.  There are places in the world that their populations have decreased by 80%.  As the alpha species on the planet, we should be ashamed of that!

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The thing that made the Maldives fun was there are so many things that have a healthy population there.  The numbers and variety of fish species you would see on any given dive was truly impressive.  A lot of places have been overfished and it is rare to find a place that has an abundance!  I can’t tell you the last time I saw loads of big tuna on a dive.  Never, comes to mind!  But here, it is a regular occurrence.  There are a respectable number of sea turtles there too.  Not as high as some places but respectable none the less.  Yes, it is a challenge to get there and it takes a lot of flying but, if you are looking for an unspoiled destination for the dive trip of a lifetime, I highly recommend the Maldives.

Travel is my life and scuba diving is my passion!

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For you experienced bloggers, believe me when I say, I am not!  I love to travel and decided it was time to start a blog and write about travel!  That may include travel I have done or travel I want to do.  My bucket list is long.  I am most passionate about scuba diving and have been fortunate enough to have traveled to some of the most remote and pristine dive destinations in the world.  This first post is a hello from a total blog newbie and a promise that I will get better.  I will strive to make it fun and interesting!  Be talking to you soon…