By Nita CJ
Imagine a place underwater where you can explore with just a pair of fins and mask on reefs abundantly rich in life and in water as clear as crystal. During many of my sailing trips, I have encountered so many of these dreamy underwater sites all over Indonesia that are best explored by snorkelling due to their shallow topography. When I started to list all oef the places I have been to and which are my favourites, I ended up with more than thirty. Getting that list down to just five is not easy, but here we go: my absolute favourite underwater spots from five different regions in Indonesia.
1. Banta, Komodo National Park
Located just on the outskirts of the Komodo National Park, I could so easily spend all day at this place. The amazing scenery above and below the water just makes the time fly by. It’s an easy spot for beginner snorkellers as you can start off in the shallows by the beach and there is no current inside the bay. The exquisitely colourful and rich coral reefs run parallel to the whole stretch of the beach making it even easier for you to start from any point of the beach. If you’re lucky, you can sometimes spot a group of manta rays swimming by the island. Banta Island also offers plenty to do for non-snorkellers. If you prefer to have a nice relaxing day on the white, sandy beach, or take out a kayak or paddleboard, then this is the ideal place for you. It’s secluded location away from the usual National Park crowds make it feel like it’s your own private island.
2. Sawandarek, Raja Ampat
Do you know that according to scientists, while coral bleaching has been severe in parts of Indonesia and across the world, Raja Ampat’s reefs are still healthy and thriving? One of the spots that seems to have no bleaching events is Sawandarek Reef, which is located right in front of the village of the same name. It boasts masses of healthy coral formations and abundant sea life to enjoy. Some of the most notable marine life that can be frequently identified are wobbegong sharks, napoleon wrasse and bumphead parrotfish. Depending on where the current flows, we usually start from the northeast of Sawandarek village, making our way towards the wooden jetty where the marine life is amazingly out of this world.
3. Kapatcol, Misool
When you hear that Raja Ampat has the most biodiverse marine life in the world, it is without a doubt not an exaggeration. It is home to more than 1,400 species of fish and 75% of the world’s known coral species, and new species are found all the time. In a world where many coral reefs are bleaching and dying, this is where a glimpse of hope comes alive. Corals that are vulnerable to bleaching seem to survive just fine here despite the rising temperature. According to Conservation International marine scientist Mark Erdmann, one of the most important factors of Raja Ampat’s coral survival is that its reefs are normally exposed to a wide variation in temperatures. It’s not so odd, really. The thermocline, a steep temperature gradient in a body of water, can often be noticeable whenever we are snorkelling in Raja Ampat. I can still remember very vividly the very first taste of my Raja Ampat underwater experience like it was only yesterday, and it was here in Kapatcol where I first snorkelled in Raja Ampat. The fringing reefs were filled with colourful hard and soft corals hanging from the shallows all the way to the deep. Groups of fusiliers or silversides are common sightings in the area, while the bright, pinkish-red sea fans gracefully dance with the current flow and sometimes we can see moray eels hanging out from their den checking on the outside world. With such vibrant marine life here, it’s never a dull moment snorkelling in Kapatcol. It’s unquestionably an underwater photographer’s playground.
4. Mbuang-mbuang, Central Sulawesi
Giant clams! So. Many. Giant. Clams.
Lying parallel to the land across the shore of the Mbuang-mbuang village is an underwater city of giant clams in all patterns and colours. Our very first visit here was completely by accident! We were given the wrong coordinates to another place we were meant to visit, but we ended up finding this little incredible gem in the middle of (practically) nowhere. When the village chief told us that there are many giant clams in front of the village, we asked for his permission to snorkel there and it did not disappoint. Although, the villagers were looking at us weird for being way too excited seeing so many clams in one spot.
5. Pulau Nusatea, Maluku
I circumnavigated this island by snorkelling with two guests back in 2018. It was my second time visiting this site, my first being a year before that. This route of the spice islands is the less sailed by other liveaboards because the reefs are mostly in the shallower water and most of the liveaboards are strictly for diving, so it is just an amazing feeling to be the only boat to be in the area. This wonderful little island in the Maluku archipelago is suitable for beginner snorkellers because it starts from the shallows of a stunning white-sand beach. Depths range from 1-14 metres along a sloping reef then it plunges into the deep blue. Depending on where the current goes, we usually start snorkelling from the east side of the island (facing the village on the island of Boano) and make our way to the north. If you’re a good swimmer and are adventurous enough, you could circumnavigate it like I did. Marvelous hard and soft corals can be found surrounding the island, and other marine life such as moray eels, angelfish, and flounder also can be seen swimming around the reef. It’s amazing to see a reef thriving despite its close proximity to a fishing village.