Indonesia Diving Introduction
The diving possibilities are thus virtually unlimited and the variety enormous.
Indonesia is a land of contrast and one of the most diverse places on earth both geographically and biologically . It bridges the gap between the continents of Asia and Australia and is the world's largest archipelago with over 17,500 islands that stretch over 5000 km (~3,000 miles) from east to west. The amount of coral reef the archipelago contains is far more than neighbor Australia's Great Barrier Reef. The island count varies from 13,500 to over 18,000 depending on the time of year and the tide. 17,500 is the generally accepted figure today. But no matter what the correct figure is, Indonesia has a lot of islands and a lot of ocean to explore.
The diving possibilities are thus virtually unlimited and the variety enormous. The islands straddle the equator, stretching over 1700 km (~1100 miles) from north to south. It's a huge area, and would take a lifetime to explore. This vast and diverse archipelago is like nowhere else on earth.
The Ring of Fire
The Indonesian landmass represents only 1.3% of the earth's land, yet it is home to over 10% of the plant species, over 25% of the fish species and 17% of the bird species found on earth.
Indonesia sits on the western edge of the Pacific Rim, a seismically active area known as the "Ring of Fire." Seventy-six volcanoes have erupted here over time, including the world's largest volcanic eruption ever recorded at Tambora on Sumbawa east of Bali . Several of the earth's tectonic plates converge deep under the surface. Their movements contribute to the volcanic and earthquake activity that makes Indonesia the world's second most seismically active country after Japan. Evidence of the area's volatile nature is everywhere, from impressive swaths of lava that flow across the land down into the sea to strings of volcanic cones on the horizon. This volatility makes Indonesia a hotbed of biodiversity. Biodiversity is an indicator of environmental health: The higher the number of species living together, the healthier the community because it is better able to withstand and rebound from the forces of nature such as El Niño, earthquakes, floods, man's interventions, etc. The Indonesian landmass represents only 1.3% of the earth's land, yet it is home to over 10% of the plant species, over 25% of the fish species and 17% of the bird species found on earth. Many of these species are endemic, found only in Indonesia.
The Wallace Line, an invisible line that divides Asian and Australian flora and fauna, runs between the islands of Bali and Lombok up through the Makassar Strait between Borneo and Sulawesi. Alfred Russel Wallace, the great 19th century naturalist, was the first to notice and document a marked difference in the flora and fauna of these regions during his travels through the Malay Peninsula. Deepwater channels between the islands prevented the formation of ancient land bridges, effectively isolating Asia and Australia from each other. Many scientists now place the line between Borneo and Sulawesi to the east side of Sulawesi. The area between Sulawesi and Irian Jaya is called Wallacea and is a transition zone between the two continents. Flora and fauna from both regions overlap, while some evolved to form new species unique to Wallacea. West of the line the land is more tropical with jungles inhabited by monkeys, apes, tigers and elephants. East of the line the land becomes arid with scrub vegetation, lizards, fantastic birds, and marsupials.
What You'll Discover Underwater
The points of the triangle are roughly from the southern Philippines, southwest to Bali and southeast to West Papua
Underwater, the depths of the Indian and Pacific Oceans meet and mingle, forming a series of distinct seas that separate the two giants. In the center of the archipelago, where Asia and Australia meet, is a geographic triangle with more marine species than anywhere else in the world. We'll say that again: There are more marine species here than anywhere else in the world. The points of the triangle are roughly from the southern Philippines, southwest to Bali and southeast to West Papua. This rich volcanic area combines miles of coastline, warm equatorial currents, nutrient-rich upwellings and a tropical climate that come together to create a biological wonderland. One of the first things you'll notice underwater is that something is growing everywhere. The reefs teem with life. As stated above, nowhere will you find such an array of marine plants and animals as here. The diving in Indonesia is as varied as its surface features. Remember, it's a huge country. Areas such as Bunaken Marine Park off north Sulawesi in eastern Indonesia, a three-hour plane ride from Singapore, are known for wall diving and clear waters. Lembeh Strait-also accessed from north Sulawesi-is famous for unsurpassed muck diving. [The term "muck diving" was coined by divers who found that diving in areas not considered "pretty" by most divers exposed them to hundreds of types of critters they normally wouldn't see. Once only popular with underwater photographers and other specialists ("fish-geek" is the scientific term), it is an increasingly popular activity and has arrived into the mainstream. Even non-geeks are now enjoying this activity-ed.]
The term "muck diving" was coined by divers who found that diving in areas not considered "pretty"
Wakatobi, on southeast Sulawesi is endowed with magnificent coral gardens. The Sangihe Islands, north of Sulawesi towards the Philippine Islands have clear, deep waters with strong currents that bring in large schools of fishes. ["Fishes" is the proper term here as "schools of fish" would be a school of one species, while "schools of fishes" would denote several species schooling-ed.] Komodo Marine Park, east of Bali and Lombok in the central part of the country, supports a variety of marine life that thrives on upwellings. Bali has some of Indonesia's best beach diving, especially at Tulamben on eastern Bali which is famous for the Liberty Wreck. One of the best combinations of fish and coral is found in the Banda Sea and the Raja Ampat Islands of West Papua–formerly known as Irian Jaya. Manta rays and a jellyfish lake are hallmarks of diving at Sangalaki on the southern part of Borneo.
To Liveaboard or Resort: That is the Question
Most of Indonesia is water and much of the best diving is accessible only from liveaboards although there are areas like Lembeh Strait, Tulamben, Wakatobi and West Papua, where the land-based diving is superb. It's nice to do both in one holiday–a liveaboard then a few days on land at one of the wonderful diving resorts. Much has been published about fish bombing, cyanide fishing and over fishing in Indonesia. There's no denying it. However, the authorities and international conservation organizations are working together to educate the population and to put an end to destructive fishing practices. Local communities are becoming involved in the tourism industry so they don't have to rely on this type of fishing to make a living and feed their families. It's an ongoing problem but progress is being made and some areas are starting to recover while others have recovered fully. As tourism continues to grow and local people begin to benefit from it, the reefs will also benefit. At the major diving areas, people are trying to preserve the reefs and you'll find the areas covered here in these descriptions offer some of the world's finest diving. Don't worry, there are still wonderful places to dive, and the fact that people-both local and foreign-are becoming more aware of the environment just makes the diving better and better.
Culturally, the Indonesian archipelago links the peoples of Asia with the Melanesians of the Pacific Islands. Indonesia is one of the world's most populous nations. Much of the population resides on the island of Java, and thousands of islands remain uninhabited. With more than 300 ethnic groups speaking over 250 distinct languages, its national language, Bahasa Indonesia–which was developed from a Malay dialect spoken on the island of Sumatra–unites Indonesia. Indonesia has the world's largest Islamic population. About 90% of the people are liberal to moderate Muslims. Most Balinese practice a form of Hindu. There are pockets of Christianity in Indonesia and Buddhism is practiced in many areas. No matter what their religion, it seems Indonesians have managed to assimilate their ancient beliefs into their modern-day beliefs. Belief in spirits and magic, especially charms, is widespread.
They're naturally friendly, they smile easily, they love children and love having their picture taken.
Indonesia was a Dutch colony for several hundred years and gained independence just after World War II but each area has maintained its local customs and folklore. For all their differences, Indonesians have much in common. They proudly celebrate their independence on National Day, 17 August. They're naturally friendly, they smile easily, they love children and love having their picture taken. They also love music and you'll hear the soft sounds of the gamelan, an orchestra of gongs and wooden instruments, and the kolintang, a wooden xylophone, everywhere. It's wonderful, relaxing music, so be sure to pick up a few CDs during your visit. You won't find a more appreciative audience anywhere than when you attempt to speak a few words of the local language. A simple 'terima kasih' (thank you) will light up the faces of your acquaintances and endear you to them for the duration of your stay, no matter how badly you pronounce it.
Indonesia is a special place to visit and offers a complete holiday no matter what your interests. For you divers, one trip just wont cut it: To experience all of Indonesia's diving diversity, you'll need several trips. One trip may be to the Bali area, with a liveaboard to Komodo and a few diving days on shore (not to mention all the land based activities Bali, as a major tourist destination has to offer). Another trip may be a liveaboard to Sulawesi, with a week or more on shore diving the Lembeh Straight or staying at Wakatobi. One more trip may be to Papua, or to Kalimantan depending on who is operating there at the present time. Indonesia, for divers, offers some of the finest liveaboards and resorts in the world.
About the Authors
Larry and Denise Tackett are the authors of all of our Indonesian dive site and regional descriptions. They are professional photographers specializing in underwater and terrestrial natural history and travel subjects. They are represented by stock photo agencies in the US and United Kingdom and their photographs have been widely published in books and magazines worldwide. Their work has appeared in magazines such as National Wildlife, Islands, BBC Wildlife, Ocean Realm, Asian Diver, Unterwasser, Tauchen, Canadian Wildlife, Popular Science, Sport Diver, National Geographic Kids, Geo, and many others.