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Bali and Komodo Underwater Photos

These underwater photos and video snippets come from a 14 day trip to Bali and Komodo, Indonesia, from March 29 to April 12, 2007. A week (April 2-9) was dedicated to diving off the Peter Hughes dive boat Komodo Dancer, at Komodo and surrounding islands, 300 miles to the east of Bali. We did 18 day dives, 4 night dives, and 3 land tours over the 7 day format.

I was in Bali 3 days before and 4 days after the Komodo trip. I used them for time lag recovery, land touring, and a day (3 dives) of local diving off Sanur Beach with B.I.D.P.

I stayed at the Puri Santrian in Sanur during that time, a great value with excellent accomodations, good meals, 4 pools, and a long beach. There are plenty of acceptable resturants nearby within easy walking distance, and of course shops and vendor stands of all descriptions.

Report Index


Trip Overview:

Komodo Dancer

Dive Operations

Dive Types

Dive Sites and Photo List

Go Straight to the Mantas

or just click the right arrow and read it all.

The Komodo Dancer

The Komodo Dancer is a 125 foot long wooden two masted schooner that sleeps 14 divers in 7 cabins, and a crew of 18 aft. Powered by a single 450HP diesel engine, she cruises at 8.5 knots. The sails work, but are rarely used on the trip. Its a heavy vessel (350 tons), with a deep keel and set low, so it takes the seas well. The slow swaying back and forth accompanied by the creaking of the masts and seams adds ambiance to the trip.

For such a large boat, the cabins are adequate but not spacious, requiring one at a time usage other than when sleeping. The head/shower are all inclusive, so showering floods the entire bathroom. The individual room AC works well. A spacious indoor salon and shaded outdoor eating area, and several sundecks round out the amenities. The camera station was large but in the weather. The food was comfortable Balinese, and lots of tasty snacks between dives.

Dives Operations

The slow boat speed and long travel distance require moving the boat the entire first day and night, then incrementally during meals and overnight after that. With the first day dedicated to motoring toward Komodo, divers have time to rig their cameras and gear, get to know one another, and sleep off some jet lag.

Dives are from two pangas. Dive sites are from 5 - 20 minutes from the Dancer's anchorage, and are limited to 1 hour.

Dive days settled into a pattern. Two dives in the morning, about 8 and 10:30 a.m., eat lunch and move the boat, dive in mid afternoon (3:30), move the boat, night dive, and move on. 3 land tours were done at times when the boat didn't need to be moved. The need to load/unload the pangas, transit to/from sites, and move the Dancer mean 3 day and 1 night dive per day, vs the more common 4 day and 1 night dive on most live aboards.

Dives Types

All the islands and seamounts are lava flows from geologically recent volcanic eruptions. The effects of wind, current, and tide over the time lead to distinctive dive types. Most dives were combinations of 1 and 2, easy to do with little current or surge. Walls facing the open ocean were tough in surge. The seamounts were the best by far, but few in number and challenging due to tidal and oceanic currents.

Satonda Island

A small island 105 miles east of Bali, with a large fresh water lake in its center, and a large colony of fruit bats. We cruised all day and night Monday, arriving sometime predawn on Tuesday. This was the location of the first day's 3 dive sites, a walk to the lake, and a viewing of the flight of thousands of fruit bats at dusk.

Magic Rock:

A sandy slope with isolated coral heads, then a short wall leading up to a shallow shelf and colorful coral garden. (10 - 100 feet)

Photo 1: One of the thousands of nudibranch species.
Photo 3: Ornate Ghost Pipefish. This is a tough shot to get, as it's rare that it is completely in view to the camera. It's hard to spot and slowly bobs up and down in the coral head.
Photo 32: A scorpionfish watches from a soft coral patch.

Lake Entrance Bay:

Continous shallow coral gardens along the shoreline, descending to a sandy slope with extensive coral heads. (7 - 85 feet)

Photo 16: Anemonefish on a deep red anemone. The 5 deep red anemones presented a striking contrast against the white sand, and were filled with dozens of anemonefish.
Photo 40: Reclusive Green Moray.

Batu Gerandong:

Several low relief bommies on a sandy floor, each with fully developed coral gardens and large coral heads. (30- 85 feet)

Photo 33: Another nudibranch.
Photo 34: A banded pipefish beneath an undercut ledge.

Gili Banta Island

A small island 10 miles Northwest of Komodo.

KII:

A shelf with a coral garden, dropping to a slope heavily decorated with large coral heads. (15 - 70 feet)

Photo 6: This clown anemonefish bares its teeth at a potential threat. If I got any closer, however, it abandoned its anemone altogether and fled.
Photo 9: Pericles cleaner Shrimp in the same anemone as the clown in photo 6.
Photo 36: KII had several large anemones, each with a different species of anemonefish. Here a tomato anemonefish defends it's turf.
Photo 37: A puffer wandered around the shallow shelf.

GPS Point:

A seamount. The top (15 - 55 feet) is a large coral garden, filled with the lots of the usual tropicals. The backside edge (about 110 feet), has schools of jacks/snappers/unicornfish and occasionally grey sharks. Strong tidal currents mean it is important to time the dive for slack tide periods.

We missed the timing and found ourselves flying down the reef. We were intending to drop down to 100 feet to check for shark activity, but I found myself at 134 feet a heartbeat later due to the downcurrent. Seeing no sharks, I retreated upward.

There are scant areas of protection from the current, so after the 5 of us who had made it back up to the top had explored them, we called the dive at 27 minutes. We did 3 other seamounts throughout the week, with terrific diving, so I expect if we'd timed this one right, it would have been the same.

Komodo Island

A small island 300 miles east of Bali, and the central destination of the trip. It's the main island of the National Park, and one of the few remaining habitats of the Komodo Dragon, a large reptile.

Despite being equatorial, the island is usually as brown as the African savana, with rare foliage other than grass. It's green in April, as the rainy season just ended. Komodo and its surrounding islands are the focus of the diving until time to head back to Bali.

Batu Moncho:

A wide sandy slope with many coral heads, each with unique content, and a very large sea fan.(15 - 95 feet)
Photo 38: This large seafan grabs your attention if you come anywhere near it.

Komodo National Park

We anchored near Loh Liang and rode pangas to the dock for a land tour of the national park. Highlights were a megapode (bird) nest, and of course, Komodo dragons. These large lizards are about the size of a medium crocodile, and are about the same danger level. When hungry or provoked, they can attack and kill humans. Like alligators, they mostly laze around in the sun. A ranger had to prod one to get it to walk on all fours for a photo.

Pantia Merah (Pink Beach):

A wide sandy slope descending to a big coral head with a batfish school and a black frogfish. South is a shallow coral garden with small tropicals galore. (15 - 105 feet).

Photo 11: It is really hard to get detail from black frogfish.
Photo   8: A school of batfish circled the large coral head.

Padar

An island 10 miles southeast of Komodo, halfway to Rinca.

Pillarsteen:

A wall (no real bottom) hugging the Padar shoreline, full of nudibranchs and pelagic sightings. It can not be dived in heavy surge, and the current is tide dependent. Lots of swimthrus and overhangs as the dive progresses. (15 - 110 feet).

Photo 23: Nudibranchs abound on the wall at Pillarsteen. Getting a photo in the ever present surge presents a challenge.
Photo 26: Small sea cucumbers catch the eye of the nudibranch searchers.

W-Reef:

Three great seamounts, not much current but only modest vis. Huge fish counts with schools of many species, lots of nudibranchs, several lionfish. (10 - 80 feet).

Photo 17: Nudibranchs were on all three seamounts.
Photo 21: And more nudibranchs.

Garry's Corner:

For the night dive we explored a new area, a sandy floor and a wall leading to a shallow coral shelf with large coral heads. We named it after our host guide Garry Bevan who promptly declared it would not be done again, day or night. (15 - 60 feet).

Photo 4: Lionfish at night.
Photo 19: Sea Cucumber working nights.

Batu Bolong (Current City)

A tiny island 3 miles east of the northeast coast of Komodo.

Tatawa Besar:

A shallow coral garden running along the beach and extending well offshore, then a steep slope down into the smoky abyss.
(15 - 100+ feet).

In a word, mantas! A career dive. Phenomenal encounters.

I was last to get my camera handed down from the panga, so was last to descend. Only Garry the tourguide was visible, the rest of the divers having scattered north already. We moved west to the edge and he immediately pointed to feeding mantas. Tailchases of feeding mantas are fruitless, but....
I dutifully took video of the 2 of them, moving about 100 feet to the south and further out over the edge. When returning back to where Garry was waiting, I came onto a collision course with 3 more mantas, heading at me a slow pace. More video, this time keeper quality.

He was ready to head north with the rest of the group, but I'd found Vahalla. I was in 18 - 30 feet of water and had mantas everywhere. I signaled I was okay alone. I'd spend the dive there.

I had read the fish. There was a ridge running over the edge, and the current was piling plankton up against it and into a wide crevice in front of it. In the crevice was every plankton feeding fish from miles around, lined up as far down the edge as I could see. A river of fish. Overhead the mantas fed in a repeatable flight pattern. For the next 35 minutes I videoed mantas, in groups of 1 to 3, many passing close enough that I had to avoid contact.
Then I discovered the cleaning station. Mantas came in moving over a flat spot on the reef as slowly as they possibly could without stalling, allowing max time with the cleaner wrasses. When they came to my end of the area, I had to duck to avoid their cephalic lobes, or move aside to avoid their wingtips.

I'd been shown cleaning stations other places in the asian Pacific, but had to take it on faith, as I'd never seen a manta on one. This station was truely impressive. After 5 or 6 slow passes, my time was up, and I returned to the surface within a few feet of where I'd descended.

Back on the Dancer, I expected to hear of breaching whale sharks, mating octopi, etc, that I'd missed while camping the mantas. Nothing like that. Many had seen some mantas "over the edge" but none had the close encounter my video captured. It caused an immediate demand to go back.
The next scheduled site was known for mantas, so we went there instead.

Mawan:

A dynamited reef, bare to the extreme, with a few coral heads serving as manta cleaning stations. (10 - 100+ feet).

Yes, more mantas.

Mantas were there when we arrived, went away for a while, then came back. I think at the last cleaning station they were permanently there, and one could spend the whole hour videoing one manta or another being cleaned, in constant action. I have another hour of video of them. Oh, yes...there were anemones with anemonefish and coral heads with lionfish to provide distractions.

Manta video snippets

Videoing these mantas turned out to be an exercise in collision avoidance. I initially fretted spooking them and at least expected them to break off when I got close. The little ones were slightly timid, but the big ones just kept on coming.

When filming from the sand (at a cleaning station), there is no room to duck. The cephalic lobes had to be accounted for on frontal shots, and more than once I scrambled to avoid being slapped by the wingtips. In the first video snippet, I ducked the crashing cephalic lobe at the end of the first pass, and was crawling backwards across the sand to avoid the wingtip on the 3rd pass. (Watch how close it comes).

Photo/Video 2: Three different passes of slow moving mantas at the cleaning station at Mawan. In several places cleaning wrasses are seen coming up from below.
Even in the hazy visibility of the plankton upwelling it was easy enough to spot them in time to get frontal approach shots. Up in the water column one had the choice of going over or under them, with over being easier. Here I rose slightly to let it pass under me, but did not account for the high arc the wingtips swept through, and got whacked on my fins. Still, I held onto the shot for use in the upcoming movie "Hit and Run Mantas of Komodo..." Also note, the manta was unfazed.

Photo/Video 29: Collision of a B2 bomber and the chase aircraft.

Another crossing shot up in the water column where I just ducked under the wing of the first one.

Photo/Video 7: I had to slow down to avoid a wing encounter with the lead manta of this feeding trio.

Gili Lawa Laut

A small island 10 miles? southeast of Komodo

Gili Lawa Laut Passage:

A shallow coral garden running along the beach and extending well offshore, then a steep slope down into the smoky abyss. (15 -65 feet).

Photo 14: A forlorn Whitespotted Toadfish.
Photo 20: A nighthunting pale green moray.

The lighthouse:

A steep sloop descending into the abyss. The strong current pushes along the slope to a 90 degree corner of the island with an extensive coral garden on top. Many fish. (15 - 100+ feet).

Castle Rock:

A seamount rising from the abyss, absolutely filled with fish.
(15 - 110+ feet).

I took video on this 8 a.m. dive, because of the strong current and the possibility of large pelagics off the edge. As luck would have it, the strong current was pushing us directly toward the rising sun for most of the dive. There schools of big bumphead wrasse were just too difficult to go past (to get the sun behind me) and then work back upcurrent to get video of. It was very clear water and copious quantities of tropicals in every direction.

Crystal Rock:

A seamount rising from the abyss, breaking the surface at low tide, and of course, with fish everywhere. (15 - 120+ feet).

Photo 13: Hundreds of bright yellow sea cucumberishs dotted the sides of this seamount.
Photo 15: This coris' entire life seems to consist of darting rapidly back and forth on shallow boneyards.
Photo 22: Soft coral of every color waves in the current.
Photo 24: Looking nearly straight down from about 15 - 110+ feet a a coral terrace on the seamount.
Photo 25: Yellowmasker Surgeonfish in a school of damsels.

Sambawa

The next large island landmass west of Komodo on the return trip.

Tanjung Brenti:

A sandy slope descending to 85 feet, with occasional coral heads. One such head, about the physical size of two people standing side by side, held 6 lionfish. Moving left and upward, the site turns into a wall with a very colorful shallow coral garden on top. (15 -85 feet).

Photo 18: This medium sized lionfish was on top of the coral head loaded with lionfish. Divers ahead of me had left their mark in the silt, so the top one was the only photo that was useful.
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