The Hid­den Gems of Ko­modo and Der­awan

With over 18,000 is­lands to choose from, which ones should you visit for the best di­ver­sity in ma­rine life? Dis­cover the beauty of In­done­sia with Cat McCann as she takes you on an in­sider’s jour­ney into the wa­ters of Ko­modo Is­land and Pu­lau Der­awan

Asian Diver (English) - - Contents - By Ly­dia Daniels and Cat McCann

If you asked a muck-div­ing en­thu­si­ast for their “must-do” list of muck div­ing des­ti­na­tions, it’s highly likely that places such as the famed black sand sites of Lem­beh, In­done­sia, would be top of the list. Or they may rec­om­mend a visit to Pu­lau Mabul in Sabah, Malaysia, where the term “muck div­ing” was first coined. Or per­haps Ani­lao in the Philip­pines, which sees hun­dreds of tourists head­ing there each year in the hope of see­ing a well-hid­den frog­fish in the sand.

But what about places such as Ko­modo Is­land or Pu­lau Der­awan in In­done­sia?

“Muck” is not the type of div­ing that springs to mind when you men­tion these is­lands to divers. Ko­modo, for ex­am­ple, is famed for man­tas and cur­rents. And cur­rents are not a diver’s best friend when it comes to look­ing for small, well-hid­den an­i­mals, much less when try­ing to get that per­fect shot with a macro lens.

Pu­lau Der­awan is more well-known for its prox­im­ity to Pu­lau San­galaki, which it­self is known for man­tas and as­tound­ing co­ral reefs, or for the tur­tles and whale sharks that can be seen cruis­ing past Der­awan it­self.

But both of these ar­eas have hid­den trea­sures – in­cred­i­ble muck div­ing sites that aren’t more widely known, with an in­cred­i­ble ar­ray of species that are high on any muck diver’s wish list.

Pu­lau Der­awan is where you will find the aptly named “Macro Mania” dive site, which boasts sight­ings of Pa­puan and stumpy spined cut­tle­fish, as well as pygmy sea­horses, ro­bust and slen­der ghost pipefish. Ea­gleeyed guides can find sev­eral dif­fer­ent species of shrimps for their divers: tiger shrimp, don­ald duck shrimp, saw­blade shrimp and whip co­ral part­ner shrimp, to name a few.

Pre­fer cephalopods? No prob­lem. In ad­di­tion to the cut­tle­fish, you’re also likely to see mo­saic oc­to­puses and won­der­puses on this dive site.

If you’re lucky, you might be able to spot the blue-ringed oc­to­pus and if you’re re­ally lucky, the blue-ringed oc­to­pus mat­ing.

Der­awan Reef is a slop­ing co­ral reef but as beau­ti­ful as the reef is, ig­nore it (sorry) and spend the dive in the sea­grass and rub­ble look­ing for dec­o­ra­tor crabs and un­usual nudi­branchs, as well as sea­horses.

A night dive in the sea­grass beds off the Scuba Junkie jetty yields bum­ble­bee shrimp, mar­bled shrimp and the ever elu­sive har­lequin shrimp, as well as frog­fish that are some­times too small to iden­tify cor­rectly. Divers of­ten spend their time watch­ing bob­tail squid bury them­selves in the sand.

How­ever, Ko­modo is the place that can give you a real crick in your neck. There are not many places in the world where you are torn be­tween look­ing at a hairy shrimp or a manta, but at Mawan in Ko­modo Na­tional Park

(KNP) you will find your­self in just such a po­si­tion.

The KNP is one of the jew­els of In­done­sia. It was the im­pres­sive Ko­modo drag­ons that orig­i­nally drew tourists to this area but it is now famed for strong cur­rents, stun­ning corals and reg­u­lar en­coun­ters with manta rays.

As the area has grown in pop­u­lar­ity over the past decade, a new el­e­ment of div­ing has emerged; one that only strength­ens the fact that this truly is one of the best dive ar­eas in the world for muck div­ing.

Karang Makas­sar (the aptly nick­named “Manta Point”) is a sur­pris­ing site that hosts a plethora of rare macro species. As man­tas cruise over your head, be sure to check the rub­ble be­low for blue-ringed oc­to­puses, hairy oc­to­puses and an in­cred­i­ble num­ber of nudi­branchs.

But it’s not just the fa­mous and pop­u­lar sites where we see such rare species. If you ex­plore the KNP you’ll come across dive sites such as Gin­dang and Wainilu on the north coast of

Rinca is­land. These are both hot spots for blue-ringed oc­to­pus, Rhinopias, won­der­puses and frog­fish. They are also home to the shy and much sought af­ter man­dar­in­fish and pho­to­genic drag­onets – a fan­tas­tic early morn­ing or sun­set dive spot, es­pe­cially for ob­serv­ing their mat­ing be­hav­iour.

These two sites have slop­ing sandy bot­toms with sprin­klings of soft corals. They are also home to sea­horses, flam­boy­ant cut­tle­fish, sea moths and over­head, the odd devil ray or two, and are am­ple proof of the rich di­ver­sity that ex­ists in al­most ev­ery dive site in Ko­modo.

For the frog­fish fa­nat­ics out there, Si­aba Be­sar is a place you must visit. Lo­cated in the heart of the Ko­modo Na­tional Park, this sea­grass site is the per­fect hid­ing place for the ju­ve­niles of sev­eral species of frog­fish – clown, painted and hairy – some of which that are no big­ger than the end of your tank banger.

You can also find or­nate, rough­snout, vel­vet and ro­bust ghost pipefish here too, as well as pipefish and pipehorses. But once again, be­cause this is Ko­modo, re­mem­ber to look up now and then as dugongs and ea­gle rays have also been seen on this dive site. It’s enough to drive you crazy try­ing to fig­ure out which lens to put on the cam­era!

Although Ko­modo and Der­awan are rel­a­tively new on the muck-div­ing radar, they should re­ally be on your “must see” list given the bio­di­ver­sity seen on the dif­fer­ent sites alone.

The bonus is that while these sites are eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble, they are not well­known on the muck-div­ing cir­cuit so you won’t find your­self jostling for space when you want to get a re­ally good look at one of the small, un­usual, well cam­ou­flaged crit­ters that make muck div­ing the unique kind of dis­cov­ery ex­pe­ri­ence that it is.

BE­LOW: Eggs of a nudi­branch sit­u­ated on a sea squirtOP­PO­SITE PAGE: Salar­ias ramo­sus, starry blennyIM­AGES: Bent Chris­tensen

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