Banda Island, Dive The Underwater Paradise

Set in the heart of Indonesia in splendid isolation are the Banda Islands, which have a rich and important history. Nowadays liveaboard divers are discovering the high value of the life beneath its waters' surface. They are blessed with some of the finest scuba diving in the country.

The remoteness of the islands in the wide open Banda Sea, and the low levels of human population, have meant less fishing pressures, and a vibrant, natural and healthy reef system. The results of this is that you can expect reefs bursting with life, huge seafans and sponges, some monumental hard corals, and more fish than your mask can cope with.

While big fish and pelagics might be the most obvious draw card for divers at the Banda Islands, its true value is in the extraordinary variety and sheer volume of fish life, both in terms of large and small marine life.
Two of the creatures worthy of special mention here that characterise diving in the Banda Sea are the preponderance of dogtooth tuna and mobula rays. At most sites you'll see enormous schools of fusiliers and thousands of redtooth tirggerfish. At the other end of the size scale, there are prolific mandarinfish and the native Ambon scorpionfish.

Cetaceans are frequent visitors too, and Banda liveaboards often report sightings of spinner dolphins, orcas, and various whale species, including melonhead, pilot, blue, and humpback whales. One certainty is that you will see plenty of big stuff as well as no shortage of colourful reef life.

Diving is usually comfortable, with mild currents, good visibility and calm waters, but some of the sites are subject to stronger currents that make them suitable for experienced divers only.
If you have dived in the Banda Islands before then you will be planning to return already. If you have not, then now is the time to experience the splendour of the Banda Sea before the word spreads ...

Dive Site Descriptions

The Banda Islands

Pulau Ai - This is an isolated low lying island to the west of Banda Neira. It has some small limestone cliffs on its southern coastline and some pretty beaches on its northern shores.

Batu Belanda - 'Dutch Rock' is so named as it is the supposed first landing spot for the Dutch sailing boats when they first arrived in the Bandas. It is located along the western coast of Banda Besar; a rock jutting out from the coastal wall marks the entry point and the start of this dive.

Batu Kapal - 'Ship Rock' gets its name from its large central pinnacle that breaks the Banda Sea's surface and looks not surprisingly like a ship. It lies to the north west of Pulau Pisang. The main features that make this site such a favourite are its interesting topography, and enormous gorgonian fans and barrel sponges.

Batu Wali - This dive site is located on the western side of the northern tip of Banda Besar and it is the core zone of the islands' marine protected area that encompasses the islands of Pisang, Banda Besar, Banda Neira and Gunung Api. It achieved this status primarily due to it having an astounding coral reef and it being a spawning area for an important fishery species, the pelagic plectropomus grouper.

Gunung Api - Gunung Api is a small volcano island lying just across a small strait, to the west of Banda Neira. Its last volcanic eruption took place in 1988, and hot molten lava streams flowed down its north-eastern and northern slopes into the Banda Sea, destroying the existing reef system. The local village was permanently evacuated.

Pulau Hatta - Karang Hatta, or Sekaru meaning 'shallow area', is a 500 metre wide submerged reef a couple of kilometres off the south coast of Hatta Island, named after the first vice president of Indonesia and one of the 2 prime intellectuals behind its campaign for independence, Mohammad Hatta.

Karnobol - Located just to the east of Banda Besar, the largest island in the Bandas, this site like many in the area offers the chance of diving among tremendous numbers of fish.

Pulau Keraka - 'Crab Island', as it is known in English, is a small rock islet located at the northern entranceway to the Banda Neira strait, and can be easily identified by its small lighthouse.

Pohon Miring - You will likely begin this dive at the eastern side of the northern tip of Banda Besar by dropping in onto a sloping reef which runs down beyond 30 metres, where it begins to flatten out. The slope features a mixture of hard and soft corals and you may spot a bumphead parrotfish or two rubbing shoulders here with its smaller cousins such as emperor angelfish, red-toothed triggers and a variety of damselfish.

The Banda Sea Region

Blue-dash fusiliers and dendronephthya soft corals in the Banda Sea - photo courtesy of Richard Buxo

Koon Island - is located in the Banda Sea, 10 km east of Seram. After back-rolling in you will drop down into warm, clear and shallow waters where the reef flat rises to 5 metres below the surface and from here, begin your descent down the wall. The ever-present current will guide you gently along the reef to your right as the wall comes to a point. On the wall you can expect the larger life to include dog-toothed tuna, schooling barracuda and jacks.

Manuk Island - Only in favourable conditions will any Banda Sea liveaboard consider visiting this remote spot. It lies 100 km off the usual itinerary to the south of the route that connects Banda Neira with Koon Island. High seas (and high oil prices) make a visit here a rarity and something to be treasured. This sulphurous volcanic island is uninhabited and far from human impact.

Nusa Laut - is located to the east of Ambon, about halfway across the southern coast of Seram. It is located in the Banda Sea, but is not part of the Banda group of islands. This rather picturesque island is a popular dive destination due to its very evident diversity of reef fish species, and its health and varieties of hard corals. No matter how many times you dive here, the amazing thing is that there always seems to be something new and different to see.

Pombo Boi - Often this is the first site that liveaboard safaris departing from Ambon will visit after diving the Ambon area. It's usually visited on the morning of your 2nd diving day following a 6 hour overnight steam from Ambon Bay. From the tender, this appears the type of location that scuba gear was made for - a lush tropical island with a little rocky satellite islet, surrounded by flat calm water and with a vibrant colourful reef, visible through gin-clear water from the sea's surface.

Soangi - is a little uninhabited island in the Banda Sea, 100 km from Ambon, with nothing more than a radio antenna rising high above the thick vegetation and being over-flown by the birds that have made their home there. There is also life below the water's surface in such concentration that it provides a veritable feast for the senses.

Diving Season

The amazing dive sites of the Banda Islands are best visited in March and April and during the September to December period. The weather is a little inconsistent outside of these times, so much so that many operators (even land-based) cease diving in the area as surface conditions can really kick up. The Indonesian liveaboards restrict their visits here to the calmer periods.
During these calm periods the marine life is reasonably constant with the Bandas' schools of fish, the snakes of Gunung Api, and the critters of Ambon, all present. Visibility begins to clear up from August and then during the best months it can reach the higher end of the range (15 to 30m). Water temperatures do not vary much during the periods that liveaboards visit, namely from 26 to 29°C

Source : dive-the-world.com

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