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FLORES – INDONESIA’S FORGOTTEN GEM

by Nigel Marsh and Helen Rose

 

Flores was once one of the most popular dive destinations in Indonesia. In the 1980s it was one of the places to dive in Indonesia and offered some of the first muck diving in the country. However in 1992 a devastating earthquake and tsunami hit Flores, killing thousands and almost destroying the dive industry. But in reality the tsunami had little impact on Flores’ dive sites and today the island has became one of Indonesia’s forgotten gems.

 

Flores is located in Nusa Tenggara, about 500km east of Bali, and is accessible on daily flights offered by Merpati Airlines. In recent times Flores has became a gateway to the amazing diving at Komodo, but Flores is a fabulous dive destination in its own right.

 

The diving in Flores is centred around Maumere, a small town near the north eastern end of the island, where Sea World Club, one of the few dive operations, is based. Sea World Club is a secluded dive resort located on the beach about twenty minutes drive east of Maumere. The resort was established in 1976 and has comfortable beach bungalows scattered under the palm trees. The resort has a dive shop, with a comprehensive range of hire gear, and operates daily boat dives to the local coral reefs. There are two types of diving to be enjoyed off Flores, reef and muck, and following is a sample of the dive sites we explored in a recent visit.

 

FLORES REEF DIVING

Sea World Club have dozens of dive sites in Maumere Bay, a picturesque bay fringed by mountainous islands. Each of these islands is surrounded by reef, most of which drop straight into 200m of water, creating wonderful wall dives.

 

We explored several of these walls around Besar and Babi Islands, dropping into 28C degree water and enjoying 30m plus visibility. Each of these walls are coated in spectacular coral growth; large gorgonians, sea whips, volcano sponges, tube sponges, black coral trees and spiky soft corals. As we drifted along the wall we encountered a range of reef fish, typically angelfish, butterflyfish, wrasse, rock cod, sweetlips, batfish, fairy basslets, parrotfish and damsels. A close inspection of the walls also revealed a wealth of invertebrate species; nudibranchs, flatworms, sea stars, thorny oysters, sea cucumbers, shrimps, crabs and many other small species.

 

At Ruteng we also encountered two hawksbill turtles, a shy Maori wrasse and a white tip reef shark, while at Taat we found two green turtles, several crayfish and watched a parade of pelagic fish. West Babi offered an endless gallery of caves to explore, cutting deep into the reef wall; it was also a good spot for pelagic fish and turtles.

 

The reef diving wasn’t limited to the outer islands, as the coastline of the main island is also fringed by reef. At Wair Gete we spent most of the dive exploring the pretty coral gardens, finding crayfish, moray eels and a very photogenic cuttlefish. While a fast paced drift dive at Tanjung Darat saw us flying past trevally, black tip reef sharks, Spanish mackerel, coral shrimpfish and dozens of blue spotted lagoon rays.

 

FLORES MUCK DIVING

The numerous bays of Maumere Bay offer countless muck diving opportunities, with the black sand and mud a legacy of the seventeen volcanos located across Flores. The visibility on these muck dives was usually around 12m, but did vary from site to site from 5m to 20m.

 

At Old Ankermi Muck we dived on a sandy slope and over sea grass and coral outcrops. We missed finding the sea horses, anglerfish and Ambon scorpionfish that are reported to be residents here, but did find imperial shrimp on sea cucumbers, mantis shrimps, bobbit worms, a variety of anemonefish, rock cod, pipefish, lionfish, nudibranchs and plenty of shrimp gobies.

 

At Wair Blerer, diving in front of a small village which drew quite a crowd, we explored the shallow reef here and black sand. During the dive we found blue ribbon eels, octopus, moray eels, dragonets, lionfish, nudibranchs, shrimpfish and a small stargazer.

 

One of the most impressive muck dives we did was actually on a shipwreck, known as the Wairterang Wreck. This 50m long ship, thought to be a tank landing craft, was sunk during World War Two and lies in 13m to 32m. The wreck is very open and fun to explore and can be penetrated at a few points, but you have to watch your fins as the silt is very fine and easily disturbed. We were stunned by the volume of marine life inhabiting the wreck. Gropers, triggerfish, batfish, sweetlips, rabbitfish, rock cods, angelfish, pufferfish and fusiliers were common. Cruising around the wreck was a massive school of big-eye trevally, while a close inspection of the wreck revealed thousands of shrimps, pipefish and countless lionfish. After exploring the wreck we continued the dive in the muck and coral in the shallows, finding moray eels, a demon stinger, nudibranchs, peacock soles, garden eels and a juvenile blue ribbon eel.

 

But our favourite muck dive site ended up being right in front of the resort, on the Sea World Club house reef and the black sand adjacent to it. This clean black sand was a haven for critters and the first dive we did here we spent thirty minutes in the rubble zone in only 2m of water as here were hundreds of radiant sea urchins, one even had an ornate ghost pipefish hovering above it. There was also dwarf lionfish, hermit crabs, sand crabs, shrimps, sea stars, anemones, but the highlight was a tiny shaggy anglerfish. This black sand was also home to garden eels, gobies and a burrowing snake eel. One of the more interesting things we found here were thousands of small heart urchins, totally covering the bottom in places. They looked pretty boring at first, but when we encountered a large sand sea star that was hunting them, the action heated up and was amazing to watch. We had never seen urchins or sea stars move so quickly, the sand star pursing the urchins, causing them to scatter in every direction. In the end the sand star captured one of the urchins and engulfed it in its arms.

 

Continuing west over the sand we reached the Sea World Club house reef, a pretty coral garden in 2m to 15m of water. We spent most afternoons on this reef and were always surprised by the wonderful species here. Nudibranchs, flatworms, hermit crabs, stingrays, cuttlefish, schools of shrimpfish, mantis shrimps, pipefish, a variety of anemonefish species, lionfish, porcelain crabs, commensal shrimps, squat lobsters and blue ribbon eels. We also found several species of moray eels, including the rarely seen zebra moray eel.

 

In a week of diving Flores we only scratched the surface of the potential dive sites here; there were many more reef and muck dive sites we didn’t get a chance to explore. One of the best things about diving Flores was that we had all these dive sites to ourselves, as we were the only divers staying at the resort for the majority of the time we were there. But we can’t see this lasting for long and suspect that when we return to Flores we will have to share these lovely dive sites with many other divers, as the rest of the diving world is sure to discover this hidden gem.

 

FLORES’ OTHER ATTRACTIONS

Flores attracts tourists other than divers as the island has many interesting sights, but many just come to soak up the sun and snorkel. The island is pack with rugged mountains and volcanos, seventeen in total, and has the famous Keli Mutu coloured volcanic lakes, which change colour at different times of the year. The hills are also home to many traditional villages, where the local women still wear and weave ikat sarongs and shawls. You may even catch the performance of a traditional dance if you time your visit well.

 

SEA WORLD CLUB

We enjoyed a lovely week staying at Sea World Club. The beach bungalows are very comfortable and have AC, fans and hot water, not that you needed it. We had all our meals at the resort, or on the dive boat, which was some of the best food we ate during our trip to Indonesia, and twice a week they had a buffet with a local band playing traditional songs. The resort works very closely with the local community; with a percentage of the money you spend diving with the resort helping to support a local orphanage and also local health care and education.

 

 

 

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