N I G E L M A R S H P H O T O G R A P H Y
U N D E R W A T E R I M A G E S A N D A R T I C L E S
EXPLORATORY DIVING IN TIMOR LESTE – PART 1
By Nigel Marsh and Helen Rose
We always jump at the chance to dive new diving destinations, so when the opportunity presented itself to dive Timor Leste on an exploratory trip with Worldwide Dive and Sail we couldn’t say no.
The only problem was the invitation arrived in early 2011 and the trip wasn’t until August 2012, so the build up to this trip was endless, carried on and on for almost a year and a half.
We had heard a little about the diving in Timor Leste, Asia’s newest nation located only an hour flight north of Darwin, that it had rich untouched reefs and great macro critters around Dili. But this trip planned to explore two offshore islands as well, Atauro and Jaco, with the chance of encountering pelagic action and who knows what.
Our base for nine days of diving was to be Oriental Siren, a well appointed luxury yacht, with facilities more like a resort than a dive boat. Worldwide Dive and Sail (WWDS) have been setting a new standard for liveaboards for the last eight years, with their Siren fleet exploring destinations in Thailand, Indonesia, Burma, India, Maldives, Palau and Philippines. Timor Leste was to be a new destination for the company with eight trips planned in August to November, 2012.
Two months before our planned trip disaster struck, with the Oriental Siren sinking. The boat was on a trip around Layang Layang (Malaysia) when it hit a submerged object and started taking on water in the early hours of the morning. The water level quickly rose, flooding the engine room and forcing the crew and passengers to abandon ship. All passengers and crew safely made it to Layang Layang, but the ship was lost.
With most of the trips to Timor Leste fully booked the team from WWDS quickly swung into action to find a replacement boat, not an easy task in such a short period of time and with few boats matching the high standards set by WWDS. In the end they rented the June Hong Chian Lee, a fifty year old Chinese junk with a lot of character, but without the luxury appointments of a normal WWDS boat.
Relieved that our trip was still going ahead we arrived in Timor Leste and boarded The Junk, as it is affectionately known, for our ten day trip. The boat may not have been to the normal standards of a WWDS boat, but it was quite comfortable with roomy cabins, all with ensuites, plus a large dive deck and saloon.
Our first two days of diving were on the established dive sites close to Dili, many of which are normally done as shore dives by the local dive operators. Our check-out dive at Bubble Beach was a great introduction – 20m visibility, 25°C water (a little cooler than expected with the temperature varying from 24°C to 27°C), lovely coral gardens and a great collection of reef fish and nudibranchs. This site is said to have volcanic vents where gas bubbles through the reef, we didn’t see these but did see turtles, stingrays and sandy plain covered in garden eels.
We next dived Dili Rock, which was another pretty reef, but the highlight of day one was Tasi Tolu. The sloping black sand at this site is a haven for critters and we found lionfish, shrimp gobies, jawfish, nudies, anemones, tube worms, sea pens, soft corals, upside down jellyfish, cuttlefish and two lovely anglerfish. It was even better at night when we also found snake eels, bobtail squid, octopus and a range of molluscs and crustaceans.
All the diving from The Junk was done off two inflatables, meaning bottom time was unlimited and you could popup anywhere and get picked up. The crew, mostly Thai, apart from trip director Arndt and instructor Brian, were just brilliant, getting us safely on and off the inflatables, washing our gear and carefully looking after cameras. The meals, we didn’t seem to stop eating, were also great, a lovely mix of Thai and Western food.
Day two we explored the dramatic Black Rock, where we did an exciting drift dive along a sheer wall covered in wonderful corals. We started the dive with a pygmy devil ray cruising overhead and as we drifted along we also encountered schools of snapper and sweetlips and saw a large grey reef shark. We did a number of other pretty dive sites that day but another highlight was K41 West.
This is another brilliant muck site where we saw ghost pipefish, zeno crabs, razorfish, jawfish, shrimp gobies, garden eels and numerous nudibranchs. This site also has rich coral walls, covered in sponges, soft corals and masses of tiger anemones, where we found two lovely leaf scorpionfish.
That night we sailed north to dive the largely unexplored Atauro Island, which we will look at next issue.
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