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EXPLORATORY DIVING IN TIMOR LESTE – PART 3

By Nigel Marsh and Helen Rose

 

Timor Leste, formally known as East Timor, is Australia’s closest Asian neighbour, only an hour flight from Darwin. We recently headed to Timor Leste on a ten day exploratory dive trip with Worldwide Dive and Sail and discovered a country with a wealth of underwater attractions.

 

While a couple of shore based dive operators have been organising diving around Timor Leste for the last few years, our trip was to be one of the first liveaboard trips to explore this new nation. 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.

 

Unfortunately Oriental Siren was lost two months before the trip (see part 1) and a replacement boat had to be quickly located. This was 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. The boat was still very comfortable and had a great Thai crew that fed us wonderful food and looked after our every diving need.

 

Our first four days of diving had seen us exploring wonderful dives sites around Dili (see part 1) and the largely unexplored Atauro Island (see part 2). Day five saw us travelling east to explore the eastern end of Timor Leste and Jaco Island.

 

Our first stop was at Lone Tree and Dirt Track, where we found lovely coral gardens, abundant reef fish and a good collection of invertebrates. Before the trip we had heard that Timor Leste was a great spot for nudibranchs, but on the first four days we had only seen a handful of nudies, then we dived K57.

 

This is a brilliant muck diving site located 57km from Dili. We started the dive on a black sand slope and found garden eels, pipefish, cuttlefish, jawfish and a very pretty flying gurnard. But we then moved onto a colourful wall that was covered in nudibranchs. They were wonderful nudies everywhere, and represented by at least a dozen species.

 

The following day we reached the eastern end of Timor Leste where a narrow strait runs between the mainland and Jaco Island. For two days we did some intense exploratory diving on both sides of the straight on steep walls, sloping walls and some pretty coral gardens. The diving here was very good, and many of the dive sites were similar, with walls covered in gorgonians, soft corals and sponges, plus lots of turtles, white tip reef sharks, marble stingrays, abundant reef fish and a few sea snakes. The diving was actually quite good, however, the crew were hoping to see more pelagic action, but with mild currents the pelagic fish were not as plentiful as they had been on the previous trip when the crew had explored this area with strong currents.

 

The visibility was also disappointing here; it was clear with around 30m visibility, but also full of plankton and algae, which made wide angle photography a challenge. There is sure to be many wonderful dive sites discovered in this area and it will be interesting to see what other marine life the team from World Wide Dive and Sail encounter in the next few trips.

 

One brilliant dive we did in this area was Com Pier. This small pier, which we were told hadn’t been dived in years, was incredible. The depth under the pier varied from eight to 15m and the sea floor was silty and covered in junk. However, each of the pylons was encrusted in colourful corals; gorgonians, soft corals, tubastra, ascidians, sponges and black coral trees. Swimming between the pylons were also numerous reef fish and schools of batfish and snapper. But it was the critters that really made this dive special. Exploring the pylons and silt we found lionfish, razorfish, nudibranchs, flatworms, long-nose hawkfish, boxfish, cuttlefish, gobies, shrimps and a wonderful pink painted anglerfish. We also stayed for a night dive and saw a great collection of molluscs, crustaceans and a very rare toadfish.

 

Com Pier was one of the best dives of the trip, and the crew have vowed to explore more of this amazing pier in future trips. This whole section of coastline around the town of Com is yet to be dived and we are sure many other great dive sites will be found here.

 

Our nine days of diving Timor Leste was quickly coming to an end and the last day gave us a chance to revisit some of our favourite sites. We returned to K57 and this time explored more of the black sand beach and found even more critters. We also revisited K41 west, another brilliant muck site that was even better the second time around, especially when three solar nudies were found. Our final dive was at Black Rock, drifting along the wonderful wall and admiring its colourful corals.

 

Returning to Dili Harbour after nine wonderful days of diving it was hard to depart the boat. We had made some great friends with both the crew and guests, sharing a special bond from exploring new dive sites together. While we had a few average dives, we also had some great ones, but that’s all part of the fun of exploratory diving. Overall it was a brilliant trip and we hope that Worldwide Dive and Sail find many more great dive sites to warrant a return, putting Timor Leste on their regular yearly itinerary.

 

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