All Posts By

coraltriangleadventures

Snorkeler photographed in Raja Ampat by coral triangle adventures

Raja Ampat Trip Report, February 2020

By Trip Reports No Comments

 

From the rare and bizarre to the beautiful and breathtaking, the animals seen on this trip were incredible. In just over a week on the water, we snorkeled our way from Waigeo in the north down to the island of Misool in the south.
 
Lush reefs of Raja Ampat photographed while snorkeling by coral triangle adventures

Snorkeling bliss

After we all met up in Jakarta and flew east to Sorong, we boarded the Gaia Love, a gorgeous and spacious vessel that would serve as our home for the following week of snorkeling. As we cruised north across the Dampier Strait on the first day, we were greeted by shearwaters and frigate birds soaring over the water and a pod of Spinner Dolphins alongside the boat.

Scorpionfish photographed while snorkeling in Raja Ampat by coral triangle adventures

Tasseled Scorpionfish

With the travel day behind us, we awoke in Alyui Bay to start our snorkeling. Right from the get-go, we were seeing colorful critters from nudibranchs and peacock mantis shrimp to a myriad of brilliant reef fish. After lunch, we were able to visit a local pearl farm and witness the impressive dexterity required to extract pearls from oysters, before hopping back in the water to find more nudibranchs and our first of many Banded Sea Kraits. The next day, we stayed in Alyui, and we hit the critter jackpot: Reef stonefish, spiny devilfish, seahorses, and even the incredibly rare flamboyant cuttlefish! When anyone got close to this marvelous little cephalopod, it instantly changed from camouflaged brown to a bold palette of white, yellow, black, and pink. Here we also had great views of Tasseled Wobbegong.

Aerial of Raja Ampat photographed by coral triangle adventures

Many opportunities to snorkel in Raja Ampat

After two days in Alyui, we headed southwards along Waigeo to Pef, where we snorkeled along a beautiful fringing reef and found a large mottled green crocodilefish and a tiny but stunning nudibranch, the creamy Chromodoris. We also managed to spy another rare cephalopod, the dwarf cuttlefish, hanging out in some seagrass near the end of the snorkel.

Continuing south along the western edge of Waigeo to Gam and Yangeffo, we found our third species of cuttlefish for the trip, the large broadclub, which dazzled everyone with its color-changing abilities during a long, intimate encounter with the whole group. Close inspections of Nephthea soft corals brought views of the adorable Minute Filefish, almost perfectly camouflaged among the soft pink cauliflower-like branches. Much less camouflaged was a clearfin lionfish, boldly perched against a large rock in the shallows, confident that its venomous spines would keep us snorkelers at bay.

Flamboyant cuttlefish photographed while snorkeling in Raja Ampat by coral triangle adventures

The ultra rare flamboyant cuttlefish

Overnight we powered south to Misool, where we would find some of the fishiest reefs of the entire trip. Huge schools of Chromis and silversides swarmed over really healthy coral reefs, and a few schools of squid graced us with their presence as they swam nearby in deeper water. Here we also got to see one of Raja Ampat’s endemic species – the Raja epaulette shark, which is less than a meter long and looks like a leopard-print iguana. Our last evening in Misool, we hopped out of the water and into the dinghies for a little tour of the nearby islands. Sheer limestone cliffs studded with carnivorous pitcher plants contrasted with gorgeous turquoise waters, giving us all the feeling of being transported back in time, to some prehistoric untouched wilderness.

Reefs and mangroves photographed while snorkeling by coral triangle adventures

Reefs grow right up to the roots

The trip ended with a “Bang!” on the north coast of Batanta, where we floated over a number of enormous manta rays at a cleaning station. With just a little bit of current to fight against to keep the mantas in view, everyone earned their dessert that day! The final snorkel of the trip was more mellow, with no current to speak of but still plenty of fish. A beautiful fringing reef along a plateau of seagrass and white sand was enjoyed by all, with chocolate-chip sea stars in the shallows and one last broadclub cuttlefish along the coral-laden slope.

In just a week, we travelled 400 nautical miles around Raja Ampat and were rewarded with spectacular views, pictures, and experiences that will never be forgotten.

Our next Raja Ampat departure is in November, 2020!

Cephalopod behavior

By The Coral Triangle No Comments

 

Cephalopods are always a highlight on any day of snorkeling, and one of the groups of cephalopods we come across frequently on our trips is the cuttlefish. Closely-related to squids and nautiluses, cuttlefish share the incredible intelligence and color-changing abilities of their evolutionary cousins. They can be distinguished from squid and octopus by a number of features. Squid are thinner, shaped liked a torpedo for speed, while cuttlefish are stockier and usually move more slowly. Octopus have only eight tentacles, rather than the ten of squid and cuttlefish, but it can be difficult to count them underwater! The best way to tell cuttlefish apart from octopus is the body shape: octopus are all arms with a round body, and are usually found on the bottom, whereas cuttlefish are generally hovering above the reef.

cuttlefish photographed by coral triangle adventures while snorkeling in Raja Ampat

Cuttlefish capturing prey

Unlike many reef-dwelling invertebrates we see on our trips that are beautiful but relatively boring behavior-wise (i.e. nudibranchs), cuttlefish have a range of interesting behaviors to witness while snorkeling. The first one that you notice when you spy a cuttlefish is its ability to change color and texture in seconds. Specially evolved tissues in cephalopod’s skin called chromatophores and papillae use tiny muscle fibers to control color patterns and skin texture for a range of reasons. The most obvious benefit is camouflage, blending the animal in to its environment to protect from predators and sneak up on prey. But there are other reasons for changing color, including communication with each other and confusing prey with pulses of color.

Another behavior we occasionally notice while snorkeling is hunting. The cuttlefish will slowly approach its target, often changing color and contorting its tentacles to disguise its shape, then shoot two longer “feeding arms” forward at its intended victim.

Reproductive behavior is always incredible to witness, and on our most recent trip we were fortunate to get a glimpse of these more intimate moments of cuttlefish’s lives. The broadclub cuttlefish, which is the large, reef-dwelling species we most often encounter, has an interesting mating system that involves a large male with a small harem of females that he will mate with. He will protect these females from other males, keeping a watchful eye on them until their eggs are laid. However, some smaller male cuttlefish have figured out that they can alter their color and behavior to appear like a female, which lets them sneak past the dominant male and get close to a female. Then, these “sneaker males” will quickly mate and depart, leaving the guarding male none the wiser.

Cuttelfish hatching from egg case in Raja Ampat photographed while snorkeling by coral triangle adventures

Newly hatched cuttlefish

The act of mating is face-to-face, with both individuals spreading their tentacles out, the male wrapping his tentacles around her head while he passes her a packet of sperm, which she then stores in her mantle to later fertilize her eggs. Cuttlefish only breed once in their lives, so they make sure their future generation is protected. Eggs are laid in crevices on the reef, often hidden below a stinging coral or under a piece of rubble. There the young develop in white, grape-sized eggs for a month or two, before hatching as tiny, fully-formed cuttlefish! These babies are able to change color and forage for prey from the moment they emerge.

Our next Raja Ampat departure is in November, 2020!

Halmahera and Raja Ampat Trip Report

By Trip Reports No Comments

 

 
Raja Ampat photographed by coral triangle adventures

Island Paradise

For the first Coral Triangle Adventures trip of 2020 we embarked on a special snorkel journey that began in Sorong, skirted the outermost islands of Halmahera in the Molucca Sea and then returned through the northern islands of Raja Ampat. The weather was spectacular throughout the voyage, entrancing us with glassy seas and just a light breeze each afternoon.

Arriving in Sorong from Jakarta, we boarded the Mermaid I, one of our favorite vessels that works with CTA in several Indonesian locales. Soon we headed north into the Dampier Straight and began our thrilling underwater experiences there at a small island south of Kabui Bay. The following day found us doing two snorkeling sites along the north coast of Batanta. The second site gave our group some fleeting but memorable glimpses of some unique manta rays. Feeding near our moored boat were several white mantas. Almost all white with black streaks along their dorsal sides, they seemed the exact opposite coloration of most mantas. In old-school film speak it was as if we were viewing negatives of the original versions. Incredible!

Coral reef photographed in Raja Ampat by coral triangle adventures

Peeking under the waves

After an easy overnight sail, we woke up in an incredibly aesthetic part of Kofiau, an island group on the edge of the Molucca Sea. This was day of exploratory snorkels, knowing that few, if anyone, had ever donned fins and mask to explore the reefs here. Shallow, delicate coral colonies encircled the many islands in this group, two of which we chose as sites to investigate in detail. Javanese damselfish, Clown triggerfish, Reef octopus, Orangutan crabs, and many, many other reef animals showed their colors to us in this area.

The subsequent day found us on the southern coast of another stunning island group called Pulau Boo. Technically, these beautiful islands are part of Halmahera and again, little known to people outside of local fishermen. Quaint wooden huts sat on spindly stilts built along the lagoon here. Coconut palms dominated the small, sandy islands and again, shallow, fringing reefs meandered along the edges. Planktivorous fish swarmed above the hearty reefs while we swam in search of Yellowspotted scorpionfish and other rarities such as Leaf Scorpionfish.

Sea fan photographed by coral triangle adventures

Sea fan photo-bombed

As the sun angled downward on this stunning area, the Mermaid turned northeast and made its way overnight to Penemu back in Raja Ampat. Morning brought us glorious sunshine and excellent visibility while we drifted slowly along walls covered by Tubastrea, soft corals, and sea fans. Threadfin anthias reflected colorful light as they swam above Coral groupers, Lined sweetlips, Semicircle angelfish, and several species of fusiliers.

After Penemu, we repositioned further north into Alyui Bay. As always, this area provided breathtaking snorkels and many rarities as the underwater habitats here are the definition of unique. Just a few of the highlights in this area were Tasseled wobbegongs, Reef stonefish, a multitude of nudibranchs, and one of the most uncommon fish in Raja Ampat, the White-Bonnet anemonefish – a relatively new addition to the known species within this biodiverse region.

Arial in Raja Ampat photographed by Coral Triangle Adventures

Aerial in Raja Ampat

Two days later we did a special snorkel into Secret Bay, a well-hidden lagoon dotted by dozens of limestone islands on the north coast of Pulau Gam. Perfect conditions allowed us to gently drift over slopes of gorgonians and past bright orange Scleranephthya soft corals that lined the channel walls. Later in the day we experienced a wonderful snorkel in Pef, another group of rock islands, which was home to Pygmy cuttlefish, Signal gobies, Velutinid snails, Variable jawfish and even Ornate ghost pipefish.

CTA group photographed in Raja Ampat by coral triangle adventures

Group shot!

The last few days of this magical journey were spent in the lush channel between Gam and Yangeffo Islands and then the famed Dampier Strait. Broadclub cuttlefish, Radial filefish, Pinnate spadefish, and schools of Two-spot snapper were just a few of the creatures of interest in Yangeffo and the Dampier Strait was overflowing with schooling fish and offered close views of Hawksbill turtles feeding.

All in all our time exploring the islands and reefs in the Halmahera and Raja Ampat regions was fabulous. We couldn’t have asked for better weather or better underwater scenery so undoubtedly Coral Triangle Adventures will continue to explore this amazing part of the planet.

Our next Raja Ampat departure is in November, 2020!

Aerial view of Rinca Island, Komodo National Park snorkeling tour coral triangle adventures

Thriving Reef Fragility in the Land of Dragons

By The Coral Triangle No Comments

 

Colorful corals in shallow water photographed while snorkeling in in Komodo, coral triangle adventures

Colorful Shallows of Komodo

It has long been thought that coral reefs, one of the most diverse and productive ecosystems, are among the most fragile natural systems on Earth. The myriad creatures that compose reef food webs live in a very small range of temperatures and require quite specific habitats, food sources, and reproductive cues. Thousands of delicate species, such as sponges, corals, hydroids, anemones, bryozoans, echinoderms, tunicates, and more, strive to settle and suceed in shallow water where prevalent sunlight drives the reefs’ energy input. After snorkeling for years through the Coral Triangle we’ve wondered whether we should consider these reefs truly “fragile” or are they more robust as a whole then it appears?

Table corals photographed while snorkeling in in Komodo, coral triangle adventures

Table Corals Komodo

On Coral Triangle Adventures’ latest voyage through Komodo National Park we witnessed a plethora of amazing coral reefs growing within centimeters of the low tide line. Along with seagrass and mangrove habitats, large swaths of reef-building and soft corals served as home terratories for hundreds of small fish species, from the tiniest of gobies, blennies, damselfish, anthias, butterflyfish, angelfish, etc., to the larger Giant Trevally, Giant sweetlips, Napolean wrasse, and Bumphead parrotfish. Wherever we explored among the volcanic islands between Flores and Sumbawa, we saw health and vitality, though sometimes in stages of succession.

Reef diversity photographed while snorkeling in in Komodo, coral triangle adventures

Reef Diversity in Komodo

Change over time is constant and continual, that is for certain, but over the 15 years of snorkeling in this region we have perceived the reefs within Indonesia’s protected areas have not only withstood the beginnings of climate change but they seem to be flourishing. Yes, there are times when we come across localized Crown of Thorns outbreaks or bleaching events but those same reefs have virtually all returned to their splendid amalgamation of vibrant marine life. Of course we craft our snorkel sites to be in areas away from human population centers where overfishing and damaged reef communities would be more expected.

So the debate of whether coral reefs are truly fragile or robust is still in question but we believe that the two terms are not mutually exclusive. Reefs can be both, depending on the definition of the two terms. From our limited perspective of snorkeling through these magnificent underwater gardens we see many delicate individuals that compose vigorous underwater ecosystems. These natural marine systems, which have a long evolutionary history, may suffer setbacks over short periods but there is definitely the tendency for resilience and rapid recovery when geographically situated away from large human settlements. Reefs may have the potential for survival as climate change proceeds, though undoubtedly reef communities will look different. This is not by any means an argument against working towards slowing climate change but you could say we’re reasonably optimistic after we have witnessed so many outstanding coral reefs throughout this most recent Komodo trip.

Our next Komodo departure is in Sept, 2020!

Whale shark photographed in Komodo national park by Coral Triangle Adventures

Komodo Snorkeling Tour, Oct 2019 Trip Report

By Trip Reports No Comments

 

When people ask about our favorite trips we always mention, without hesitation, Komodo National Park. Sure, the park is beautiful and possesses some of the coolest lizards on the planet, but there is something consistent about Komodo; it is always epic! Our recent trip was just that. Epic.

Snorkelers in Komodo photographed in Komodo by coral triangle adventures

Snorkelers in Komodo

The islands in Komodo are quite unique among almost any that range along the equatorial region in that they are almost devoid of lush tropical jungle. The islands not only reside in a quasi- ‘rain shadow’ (larger and taller peaks on Flores and Sumbawa capture a lot of moisture before it reaches the islands in Komodo National Park), but they also receive heated air from the Australian deserts transported via the trade winds. While Komodo does have a rainy season, the islands tend to have flora that resembles savannahs rather than jungles. Underwater, however, the story is much different. Ultra-lush coral reefs harboring some of the highest levels of marine biodiversity on the planet can be found just about anywhere in the park.

Juvenile rockmover wrasse photographed in Komodo by coral triangle adventures

Juvenile Rockmover Wrasse

We began our tour along the eastern edge of the park, visiting several islands that showcase just how amazing the reefs are in this part of the world. On our first snorkel we swam with thousands of tropical fishes as they hovered above the reef to capture plankton as it floated by in the gentle currents, as well as some larger reef inhabitants including turtles and a large bamboo shark. Several snorkelers spent good time with a fairly cooperative juvenile rock-mover wrasse and were treated to a rare sight: foraging behavior and the successful capture of a crab!

Moving into the park, we had great conditions at our favorite places to snorkel, including a nearly perfect snorkel where we had close to 100ft visibility, a slow-moving current that allowed us to stay in the area but brought out all of the planktivorous fish, and plenty of sunshine to light up the reef! Not only is this sight one of my top destinations in the world, it was one of the top snorkeling sessions I’ve had on that reef!

Clown triggerfish photographed in Komodo by coral triangle adventures

Clown Triggerfish

With a few days of fantastic snorkeling under our belts, we traded our fins for shoes and spent the morning visiting Komodo National Park on Rinca Island. Much like our snorkels, the park offered us the chance to see adults displaying some aggressive behavior towards each other as opposed to our usual encounters where they are lounging around the ranger station. The group also had rare sighting of a juvenile resting on a tree limb, where it remains protected from adults until it grows large enough to defend itself. That evening we did our first of two night snorkels and saw lots of nudibranchs, a couple of octopuses, flatworms, and a long encounter with a coral cat shark that remained exposed on the reef for several minutes before continuing with its hunt for food under the cover of darkness.

Aerial view of Horseshoe Bay photographed in Komodo by coral triangle adventures

Aerial view of Horseshoe Bay

The next day we embarked for Horseshoe Bay at the southern end of Rinca Island. With cooler water temps, we still managed to log a lot of time in the water and saw a huge variety of nudibranchs, fishes, and rare invertebrates like a blue-ringed octopus and basket stars. We also had the chance to visit the beach for some more encounters with awesome Komodo dragons. The next day we moved back towards the north end of the park and visited one of our sites that allows us the chance to ride swift currents in search of large reef fish, and then ‘eddy out’ onto a health reef flat where more gentle currents guided us around the island. Towards the end of our snorkel session, we had a manta hang out with us in the same currents that we enjoyed.

Clown nudibranch laying eggs photographed in Komodo by coral triangle adventures

Clown nudibranch laying eggs

The next day we began our cruise westward towards Bali, but still had plenty of snorkeling days ahead of us. Gili Darat and Gili Laut, both on the northeastern tip of Komodo Island, offered us more mantas, another great night snorkel that included egg-laying and mating nudibranchs, and healthy reefs with a such a huge diversity of fishes that we felt like we were in an aquarium!

Our last full day of snorkeling was at Sangeang volcano and like many times before, it delivered on the rare critters! Ornate ghost pipefish, frogfish, nudibranchs, leaffish, and garden eels were some of the crowd-pleasers, with mantis shrimp, cuttlefish, and unusual reef fishes adding to the excitement. For an area that has little in terms of coral reef, this spot was easily one of the highlights of the trip!

Komodo dragons photographed in Komodo by coral triangle adventures

Komodo Dragons

On our last day, we decided to try something different. Rather than visit our usual reef, we opted for the chance to snorkel around floating fish platforms called bagans. While there was no reef, no bottom for that matter, it did offer us the chance to see one of the more incredible fish species on the planet: Whale sharks! And we had many to choose from. At our designated bagan, we had two that remained with us then entire time. There were four others nearby, one of them easily 25ft long! Our gamble paid off and we ended our snorkeling adventure on an incredible high note!

 

Yellow leaffish photographed in Komodo by coral triangle adventures

Yellow leaffish

Frogfish photographed in Komodo by coral triangle adventures

Warty Frogfish

Spinner dolphins photographed in Komodo by coral triangle adventures

Spinner Dolphins

Chamberlain's nudibranch photographed in Komodo by coral triangle adventures

Chamberlain’s nudibranch

Blue spotted grouper photographed in Komodo by coral triangle adventures

Blue-spotted grouper

Blue ringed octopus photographed in Komodo by coral triangle adventures

Blue-ringed Octopus

Ornate ghost pipefish photographed in Komodo by coral triangle adventures

Ornate Ghost Pipefish

Tambja Morose photographed in Komodo by coral triangle adventures

Tambja Morose

Mantis shrimp photographed in Komodo by coral triangle adventures

Mantis Shrimp

Juvenile Leaffish photographed in Komodo by coral triangle adventures

Juvenile Lionfish

Princess damsel photographed in Komodo by coral triangle adventures

Princess Damsel

White-stripe shrimp photographed in Komodo by coral triangle adventures

White-stripe shrimp

We love Komodo National Park and it is and always will be a stable part of our portfolio of snorkeling adventures. Our next departure is in September 2020 aboard the Gaia Love and we very much look forward to re-visiting some of our favorite snorkeling sites in the world!

Coral whip goby photographed by coral triangle adventures while snorkeling in Indonesia

Something fishy is going on in Eastern Indonesia

By The Coral Triangle, Trip Reports No Comments

 

I really enjoy the challenge of trying to take photos of colorful tropical fishes while snorkeling and free-diving. It began in 2012 when I started writing my first book on marine life that can be seen while snorkeling in the Philippines and continues to this day. Even years after finishing my second book, I still find myself challenged by capturing the ‘perfect’ image of some of the more colorful (and elusive) tropical fishes that inhabit diverse coral reefs.

The best places in the world to find these dazzling residents of the reef are, of course, in eastern Indonesia where locations such as Alor, the Banda Islands, and Raja Ampat exist. Below are just some of the photos I managed to capture while visiting these magnificent destinations.

A zebra dartfish photographed in Indonesia by coral triangle adventures

Zebra Dartfish

Yellowtail wrasse photographed in Indonesia by coral triangle adventures

A juvenile yellowtail wrasse

Yellowtail Damsel photographed in Indonesia by coral triangle adventures

Yellowtail Damsel

Yellow-spotted scorpionfish photographed in Indonesia by coral triangle adventures

Yellow-spotted scorpion fish

Trumpetfish photographed in Indonesia by coral triangle adventures

Trumpetfish

Threadfin anthias photographed in Indonesia by coral triangle adventures

Threadfin Anthias (female)

Tailspot Blenny photographed in Indonesia by coral triangle adventures

Tailspot Blenny

Spinecheek anemonefish photographed in Indonesia by coral triangle adventures

Spinecheek anemonefish

Regal Damoiselle photographed while snorkeling in Indonesia by coral triangle adventures

Regal Damoiselle

Robust ghost pipefish photographed while snorkeling in Indonesia by coral triangle adventures

Robust ghost pipefish

Regal angelfish photographed while snorkeling in Indonesia by coral triangle adventures

Regal Angelfish

Reef pipefish photographed while snorkeling in Indonesia by coral triangle adventures

Reef pipefish

Orange stripe goby photographed while snorkeling in Indonesia by coral triangle adventures

Orange stripe Goby

Pinktail triggerfish photographed while snorkeling in Indonesia by coral triangle adventures

Pinktail triggerfish

Orange shoulder surgeonfish photographed while snorkeling in Indonesia by coral triangle adventures

Orange shoulder surgeonfish

Masked dottyback photographed while snorkeling in Indonesia by coral triangle adventures

Maked dottyback

Mandarinfish photographed while snorkeling in Indonesia by coral triangle adventures

Mandarinfish

Longnose filefish photographed while snorkeling in Indonesia by coral triangle adventures

Longnose filefish

Longnose butterflyfish photographed while snorkeling in Indonesia by coral triangle adventures

Longnose butterflyfish

Juvenile star pufferfish photographed while snorkeling in Indonesia by coral triangle adventures

Juvenile star pufferfish

Juvenile black snapper photographed while snorkeling in Indonesia by coral triangle adventures

Juvenile black snapper

Flying gurnard photographed while snorkeling in Indonesia by coral triangle adventures

Flying gurnard

Flagfin Goby photographed while snorkeling in Indonesia by coral triangle adventures

Flagfin Goby

Emperor angelfish photographed while snorkeling in Indonesia by coral triangle adventures

Emperor angelfish

Copper-banded coralfish photographed while snorkeling in Indonesia by coral triangle adventures

Copper-banded coralfish

Clown triggerfish photographed while snorkeling in Indonesia by coral triangle adventures

Clown triggerfish

Female blue devil photographed while snorkeling in Indonesia by coral triangle adventures

Blue devil (female)

Clown blenny photographed while snorkeling in Indonesia by coral triangle adventures

Clown blenny

Blue girdled angelfish photographed while snorkeling in Indonesia by coral triangle adventures

Blue girdled angelfish

Male blue devil photographed while snorkeling in Indonesia by coral triangle adventures

Blue devil (male)

We plan to offer another Heart of the Coral Triangle snorkeling adventure in the near future, but in the meantime, we have full departures dedicated to just each specific location, their links are here:

Alor: https://coraltriangleadventures.com/alor-indonesia-may-5-18-2020/
Banda Islands: https://coraltriangleadventures.com/banda-islands-snorkeling-tour/banda-islands-snorkeling-tour-oct-25-nov-7-2021/
Raja Ampat: https://coraltriangleadventures.com/raja-ampat-snorkeling-tour/raja-ampat-snorkeling-tour-nov-22-dec-5-2020/

Heart of the Coral Triangle Trip Report

By Trip Reports No Comments

 

Trip Report: Snorkeling the Heart of the Coral Triangle, Sept. 23-Oct. 11, 2019

What an epic journey we just completed! Coral Triangle Adventure’s most recent snorkeling trip took us deep into our namesake, the center of the Coral Triangle, known to harbor the greatest diversity of marine life on planet Earth. From Flores through the Banda and Ceram Seas to West Papua, we explored the healthy, shallow reefs of many islands and were amazed at the underwater life discovered each step along the way.

After meeting our intrepid group of snorkelers in Bali we flew to the island of Flores, just east of Komodo National Park, where we boarded our striking liveaboard ship, the MV Pindito, which was to be our happy home for about two weeks. Overnight we sailed along the north coast of Flores under starry skies to Lembata Island and awoke to the sunrise illuminating the living volcano of Lewotolo. A protected bay was a perfect spot for us to snorkel a mushroom coral-laden reef that led to seagrass and a lush mangrove forest. An additional attractive site in this bay found us hunting critters, such as juvenile Flying gurnards, Pegasus sea moths, various pipefish and nudibranchs in black, volcanic sand.

Forward we moved to the island of Pantar and a current-swept channel that was a perfect home for literally millions of Threadfin anthias. At one point we were even able to watch as a pair of Blue whales swam within 200 meters of the very reef we were snorkeling! Next on our journey was the Pantar Strait, flowing between Pantar and Alor. This body of clear, blue water brings just the right gumbo of food and sunlight for its abundant, shallow reef habitats to prosper. During one of our snorkels here we had a charming encounter with local children as they showed off their free-diving skills and showed us their handmade dive goggles.

Moving along to Wetar Island we had close encounters with both megafauna and macrofauna. A large pod of Pilot whales gave us an exciting show while the nearby reefs provided hunting grounds for scorpionfish, ghost pipefish, Fire dartfish, and Red spotted blennies. The incredibly aesthetic islands around Romang, in the southern part of the Banda Sea, was where we marveled at some of the most delicate and healthy corals we’ve encountered in Indonesia – which says a lot! Later that day, as the Pindito began working its way northeastwards, we spent time watching Blue whales feed in the deep waters near Romang. This was by far the closest any of us had ever been to the largest animal that has ever evolved on Earth.

The distant volcanoes of Teun and Manuk (island of the snakes) offered more highlights for us with color-changing Broadclub cuttlefish, massive Bumphead parrotfish, and many, many Broad-banded blue sea kraits (Laticauda semifasciata) that languidly hunted for fish beneath abundant corals. The following stop brought us to Banda Naira, the epicenter of the extremely lucrative spice (nutmeg and mace) trade from the 1500s through the early 1800s. This was also an area that gave us wonderful views of mating Mandarinfish. Onwards and northwards the Pindito sailed, bringing us to the secluded Pulau Koon. Large schools of Lined sweetlips, Orange-spotted trevally, Longnose emperors, various fusiliers, Redtooth and Black triggerfish swarmed along the reef edge in Koon.

The final part of our snorkeling adventure brought us sailing north through the Ceram Sea and into the craggy, tree-laden limestone islands of Misool. This part of Raja Ampat contains some of the most beautiful scenery on Earth and looks as if it should be the backdrop of a James Bond film. Fringing reefs, beginning just inches below the low tide line, surround the hundreds of islands stretching southwest from Misool and we snorkeled many hours in this idyllic area. One of many attractions for us was watching elusive Mobulas hunting vast schools of silversides that swam along the reefs here.

Having covered over 1000 nautical miles, numerous tropical islands, and copious amounts of flourishing coral reefs, we ended our adventure in Sorong, Raja Ampat and flew back to where it all began in Bali. It will unquestionably take many weeks for all of us to digest all the beauty and diversity that we were exposed to both above and below the waterline over the course of this trip. While we may be finished with the snorkeling part of this journey the memories will stay with us for a lifetime.

Komodo National Park

From Sea Slugs to Seascapes: Komodo National Park

By The Coral Triangle No Comments

 

Bornella anguilla - coral triangle adventures

Nudibranchs…

By the end of the recent Coral Triangle Adventures trip to the Komodo National Park and surrounding islands the intrepid guests would have no doubts about the propriety of my self-designated “nerdibranch” moniker, as I effused endlessly about nudibranchs and other sea slugs. These shell-less relatives of snails exchanged the protective coverings of their ancestors for the deterrent effect of toxic or noxious chemicals. Many announce this line of defense to would-be predators with brilliant warning colors, a phenomenon known as aposomatic coloration, while others use camouflage to avoid detection. Despite their often-conspicuous markings, the small size of many nudibranchs and other sea slugs admittedly makes it challenging to find them while snorkeling. Understandably, the manta rays, giant cuttlefishes, sea snakes, and the dazzling diversity of tropical reef fishes observed in the Komodo NP area are well deserving of our guests’ attention and appreciation, but it can also be satisfying to occasionally engage in a sea slug scavenger hunt. Once a nudibranch is discovered one can then wonder at the other-worldly beauty of these sometimes-bizarre life-forms that seem like they would be more expected in the underground seas of Europa than in the oceans of our own planet. The bumpy Phyllidiids and the sea squirt-eating Nembrotha species were among the nudibranchs most commonly observed by guests on this recent trip. Highlights included Bornella anguilla, a psychedelic-patterned nudibranch that can swim like an eel, spotted by Ethan at Sangeang volcano, and a pair of leopard-spotted nudibranchs, Gonibranchus leopardus, observed at Satonda.

Lush reefs can be found throughout Komodo National Park - coral triangle adventures

Sunbeams…

But as a coral reef ecologist who has seen first-hand the devastation that coral bleaching, crown-of-thorns seastars, sedimentation, and overfishing have wreaked on reefs in some parts of the Indo-Pacific, the breathtaking undersea vistas we encountered were also soul-stirring. One could spend hours marveling not just at the myriad forms, colors, and behaviors of the reef’s denizens, but also at the enveloping beauty of the sites and sounds that wash over you. The dance of light on the seafloor; the extensive, tangled thickets of staghorn corals; the pulsing schools of irridescent Chromis; and the profusion of pops, snaps, and grunts visually and audibly announce to visitors that this reef community is thriving—and from the coalescence of these elements emerges the intangible, indescribable gestalt of a vibrant coral reef. These stunning seascapes manifest in innumerable forms, each influenced by the unique environmental conditions and assemblies of life found at each site. Beyond experiencing the spectacular beauty of hard coral-dominated reef areas one would expect from the Coral Triangle, like those at Gili Davat and Gili Banta, visitors to the Komodo NP and surrounding islands also get to take in the striking contrast of colorful hard and soft corals against the black sand at Sangeang volcano and wind between the astoundingly rich sea grass beds and mangroves of Tatawa. The beauty of these diverse habitats, and the profusion of life they support, are what draw us to Coral Triangle locales such as the Komodo National Park and surrounding islands. From sea slugs to seascapes, CTA’s Komodo trip has it all.

mandarinfish photographed in Palau by coral triangle adventures

Palau 2019 Trip Report

By Trip Reports No Comments

 

aerial of turtle cove in Palau photographed by Coral triangle adventures

Aerial view of Turtle Cove.JPG

Palau is where it all started for Ethan and I and every time we return, it reminds us of just how much we love what we do! The reefs looked spectacular as ever and our group of 16 snorkelers enjoyed every minute of our time on sites from the outer barrier reef to the inner lagoon.

We began our 10-day snorkeling tour with a special CTA ‘Rock Island Tour’ in Nikko Bay. Having spent many years exploring this incredibly scenic bay, I took our guests to several of our special snorkeling sites – which looked fantastic – as well as to a few hidden gems including unusual caves, tunnels to all-but-hidden marine lakes, and relics from WWII. It was so nice to visit the ‘old stomping grounds’ and see that the reefs we’ve enjoyed so much are looking, in many cases, even better than they did 20 years ago. After a fun-filled day playing in Nikko Bay, we boarded the Rock Islands Aggressor to begin our seven-day exploration of Palau from the comfort of a truly superb liveaboard.

A purple dottybakc photographed in Palau by coral triangle adventures

Purple Dottyback…

We started at the southern end of the barrier reef with a visit to Ngedebus Coral Gardens and Turtle Cove. Both reefs offer an incredible diversity of fish and coral and we had good encounters with both black and white tip sharks, turtles, and a spotted eagle ray. The next day, we spent the morning snorkeling the magnificent reefs around Virgin Blue Hole. Our weather looked good and with the low tide in the afternoon, we snorkeled one of the most dynamic places in the world: The famous Blue Corner! We started at Blue Holes, a series of sink holes that can be accessed from atop of the reef and have huge exit chambers beginning at 30 feet deep. We hovered over the enormous openings and watched as the light bounced off of fish and coral below. With a slight drift to the corner, we made it there in time to see all of the usual suspects that make this site so incredible. Napoleon Wrasse, Black and white tip reef sharks, grey reef sharks, turtles, schools of barracuda, jacks, and, of course, the ever present schools of pyramid butterflyfish and red-tooth triggerfish out in the blue waiting for food to drift by. Was that enough to call it an amazing day? Nope! That night we snorkeled Big Drop-Off and saw octopus, squid, basket stars, and our special blue lights brought out the fluorescence in coral as if the coral was electrified!

Corals fluorescing in Palau photographed by Coral Triangle Adventures

Corals fluoresce…

The next morning, we went back to Big Drop-Off to snorkel above the 1000-ft wall during the day. Calm, clear blue skies and seas and a brisk current promised a fantastic snorkel. Upon entering the water, we immediately felt the energy of the reef! Turtles, sharks and thousands of colorful fish greeted us within our first few minutes and we even had a large “day” octopus hang out with us for over ten minutes. We drifted over lush hard and soft coral gardens along with the ever present schools of pyramid butterflyfish and red tooth triggerfish hovering just off from the reef to capture plankton as it passed by. It was indeed one of my best snorkel sessions in many years! In the afternoon we visited German Channel where shallow coral gardens gave way to expanses of sand where we found spotted eagle rays and white tip reef sharks.

Endemic jelly-eating anemones consume both golden and moon jellies in Jellyfish Lake Palau

A moon jelly…

The following day we planned our morning snorkel around Palau’s Jellyfish Lake. We planned for an early morning venture and it paid off with intimate experiences with hundreds of jellies in view at any given time. For me, I was interested more in the endemic anemones that prey upon the two species of jellies that reside in the lake (the endemic golden jelly (Mastigias papua etpisoni) and the moon jelly (Aurelia aurelia). I was hoping to see them actually capture one but only got as close as to see one that was already ensnared by the anemone’s tentacles. In the afternoon we visited Giant Clam City, and a couple of snorkeling sites near the Milky Way.

lobophyllia photographed in Palau

Large polyp corals…

With only a couple of days left on the Aggressor, we once again took advantage of the great weather and visited another part of the barrier reef near my favorite island group: Ulong Island. The coral in Ulong channel is simply amazing. Blue staghorn and massive table corals dominate the shallow areas while large grouper, grey reef sharks, and horse-eye jacks in seemingly never ending numbers hover effortlessly in the middle of the channel. After a ‘Rock Island Tour’ amongst the beautiful islands that make up Ulong, we snorkeled at Soft Coral Arch where, you can imagine, colorful soft corals adorn the walls along a partially submerged hole through the rock island. We also visited a shallow fringing reef that gave us great chances to spend time with a herd of young bumphead parrotfish as well as almost every species of butterfly fish that can be found in Palau.

A marbled nudibranch photographed in Palau by coral triangle adventures

A colorful nudibranch…

Our next couple days were all within the lagoon and around the area of Nikko, German Lighthouse, and Risong Bay. Risong Bay is the one place in the world where snorkelers can reliably see the colorful but ultra-shy mandarinfish. German Lighthouse was a required visit for the scenery (so nice back there!), and Nikko Bay for further snorkeling adventures around WWII wrecks and reefs with an amazing diversity of hard corals.

Butterflyfishes of Palau

The general census from the group was that this was one of their favorite snorkeling trips of all time and I am inclined to agree. We had great conditions for what we wanted to do and we were able to take full advantage of that and see as much of Palau as we could during our 10-day snorkeling tour.

Like last time, we made a poster of all of the butterflyfish species we saw and did pretty well with 24 out of 33 real possibilities (the other few are either too deep for snorkelers or rare). Given the amount of fun we had, you can bet that I am already looking forward to our visit again in 2021!

soft corals and anthias - coral triangle adventures

Papua New Guinea trip report 2019

By Trip Reports No Comments

 

After a short flight from Port Moresby to Rabaul, located on the northeastern tip of the island of New Britain, our intrepid group of snorkelers boarded the MV Febrina. Shortly after settling in the ship weighed anchor and we sailed towards New Ireland where we woke to spectacular lagoon scenery, surrounded by beaches and thick jungle. For the next two days we explored the fringing coral reefs and sand habitats that grew along this attractive island. The area provided our snorkelers with a special, close up view of several Estuarine seahorses, and those who waited around eventually saw one pair mating!

a clown nudibranch lays a series of egg cases in Papua New Guinea - coral triangle adventures

Clown nudibranch…

Next we headed southwestward, far down the southern coast of New Britain, a locale near Gasmata that rarely (if ever) has seen a snorkeler. A beautiful barrier reef protected a large lagoon with several idyllic islands scattered about. The varied reefs were full of life. Hard and soft corals competed for space to grow while small, vibrant reef fish, including thousands of planktivorous Redfin anthias and Chromis, fluttered all about. While at least a handful of anemonefish species were prevalent on every snorkel, the Bonnethead anemonefish was certainly a highlight seen quite often. This geographically-limited species is now known to be a hybrid and is often found living with Orange anemonefish or Orangefin anemonefish.

Aerial photography in Papua New Guinea - coral triangle adventures

Stunning aerial in PNG

Islands within the barrier reef offered sand habitats mixed with coral reef and thus great areas for snorkelers to discover critters. A number of pipefish species ranged in this area along with Raggy scorpionfish, lionfish, flatworms and some gorgeous nudibranchs including the dorid Gymnodoris ceylonica. These amazing nudibranchs occasionally engage in mass movements into shallow water to spawn and we witnessed this! We found double digit G. celonica gathering on a sand slope where they laid eggs and searched for mates. On this same site was a Ribbon eel, Peacock flounder, and many Sap-sucking slugs.

white bonnet anemonefish photographed in Papua New Guinea - coral triangle adventures

White bonnet anemonefish

The Febrina then sailed northeast, bringing our group to the lush islands within Waterfall Bay, one of the wettest spots on Earth. Yes, there was a pretty waterfall that poured into a shallow, clear river which then entered the bay. Reef-building corals were prolific in this bay and while we drifted on the surface we were treated to the sight of a herd of 30 massive Bumphead parrotfish grazing on boulder corals, Palette surgeonfish, and a few Napolean wrasse.

Before heading back to Port Moresby, we ended our snorkeling trip exploring a tiny, heavenly island, called Pigeon Island, just north of Rabaul. Just below the surface, robust, reef-building corals thrived on top of the reef flat but much of the action was found along the reef crest where a vertical wall dropped into the blue. Hundreds of species of fish were found feeding in this gorgeous spot. All in all, Papua New Guinea offered some wonderful snorkeling and certainly reminded us that picturesque, remote locations still exist on this water-covered planet!

We hope to return here in 2022 (I know, it seems so long from now), but between now and then, perhaps a session in Raja Ampat or Palau?