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.