Standing on Bandaneira it was hard to imagine the impact that these islands made on the world during the 17thand 18th centuries. I mean, these islands were so small and had little to really offer except the one thing that most of Europe craved during those times: nutmeg and mace. At the time, the Banda Islands were the only place where these important spices could be found. The Bandas became the center of trading, exploration, and conflict until the spice was found on other islands and was cultivated in areas closer to Europe. After that, the islands sunk back in obscurity.
Today the islands attract another type of adventure-seeker; snorkelers and divers in search of clear blue water and pristine reefs. Though it takes a bit of time and desire to get here, it is easily worth the investment.
Our group of 14 Coral Triangle Adventurers started out in more familiar territory, Raja Ampat. The numbers of times I have visited is easily in the double digits, yet it still never ceases to amaze me in what the area has to offer snorkelers. We visited reefs of unimaginable beauty and even had a chance to explore a marine lake that was unknown to me. In the lake were Mastigias jellies, cousins of those that inhabit Palau’s marine lakes, and clearly in the same predicament. They found their way in here (probably as larvae) and have survived largely due to the symbiotic algae, zooxanthellae that reside within their tissues. The algae give the jellies a fair bit of nutrition in return for a place to dwell. The reduced light in the early morning hours allowed me to have fun playing with a black background and reflections…
Magnificent dartfish (Nemateleotris magnifica)
Cannon ready to defend Fort Belgica, Bandaneira
A large adult male humphead wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus)
It was the islands around Seram and the Bandas, however, that drew the biggest applause from our group. We could not believe how incredibly diverse and lush the reefs were with both corals and fishes. Every snorkel had thousands of reef fishes including bigger reef fish like groupers, snappers, and unicornfishes sometimes obviously and sadly missing from reefs in other parts of the world. And all of this against the backdrop of crystal clear blue seas that sometimes afforded us visibility that exceeded 30 meters! We visited most of the islands in the small, oceanic group and each one gave us a different glimpse into the magic of the undersea world. Hatta Island seemed to attract the larger fish, including a small group of adult Napoleon wrasses. Besar Banda had an endless supply of fringing reefs; Api, the islnd-groups only active volcano, has amazingly diverse reefs that blossomed over the lava flow that poured down it’s flanks when it erupted in 1985; and on Bandaneira, a bonus for those willing to jump in near the main pier; mandarinfish. These colorful, but elusive little fish come out at dusk to spawn and in this particular place, not only were they freakishly large, but were found in less than a meter of water! Pulau Run was our bumphead parrotfish hang out with more than 30 large adults roaming over the reefs like a herd of buffalo. Finally, and not to be outdone, Pulau Ai has the exposed reefs with a colorful assortment of robust coral colonies that dwell in the wave-zone.
To say our first trip in the Banda Islands was a rousing success would be an understatement. As a matter of fact, we loved it so much we are planning another trip in 2017. Given that I still can close my eyes and see (and almost feel) myself snorkeling above these magical reefs of the Banda Islands, I can hardly wait until then.
Mandarinfish (Synchiropus splendidus)
Table corals (Acropora spp.) in abundance at Nusalaut