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Wakatobi trip returns to Perth

written by Lee Johnson – Perth Scuba Tour Leader & Boss 

We’re back from another great overseas diving trip, this time from Wakatobi in South Suluwisi. This trip was a great mix of 5 days on the Live aboard Vessel Pelagian followed by another 5 days on the island resort of Wakatobi. The live aboard part of the trip took us through the surrounding islands of WAngiwangi – KAledupa – TOmea and BInongko. The diving included wall diving on pristine walls, drift diving around peaks of coral atolls and the always fun treasure hunt ‘muck’ diving around the local villages of Tomea. Our crew of 10 (the capacity on the awesome vessel built in the 1960s) were treated from day 1 to some of the most scenic reef most of us had ever seen. Massive fans, colourful soft corals, pure white sand contrasting crystal clear blue water and literally thousands and thousands of fish. The fact that these areas are fairly remote shows that the lack of constant diving and overfishing has kept the Eco balance of corals and marine animals to a perfect level.


The highlights of diving these areas are not just limited to the marine life either, the experience of flying through the water along walls that have a sheer drop into the hundreds of metres deep, at 4+ Knots in one direction watching the world whizz by as you float between massive schools of butterfly fish and triggerfish, only for the current to slow to a complete stop and then the direction to change again to the opposite direction. It’s a fun feeling and something I highly recommend if you get the chance. Every drift dive we did was different and so much fun. You see so much and cover so much distance in a dive that by the time you get out if the water you can’t even start to list the things you’ve seen.

The next type of diving we were introduced to in Wakatobi was wall diving. On these dives you can choose your own depth and just cruise along the walls. The constant range of soft and hard corals, fans and marine life is always changing and depending on where you are on the wall you may be lucky enough to come across a turtle sleeping on a ledge, sting rays cruising up and down looking for an easy meal or even a sea snake or two. Again the best part about this type of diving is you can control your air consumption by the depth you choose to dive. You will always see something different and the dive guides are always there to point out things you may have never seen before. It’s weird how these guides can swim along a wall and home in on something as small as a Pygmy seahorse (these little guys are less than a centimeter in length and no more than half a centimeter in width) most are even smaller and they come in a whole range of colours.

On these dives, everyone is on the lookout for something special that they can show your buddies or to get a great photo of. Another cool thing to do when wall diving is keep an eye out into the blue away from the wall where sometimes you will see sharks, barracuda, schooling Giant Trevally and some massive tuna. Swimming out into the blue away from the wall also has it’s rewards by being amongst these palegic fish. The only thing here to watch is your depth and those currents which can soon make your wall dive into a drift dive. It’s always a good idea to keep the wall in your sights if doing this during your dive so you can track the rest of your group. It’s a great way to get some photos of the bigger stuff though.

perth-scuba-wakatobi-pelagian-tour-2014-by-johanna-pool-4618The next type of diving is one of my favourites. The term Muck Diving doesn’t sound great but it is one of the most fun types of diving you can do. You jump into water only 15 or 20 metres away from the beach shoreline. Descending into what really can be described as resembling a desert. Well that doesn’t sound like fun, I know, that is until you start to check out the sand. There are so many different critters hiding under and around rocks, tree stumps, discarded car tyres and even cartons and bottles. Before you know it you are literally looking for anything that changes the flat sand landscape knowing that every thing you see will have something different living in or around it. Here you will find a lot of juvenile fish hiding in the shallows until they are big enough to go into the big blue ocean. You find Lion fish the size of your little finger nail, pigmy squid which are not much bigger than a grain of sand, sea horses, nudibranchs as well as bigger things like eels, octopus and cuttlefish cover the whole dive site and all within just metres of busy local villages where kids race around and splash around in the water above.

The challenge on these dives are not only to find the critters but then to photograph them which is very often a real challenge. (Except for Nudibranchs – they tend not to move so fast).

Everyone saw a bunch of things they had never seen before or found things they rarely see at all and everyone came up from the dive with a complete change of opinion from what they had expected from the pre dive briefing about diving “Cheeky Beach”. (named after the children that splash around the area all say long) diving around the village’s discarded boat and car parts and rubbish. The same rubbish that has now become homes and shelter for so many critters.

The next type of diving was muck diving with a twist… Night diving. The sheer amount of life that can be found at night on a muck dive is mind blowing. Everything comes out to play, feed, search for new habitats and mate. On this dive we were lucky enough to have been able to catch the 20 or so minute window of the evening (just at dusk) where the Mandarin fish were doing their mating rituals. If you haven’t seen this – it’s quite a bizzarre occurrence. For half an hour before ‘the event’ the larger male Mandarin fish begin to round up the females. They group them together and literally keep guard on them so other males don’t try to steal their harem. If another male tries, they fight it out until one gives in and they move on. Not before latching onto each other’s fins and not letting go.

Some fish make this fight more important than the round up of females itself. – (not much different to what you see in the local pubs on a Saturday night out on the town really.)

This round up goes on for half an hour with hundreds of fish gathering in small groups. Then all of a sudden the males take one of the females, swim alongside her upwards about half a metre, and then separate and head back down for another female. That’s it… Job done. Then no sooner does it all start than it’s all over and there is not a Mandarin fish to be seen… anywhere. This occurs every day around the same time of day. For the photographer who is good enough, the opportunity to get great photos of arguably the most colourful fish in the ocean is there for the taking. If you are too slow, it could be a long wait until you get the opportunity again. Once the Mandarin Fish ‘dance’ is over it’s off to search for more critters and there is certainly no room for disappointment there. Our crew got some fantastic photographs and video on the night muck dive and the boat was buzzing with stories on everyone’s return.

The muck diving was the highlight of many of the trip participants as most of them had done it before. The Pelagian trip came to an end way too fast as we were treated so well (we didn’t have to do anything but eat, sleep and dive!) and we were given the opportunity to complete 4 dives per day (20 for the 5 days) which made it hard to decide, dive or chill out.

The next 5 days were at the resort… But that’s a whole different story…

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