18 Metres Below Sea Level from 5550 Above

Our second day of ocean dives, and final day of the course got underway when we clambered back into the boat the following morning. We were surprised to see that yet another boat had sunk that night right beside the first one. Everybody was confused why another, nice, new looking boat had sunk on a calm evening, but that’s just Indonesia I guess. It had been mentioned that they were hoping to take us to Manta Point that day, where we would likely see giant 6 meter wide reef manta rays so we had high hopes, but unfortunately the choppy seas and unpredictable currents synonymous with the rainy season made it too unsafe to go there. Instead we made our way around the island to Crystal Bay, the world famous diving site we had seen from the warung on New Year’s Eve. Unfortunately it was not the season for mola mola so we didn’t see any of those strange creatures either, but we did have an amazingly fun dive.

Emily had a bit of trouble equalizing the pressure in her ears on the descent so Rich stayed with her and I went with Shauna, who had joined us for part of her Divemaster training. She operated our new underwater camera for the first part of the dive, and then I got to use it during the second dive. We descended onto a sandy slope and I immediately saw several flounder hovering around on top of the sand. They are a particularly strange species that are born with eyes on the sides of their heads like normal fish, but as they get older they start to swim on their sides and one eye moves towards the other until they are both on top of the head. It was almost impossible to spot them when they were stationary because they hug the sand so tightly and actually change their colour slightly to match that of their substrate. Shortly after I saw a juvenile lionfish, which is a very distinctive looking species sporting masses of poisonous spines. It is found naturally in these waters but was introduced through the pet trade to the Caribbean, where it is currently wreaking havoc on the local ecosystems by eating everything smaller than it. Once Emily sorted out her ears we descended all the way to 18 meters, the maximum depth we are permitted to go to with our new Open Water diving certification. Rich then took us to what he had called a coral bomb, a giant sort of round mass of coral growing out of the sand. It was quite impressive to look at, with all sorts of strangely shaped coral agglomerations contributing to its girth and height. On the swim towards it we saw several species of eels poking their heads out of the sand and looking around. Upon reaching the bomb we followed Rich under an overhanging piece of it and looked up to see the bubbles we exhaled hit the roof of coral above and make their way up to join a large, gyrating pocket of bubbles at the highest point of the roof. As we turned and swam away we could see thousands of little bubbles seemingly boiling out the top of the bomb, as our air slowly filtered through the coral on its way to the surface.

Due to currents and choppy water we had to go back to Mangrove Point again for our last dive. Along the way we passed an area of strangely flat water where it was apparent something different was going on with the ocean currents. Rich explained it was a large upwelling where nutrient rich water from the deep moves up to the surface, which results in high densities of phytoplankton and zooplankton. They in turn feed the rest of the food chain, including some very large pelagic species like manta rays and whale sharks that are known to inhabit or move through the area. The current at our dive site was much stronger today so we really had to practice staying low on the reef to avoid shooting ahead of Rich and Shauna. Again this section of reef surprised us with its beauty, as apparently we had dived on the most pristine part of it. The density and color of different species of coral was amazing, with an equally impressive assortment of fish. We zipped right along, hardly having to swim at all in the current, and noticed a couple of exciting new species like a moray eel, a nudibranch, and a ghost crab living in an anemone. Toward the end of the dive we were swept over a devastated area full of dead, white shattered coral all lying flat on the sea floor. It may have been a result of dynamite fishing, which is slowly being outlawed around many dive destinations. The locals throw dynamite out of boats, let it explode in the water and collect all the dead fish that rise to the surface to eat. After the dive we were awarded our new Open Water Diver certification cards and went back to the deck of our bungalow to enjoy the sunset over the ocean with a few Bintangs.

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