Since 2002 an area of 1.5 million hectares of Western Cenderawasih Bay has been a marine protected area - the largest in Indonesia. Our dive trip in July 2018 starts outside the marine park and then covers a number of sites down the west side of the bay (see map). This area is far less explored than most other places that we have dived. As a result not all the dives are great but generally we have a good mix of reefs, walls, muck diving and night dives.
Cross Wreck is a dive site close to Manokwari. We start near a cross on the hillside by a village marking the landing spot of mid-19th Century Christian missionaries and dive down to a small wreck in 20m of water. The wreck was a coastal patrol boat that was sunk at anchor. It nows sits upright on the bottom and has a lot of encrusted coral as well as attracting many small fish. After swimming around the wreck itself we explore the sea bed and coral bommies spotting an ornate ghost pipefish (above) as well as the "true clown fish" with darker black bands than their 'false' relatives. A nice gentle dive for early in the trip.
Groovy Passage is one of our first dive sites within the nature reserve. We dive both the North and South sides of this passage to the North of Pulau Roon. We follow the sloping walls down to 30m looking for some of the endemic species of the area. We manage to find flasher wrasse, dottybacks, and the pretty decorated ornate angel fish - blue and grey and hard to photo! I am taken by the blue and orange tailspot coralblennies (above) that we see quite often in the area. Some pretty soft coral and sponges as well as hard corals at the top of the wall.
Further down the Bird's Head we reach the tip of another small peninsula for a very pretty dive, Tanjung Mangguar. The slope is rather disappointing at first but we spot a large ray and two big humphead wrasse. After 25 mins we drift onto a very pretty reef (above) with beautiful vase sponges, table coral and underwater pinnacles covered in soft coral. We miss the wobbegong shark that the other groups spots but still have two very enjoyable dives here.
A few kilometers down the coast from the last dive we moor by a village for our next dive - Kampung Napen-Yaur. In fact we dive this as a day and a night dive. The dive follows a sandy slope by the village with a few coral areas. Highlights of the day dive included a small Wobbegong shark hiding under some corals as well as a pair of Signal Gobies (above left). At night we have rather a 'quiet' dive but do find some critters including hermit crabs, lobster, cowries, shrimps and a nice Tozeuma shrimp (above) hiding in some coral.
Diving the bagans is one of the highlights of our trip. We arrive in the bay early and one tender goes for permission to dive while the other scouts the fishing platforms to find out where whale sharks are. Both are back by 7.30 when we head off. Most of the group chooses to dive rather than snorkel. In fact you don't need to go below 7m although there are sharks deeper down, hoovering up the fish that get away. I start under the bagan and get some great views of the sharks feeding before I swim out and join the others. We try to keep out the way of the huge fish but there are still one or two collisions. Hard to avoid with 20 people in the water. The water gets cloudier with fish mush as the morning goes on. Lots of yellow-tailed scad swim in front of the sharks trying to catch bits. I think that one day of this is enough but the majority of the group want to do another day. More of the same but they are rewarded on the fourth dive by a much larger whale shark joining the others to feed.
A few hours sailing North of the bagans is Nutabari Wall, an impressive dive site (above) under a tiny green islet. We drift along the wall at 21 - 17m looking at the fine hard and soft corals and reef fish. The wall is cut with deep chimneys and swim throughs that you can explore. A sleepy white tip reef shark basks on a ledge, and further up the wall we find plenty of flasher wrasse and schools of sergeant majors.
Silver Lining is the prettiest dive of the trip so far. At the top end of the Wandammen peninsula, the Namamuran Strait is a beautiful sheltered spot between the mainland and the island of Roon. We dropped in above the hard coral reef top and then drifted down to the sand at around 21m. As we drift along the reef there was a lot of soft coral, sea fans and schooling fish. In the blue we watched a school of barracuda and a grey shark.
Pasir Panjang (long beach), just around the corner from Silver Lining makes a great spot for a night dive. We had already explored the sandy bottom a few hours earlier and not found much but at night it really came alive with finds every minute. This was our best night dive of the trip. Bobtailed squid (above left), buttertail squid, dragonets, sea moths, robust ghost pipefish, mantis shrimp, juvenile coconut octopus (above right) and lots of ordinary squid. All from drifting over a bit of grey sand.
Zero Plain is a stunning dive site. We start by dropping in above the wreck of a Japanese WWII plane - the tail section is missing but apparently the woman pilot survived. Then we swam for 50 mins through wonderful coral gardens - huge forests of staghorn and other hard corals. Lots of reef fish, angelfish, lionfish etc. A spectacular dive.
Sodompari Rock was our last dive site and also spectacular. Also in the Namamuran Strait, Vicky christened this the "Plain of Jars" because of the abundance of huge barrel sponges. We dropped down a wall - other divers continued down and along this and found pigmy seahorses and other stuff. Instead we spent most of the dive in 7-9m swimming across white sand from one coral head to the next. As well as the sponges there was wonderful hard and soft coral and reef fish. We also spot big trigger fish, a huge map puffer and a big school of yellow-tailed fusiliers. Some of these sponges must be hundreds of years old - some have extensive hard coral growing inside.
We had intended to dive the wrecks on the big island opposite Manokwari but were blown out by the weather. A good excuse to come back perhaps?