Diving in Alor and the surrounding islands brings rich variety to any dive trip, not only from the different types of dive sites we have to choose from but also the wealth of marine life found at each of these places. As the nutrient-saturated currents flow through the Pantar Strait they bring with them fuel for corals and fish; enough to support an abundance of creatures and subsequently the numerous villages dotted about the islands. Life buzzes all around, schools of fish sway in the tides and tiny odd-shaped creatures find a place to camouflage from predators. As fishermen go about their day, young children laugh and splash in the shallow water from their tiny dug-out boats and the ladies supplement the family income through ikat weaving sales. It is impossible to put a finger upon one thing that makes diving in Alor so attractive, its the whole that comes together to bring a wondrous experience.
Beangabang, a small inlet bay in the south west of the Pantar Strait, offers dives along a dark sand slope dotted with hard and soft corals and anemones and a sponge encrusted pier. As we back-rolled in an instant hit of cold water raced down my 5mm wetsuit. Brrr! At this time of year its only 24C (75F) but in a moment this was forgotten as the critter hunt began. Three day dives brought forth frogfish in a range of colours and sizes, Ambon scorpionfish, too many snake eels to keep count, flabellina, armina, and thecacera nudibranchs, long arm octopus, a whole host of decorator crabs, numerous crinoid shrimps and squat lobsters, Tozuma shrimp, seahorses, sea moths and harlequin crabs. The temperature dropped throughout the day to just 21C (70F) and whilst this was too cold for some, a few brave divers headed out for a night dive to discover the dark sand literally covered with shrimps. A couple of bobbit worms poked menacingly out of the sand, two more frogfish were discovered and several coconut octopus came out to play for the video camera.
Pak Jan’s Village, on the north of Pura Island, is probably one of the most iconic sites within the strait itself. This is famed as a critter hotspot and it was here we eagerly anticipated seeing the delightful Rhinopias. Both Weedy and Paddleflap varieties of the special scorpionfish were spotted during the dive, along with yellow and orange frogfish, enormous day octopus, black ornate ghost pipefish, ribbon eels, crinoid cuttlefish and squid. Upon our return to the liveaboard the unanimous vote came in…Let’s dive it again!
Mucky Mosque, just beyond the entrance to Kalabahi Bay is a classic “muck dive”. Ropes, clothing and other man-made debris can be found along the sloping reef, caught up around sponges and algae to provide homes for all manner of odd-shaped creatures. Thorny seahorses, colourful ceratasoma nudibranchs, zebra crabs, colemani shrimp, crinoid cuttlefish, squid and day octopus were among the favourite sightings. Whilst a night dive turned up a starry night octopus, frogfish and schools of razor fish.
Walls & Slopes
Pantar, Alor, Pura and Reta are surrounded by stunning, coral-laden walls and slopes. Our choice of dive sites are always based on the currents and light and on a typical dive we see redtooth triggerfish, surgeonfish, midnight snappers, fusiliers and wrasse though changeable currents can occur and bring forth the odd surprise visitor such as manta ray, shark or mola mola. This trip we opted for dives at Crucifixion Point, Valley of the Clowns, Babylon, NE Pantar and Fault Line. Our finds included soft corals with “candy crabs”, xeno crabs and Zanzibar shrimps on the wire corals, octopus, sea apples, green turtles, bumphead parrotfish, pinate batfish, a giant frogfish, tambja nudibranchs, leaf fish, ribbon eels, Halameda Ghostpipefish and Napoleon wrasse.
Valley of the Clowns was a definite favourite with its carpets of multi-hued anemones and resident anemone fish, porcelain crabs and commensal shrimps . During the dive we also found a juvenile wobbegong shark resting under a coral bommie, an unexpected find for being so far south. Our dive at Babylon Wall provided an extra-special surprise when Indra found a microscopic example of the rare Rumigans Thread Pipehorse, otherwise known as the Lembeh sea-dragon, along with tiny “ladybugs” typically seen when diving southern Komodo.
With a light current the many leopard anemones dotted along the walls open up to provide stunning scenery along the many ledges, though I’m still hunting for their cryptic shrimps. I later found out that there are shrimps on the colonial anemones at Batu Pantar, a sloping wall along the west coast of the island of Pantar!
Kal’s Dream, named after anthropologist Kal Mueller, is on the western side of Alor Kecil and is a stunning submerged seamount covered in soft corals resembling cauliflower bulbs, orange tube corals and a variety of hard coral species. As we made our descent the first thing to hit me was the noise. With thousands of fish all clicking away I was reminded of the sound whizzbangs make as they fizz on your tongue. Orange and purple anthias, neon-lined fusiliers and red toothed triggerfish gathered in swarms over the reef slope, obscuring the almost crystal clear visibility. Swimming into the blue off the deeper ridges we were quickly surrounded by schools of barracuda, batfish and powder blue surgeonfish. A chunky dogtooth tuna cruised by, bannerfish gathered together at the point meanwhile blue fin trevally and short tooth emperors scoured the reef slope. As I thought to myself “how awesome is this dive?” I turned to see Indonesian guide Yanto gesticulate at the whole scene and blow and Italian style kiss. Clearly I wasn’t the only one in total awe of our surroundings. Our stupor was broken by Indra’s loud tinging on his tank – he’d spotted a mola mola in the deep. Sadly our limited deco time did not allow for a sighting, but instead we made our way up the reef slope and hooked in at the perfectly convenient summit for our safety stop – swaying in the gathering current as a Napoleon wrasse tumbled by. Breaking the surface I let out a huge whoop. Now thats the way to start the day.
The children in Alor, particularly those at Pak Jan’s Village, love divers – or perhaps the treats that the dive boats bring? On a sunny weekend afternoon several youngsters paddled out to the Damai whilst others were picked up in our dive tender and brought to the boat; all were excited to be able to show our guests their talents. Armed with just their homemade goggles and their wits they bravely skin dived down to where the divers rested on the sandy bottom, cameras at the ready. Their laughter on the surface was intoxicating! This is a truly unique experience which helps makes Alor such a fun place to be.
Many thanks to our Cruise Director, Susie, for sharing her experiences on Damai I, to guest, Dudu, for the image of the threadpipefish and to our diveguides for finding all the cool stuff we talk about!
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