Why diving in Indonesia rocks


On any dive boat, pretty much anywhere in the world, when you're chatting about the world's best diving, Indonesia just keeps coming up. Obviously, 17,000-odd islands offer plenty of options, plus delightful surface intervals on palm-fringed, white sand (or even pink sand) beaches. Further, occasionally ropy safety standards, not to mention the currents, can make for outstanding bragging rights.

Yet there are good, solid reasons why diving Indo is so great. Indonesia straddles the equator, meaning the seas are fairly toasty – even compared to Egypt, let alone the Atlantic. Sunny days, current action and limited river or soil runoff at most dive sites make for consistently good visibility. In many areas that liveaboards visit, population density is so low that the reef is untouched even by boat anchors.

More importantly, however, much of Indonesia sits within the Coral Triangle. Probably Earth's most diverse marine habitat, the Coral Triangle is home to over 600 different types of reef coral, six out of seven types of turtle, plus thousands of species of fish. Basically, dive pretty much anywhere in Indonesia east of Java or the east coast of Borneo, and you're diving one of the most diverse marine environments on earth: Papua's Raja Ampat islands, a diving mecca, claim the highest recorded marine diversity on the planet.

One issue that comes up a lot with old Indo hands is currents. Indonesia is famous for currents: some of the archipelago's iconic dives, like Cannibal Rock in Komodo National Park, are exhilarating (or terrifying) high-current dives, where you negotiate powerful, multi-directional currents and lock into the rock with a reef-hook to watch big, ocean-going creatures like sharks and rays cruise past. Crystal Bay at Nusa Penida off Bali is celebrated not just for the chance to see the giant oceanic “mola-mola” sunfish and mantas, but for currents that can (and do) kill if mishandled.

 That's not to say that all Indonesian diving is high-current diving. There are plenty of stunning coral gardens, dazzling walls, gentle drift dives and outstanding muck dives. The coral-fringed wreck of the USS Liberty off Bali is a world class dive site that's suitable for absolute beginners; the underwater volcano in Galela, off Halmahera, is fascinating, unique and unchallenging; some of Lembeh's famous macro sites are easy dives. Still, it's currents, specifically the Indonesian Throughflow, that make Indonesia's diving what it is.

The Indonesian Throughflow occurs because Indonesia sits between the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Put simply, the Pacific Ocean is higher than the Indian Ocean, so flows of water so vast they need to be measured in units called Sverdrups race through Indonesia each day, causing associated, complex currents as they interact with topography, weather and the archipelago's complicated tides. This throughflow brings nutrients and larvae from ocean to ocean, enriching diversity - even dive sites which are shielded from powerful currents benefit from it.

The Indonesian Throughflow sweeps through, past and around most of Indonesia's best dive locations – many, though not all, of which are best accessed by liveaboard dive boats. It pours down the channels between Bali and Lombok, Borneo and Sulawesi, Sulawesi and Maluku, and Maluku and Papua, and powers its way through Komodo and around Timor.

All of which means that it's hard to go wrong when diving in Indonesia – there's plenty of marine life even on the over-rated and over-busy Gilis. Note that, even on Bali, the dive sites are a long way from a decompression chamber. So don't skimp on price, check gear and safety standards carefully, listen to the briefing and dive within your training and ability. Most importantly, if a dive doesn't feel right, or an operator or dive guide suggests it's outside your abilities, sit it out.

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Published by Stuart Lodge