Monthly Archives: May 2012

April 2012: The Tulamben Bay Wall/Drop-Off, Bali, Indonesia

Sunday April 29th 2012

Our other dive on Day 1 in Bali was a slow shore dive a little further away from the USAT Liberty.  The Drop-Off is a 60m deep wall, an old lava flow from Mount Agung.  It begins on a steep sandy slope.  From around 15m, the slope becomes a wall and descends.  Visibility will differ greatly depending on the amount of plankton, but the site is an excellent place to spot turtles, reef sharks, parrot fish and barracuda, and many cracks that are home to an array of tiny invertebrates.

We drove about 15mins from the USAT Liberty to a secluded beach full of boats and a small muddy parking space.  All our equipment was loaded into the vans from the USAT Liberty and taken directly to the Drop-Off.  From there, we had a nice easy shore dive, putting our equipment on at the beach with the help of our guides and simply walking into the water.  The pebbles were smaller which made the entry a lot more simple, but there was plenty of black volcanic sand, so perhaps not the best area for sunbathing!  We began our dive by swimming east to a corner where a formation of rocks sticks outwards.  It was here that we slowly descended a huge wall containing colourful sponges and corals.

The dive began in poor visibility, although further down things became a lot clearer and we soon spotted some vast marine life.  The top part of the wall, with some surge at the surface, mainly consisted of hard corals.  We also spotted some hedges of gorgonians and dark (blackish?) coral bushes.  Most marine life at the Drop-Off are attracted to the plankton that is swept by the current from the Tulamben slopes.  My guide and I spotted a small and interesting looking yellow creature, some kind of a shrimp or crab, very noticeable against the dark rock, watching us as we swam past.  We also saw plenty of anemones full of pink anemone fish, and even came across a white anemone crab with blotches of red and brown with his pincers in a slight upright position.   Usually shy and elusive, they can be difficult to find unless a diver specifically searches for them, so we were quite lucky to come across one by chance.

The Drop-Off is a small, basic and less well-known spot as most divers head straight for the USAT Liberty, but it is simple and easy enough for beginners, offering a nice relaxing dive if you have not been in the water for a while and prefer to swim slowly without having to worry about specific areas like wreck diving or deep diving .  Sometimes there is a slight current, but the water is still enough to let you relax and focus on the marine life.  In addition to the ones mentioned above, we came across plenty of tropical fish – Moorish Idols, butterfly fish, parrot fish, and wrasses.  Down at 30m is a huge Muricella gorgonian fan.  With a diametre of 2m, it’s an exciting find for the Advanced diver!

April’s dives

Dive 3: Tulamben Bay Wall/Drop-Off: depth: 14.9m, dive time: 47mins, water temp: 30C, entry time: 17:05, exit time: 17:52, average depth: 9.16m, used an 11.1L aluminium tank, 6kg weight belt and 5mm wetsuit.  Saw Moorish Idols, butterfly fish, parrot fish, wrasses, various hard and soft coral (gorgonians), and a beautiful anemone crab.

April 2012: Tulamben Bay and the USAT Liberty Wreck, Bali, Indonesia

Sunday April 29th 2012

For the next few days into early May I’ll be exploring the crystal clear waters of Bali with some fellow divers.  Also known as the Island of a Thousand Puras or the Island of the Gods, Bali lies between Java and Lombok.  Just 140km by 80km, there are bright green rice paddies, pristine beaches and volcanoes, the main one being Gunung Agung which the polite and friendly locals consider sacred.  The island is also famous for sugar cane, coffee, fruit and vegetables, woodcarving, handcrafts and sarongs.  But despite the beauty and appeal around us, it’s the sea that has brought us here.  We flew into Denpasar and arrived in Candidasa on the northeast coast for the start of our Bali adventure.

Originally a less well-known diving destination, Bali has now become something of a tropical paradise with plenty of varied and widespread dive sites.  The main ones are north and northeast, with everything on offer from small nudibranchs, shrimps and crabs to cuttlefish, lion fish and huge wrasses.  As the sites are widely spaced out around the island, there is plenty of driving involved to get from one to the next.  Divers can enjoy deep drop-offs, coral ridges, coral gardens, the Lombok Strait (a deep water trench containing powerful currents that can be nerve-wracking for a beginner but also offer great visibility and a bit of a challenge!) and one of the most famous wrecks in the world, the USAT Liberty where our dives kicked off today.

The USAT Liberty sank during the Second World War after being torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in the Lombok Strait.  Today it lies 9-30m deep in Tulamben Bay, an area of black sand and rock.  The 120m-long wreck is of course huge, and clearly shows just how quickly a marine ecosystem can develop – it is teeming with life.

Our guides carried our equipment down to the pebble beach and helped us prepare.  We geared up at the water’s edge and wobbled across the pebbles to enter the water.  Upon descent, we swam straight ahead, watching the pebbles disappear and be replaced by a black volcanic sandy slope around 8-9m.  Before too long, the outline of the wreck began to emerge.  Visibility wasn’t the best and made the wreck seem quite eery, slowly emerging from the dark depths below.  On approach we swam left alongside the ship which is decked in sponges and soft coral fans, both host to an array of marine creatures such as wrasses, butterfly fish, angel fish, eels, parrot fish and a huge swirling school of big eye jack fish almost immediately upon descent.  The wreck is full of nooks, crannies, ledges and crevices which are great spots for getting up close to anything interesting and taking photos.  Together with our guide, my buddy and I stayed quite close to the surface as it had been a while since our last dives, but we looked down at the huge impressive formation spread out below us, and had enough sunlight to clearly see the different fish and coral.  With water temperatures between 29-31 degrees Celsius, the dive was extremely comfortable.

While wrecks appear deep, dark, mysterious and even dangerous, for many they are educational, exciting and an adventure.  A basic wreck dive such as ours today involves simply swimming alongside or over the vessel, admiring all the creatures that have made the wreck their home, and taking lots of pictures.  It gets more risky when the diver decides to penetrate the vessel.  One thing to be aware of is the possibility of becoming caught or tangled up in something, so carrying a dive knife is a good idea.  There is always a chance of problems – becoming lost, being left in the dark (if your light fails) or injury (accidentally touching sharp parts of the wreck) .  Some vessels can contain hazardous materials such as heavy containers or metal which mustn’t be interfered with.  Before the dive begins, it’s vital to be familiar with the layout of the wreck and know what you might see during the dive.  In case of poor visibility, it is always useful to carry a light (one main and one backup) and having a guideline attached outside the wreck for ascent and descent could be handy.  Buoyancy control can also make a dive much more fun, as you are not kicking up sand and silt and thus spoiling any photo opportunities.   Above all, a wreck is an underwater graveyard and it’s vital to respect it as such.

Although still slightly apprehensive about wreck diving, swimming over the USAT Liberty made me understand why so many divers enjoy the adventure and excitement that a wreck has to offer.  Exploring the vessel gave me a good introduction to more challenging dives, which I hope to build on in future.  The Liberty is also a great start to diving in Bali.

April’s dives

Dive 1: USAT Liberty: depth: 11.9m, dive time: 54mins, water temp: 31C, entry time: 11:00AM, exit time: 11:54AM, average depth: 7.68m, used an 11.1L aluminium tank, 5kg weight belt and 5mm wetsuit.  Saw nudibranchs, parrot fish, Moorish Idols and jack fish.

Dive 2: USAT Liberty: depth: 8.5m, dive time: 58mins, water temp: 31C, entry time: 14:30, exit time: 15:28, average depth: 5.14m, used an 11.1L aluminium tank, 6kg weight belt and 5mm wetsuit.  Saw Moorish Idols, fan coral, anemone crabs and parrot fish.