April 2012: Gili Selang, Bali, Indonesia

Monday April 30th 2012

Day 2 in Bali and a 45 minute boat ride takes us to the island of Gili Selang.  Although isolated and relatively undiscovered, much awaits the enthusiastic diver, and not just an impressive marine life.  The currents of Gili Selang can be treacherous.  Located at the most eastern part of Bali, the island lies at the edge of the Lombok Strait.  From here, water flows at lightening speed into the Indian Ocean creating unpredictable water conditions so it is vital that divers are well prepared.  The currents flow south towards the calmer seas, where tuna and barracuda are said to appear abundantly.

Along Gili Selang are various dive spots, one being the Japanese wreck.  The boat can be found in quite shallow waters off Lipah Bay, but is relatively close to the strong currents.  For the marine life this is a good thing as the current brings abundant nutrients, allowing all kinds of creatures to thrive.  The depth of the wreck varies between 6m and 12m on a sandy bottom that can make visibility poor but overall the area offers plenty to see.  Along the north of the wreck is a vast coral reef, and from here you can swim further out into the stronger currents.

Although slightly on edge, I felt comfortable as I prepared to enter the water, but was not fully aware of just how powerful the current could be.  However, I soon was.  Doing a backflip off the boat, things got off to a smooth start over gardens of leather corals, brain corals and gorgonian fans and sponges all in perfect health thanks to the nutrient-rich water.  The island itself has a pretty steep slope with small volcanic rocks and boulders, an ideal environment for shellfish, nudibranchs, crabs and other small creatures to hide away in.  Green turtles and parrotfish can also be seen, and there are plenty of aquarium-like views.   The current soon picked up, starting at a slow walking pace and then becoming stronger and stronger.  At the time, a tiny pygmy seahorse had been found nestling close to a huge coral fan, and everyone had come by to have a look.  Holding onto a nearby rock, I could feel that something was not quite right and soon we were struggling to swim against the strong flow of water.  The water seemed angry and fierce.  The fish found it hard too, with some even diving towards the reef. Without gloves, gripping the rocks was tricky and taking one hand off almost dragged me away.  During some brief interludes the current seemed to slacken every few minutes, which offered a good opportunity to swim forwards for a while, ascend safely using a surface marker buoy (an inflatable tube on a reel that you can send up during the ascent), and abort the dive.

Drift diving is like flying for the more confident and experienced diver.  The current carries him or her over a lush and beautiful array of coral formations and sea life while the boat follows, watching the divers’ bubbles and waiting for him or her to surface.    The key to this kind of diving is not to fight the current.  Doing so can wear you out, so it’s important to maintain neutral buoyancy and go with the flow.  Drift diving is said to require little effort, and offers access to other sites and much wider areas that might be impossible to see on a normal dive.  Because there is not much swimming involved, less air is used and it’s possible to stay submerged for longer with a single tank.

But diving in strong currents means entry and exit procedures must be properly planned among the group, and maintaining buddy contact is vital.  One point to bear in mind is that currents tend to be faster at the surface and slower near the bottom where they encounter resistance from rocks or coral formations.  The bottom area is said to be the easiest place to swim against the current if this becomes necessary.  Drift diving must always be done from a boat drop-off and it’s vital that the captain knows the direction in which the current is flowing and can follow you from above.  Having a surface marker buoy also helps the boat find you easily.

For experienced divers, Gili Selang is challenging and thrilling.  Also known as “The Express,” some parts of the island have such strong currents that nothing can really grow there, but further out are tales of hammerhead sightings, turtles and other rare creatures.   Although quite nerve-wracking to begin with, the island is a good place to drift dive, even for the first time.

April’s dives

Dive 1: Gili Selang: depth: 8.4m, dive time: 43mins, water temp: 29C, entry time: 10:42, exit time: 11:23, average depth: 6.85m, used an 11.1L aluminium tank, 6kg weight belt and 5mm wetsuit.  Saw longfin spadefish, Moorish Idols, longfin bannerfish, wrasses and scalefin anthias.

Dive 2: Gili Selang Japanese wreck: depth: 14.6m, dive time: 36mins, water temp: 30C, entry time: 12:26, exit time: 13:02, average depth: 9.13m, used an 11.1L aluminium tank, 6kg weight belt and 5mm wetsuit.  Having spotted a tiny pygmy seahorse, this dive had to be abandoned soon afterwards due to the strong currents.

Dive 3: Gili Selang Tepekong: depth: 17.5m, dive time: 43mins, water temp: 29C, entry time: 14:46, exit time: 15:30ish, average depth: 11.34m, used an 11.1L aluminium tank, 6kg weight belt and 5mm wetsuit.  Saw clownfish, lemon damselfish, goldback damselfish, and butterfly fish.

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