I set up these trips for our returning hardcore critter lovers who enjoy the lazy diving and adventurous nature of these special Diving 4 Images charters. These charters from Sumbawa through to Sangeang, Komodo, north Flores and into Alor were to be slightly different from our usual charters. I do try to make each trip unique in some way or other. This was different mainly due to us starting a slug count. After the first few days of diving in Bima and on Sangaeng Island we had already seen so many different species of nudibranchs that this was an ideal time to try and see how many species we could log and photograph. To our amazement the species count ended up at 223 different species of slugs, including many really bizarre and some unidentifiable specimens too. Even with the help of Debelius & Kuiters latest ID book, and now with Coleman’s new book in front of me I still can’t put names to many of the species I have photographs of. The recording of nudibranchs ended up being a great hit with everyone and even the divers who joined us for the second trip were overwhelmed by the species they had come across on their leg of this adventure.
During the course of our trips we saw plenty of the rare Pictured dragonets and Mandarinfish in Komodo, then a really unusual species of dragonet in Alor which I managed to get one photo of (see photo). We stayed and watched this unique and maybe new species for quite some time in the hope a female would show up and this male would show us his gorgeous fin ion all its glory. I think it was a very lone male as no female showed up – aaahhhhh! It was quite surprising to see that quite a few usual top critter sites were not so hot. We put this down to the recent storms that had been through this region during the months previous to our trips. However, we still managed to find some top wish list critters including a small and very colourful flamboyant cuttlefish (see gallery photo). As always with a top critter like this, I made sure that no one missed out on seeing such an amazing and much sought after fantabulous wonder. Along with Flambo, came all the usual fire urchin critters like Zebra crabs, Coleman shrimps and even the more unusual Allopontonia iani shrimps. While we are onto shrimps, we had one diver asking if we could find the gorgeous little tiger shrimps. There was one place where it was going to possible, sure enough as luck had it there was a very small tiger shrimp (see photo) posing for us. The giant frogfish from Cannibal Rock had gone walkabouts, and who can blame them, this site gets a lot of visitors these days. Luckily I’d spent quite a lot of time searching out other areas of Horseshoe Bay while with the BBC looking for other specific critters. Due to this I was able to locate the whereabouts of the giant froggies. Luck was on our side as one giant froggy was actually standing atop the other, probably its mate! It took a while but eventually the most beautiful of all nudibranchs Ceratosoma magnifica was found. Not only this species, we also came a new nudi for me, this was a species of Ceratosoma I’d never seen, according to Debelius it’s a C. moloch. As usual we found not only the cool bobtail squids but their more unusual cousin, the cute little bottletail squids. On one of my new critter dive sites we also came across a velvetfish, not the most photogenic of fish, though certainly a great find for those who enjoy the rare and unusual critters.
As we headed overnight onto the north of Flores we awoke and many divers thought we hadn’t moved at all, the ocean was so calm, it was like a lake. Here we checked out a few spots I’d never dived before. These new exploratory sites can often be a great highlight of the trip. We ended up late at one place I was hoping to check out. However, we were close to a spot a friend had pointed out to me a long time ago called Toro Besi. This is a site apparently dived by plenty of other operators. I checked it out and wasn’t all that enthused, nice hard coral reef, not so many fish and minimal invertebrates. I tried looking for an area which may be more of a critter rich spot, though the surrounded area was sadly very impacted. We dived Toro Besi, not a top dive though we found some very interesting tiny species of nudibranch which we had never seen including Trapania toddi and a tiny juvenile of a Ceratosoma sinuata, none of us had ever seen this species so small so it took us a while to work out what it was due its size. The next spot we dived looked like it was going to be a similar dive to the last one, however not so! By the time I’d checked it and we entered there was a bit of current, maybe a bit too much for some in the group. I was amazed as we were amongst the most amazing topographical reef I’d seen in a long time. At 15-25m there were lots of patch reefs ranging from 3-5m high and 10-30 long, all surrounded by white sand channels which were loaded with garden eels. Not only was this great topography, there were plenty of reef sharks, some huge giant trevally, snappers, sweetlips and plenty of the colourful reef fishes… This was a truly special site I hope to get the chance to dive again soon… The shallow reef here as many on the north of Flores is nothing special however a great habitat for the smaller nudibranchs that hide in amongst the algae covered rocks, it was that we saw the tiny and very bizarre Siphopteron sp. (see gallery photo).
Three new divers joining Diving 4 Images for the first time arrived with Carol who has joined us a few times now. Sadly one divers arriving from the US had some bad luck and her baggage hadn’t came with her. We had managed to get enough dive kit for her start the first days diving. We started Maumere and as Maumere at the time wasn’t as hot for critters on the black sand muck sites, we headed out to one of my favourite walls on Pomana Kecil. This is a great spot for pigmy sea horses and there are often chances of biggies too, for those who care to look that is! However, Hanna wanted to photograph the smooth plucked chicken looking pigmy sea horse so this was our target critter… Sure enough there were plenty of them and everyone managed to get a great look, take photos and video of these little beauties. Here we also came across a tiny juvenile pinnate batfish, looking exactly like a poisonous flatworm and plenty of other great critters which kept us busy for a few dives. As the bay was too murky we stayed out on the islands and the current helped me decide where we would dive. Our dive was a CFZ, yeah a Current Free Zone. I know not to drop this group in with current, though to do it at night would probably end up with me being keelhauled – not my favorite pastime while out at sea! Our CFZ turned out to be a top spot too. On the wall we had a few of the super cool disco clams, a whole range of different crustaceans, a giant Spanish dancer nudibranch complete with shrimp, really unique and very bizarre nudibranchs, one is still being ID’d by experts and the other was a very cryptic species of Phyllodesmium (see gallery photo). Then, even more, the few divers who were left after over 80 minutes managed to see a really bizarre little octopus, it looked a little hairy, though not quite a true hairy, more shaggy I suppose, this little critter managed to blend in so well into the sandy substrate. Unfortunately on diver’s bag had not arrived from the US, though we had plenty of friends helping to bring along and after our night dive we picked the bag up and headed off. After our first dive we had an amazing close encounter with a 25m whale that ended up a little too close for comfort before it dived out of sight. We another exploratory dive, this time choosing the site based on land topography. Low and behold a real winner for us. This site was a fantastic site for nudibranchs, it was a classic black sand critter rich spot. Every rock had something interesting on it, we made 3 dives on this site and each time had different critters turning up including ornate ghost pipe fishes. We had to go into Larantuka to restock with fresh water and some more fresh veggies. The usual critter dives here were not so hot, going in search of more, I came across a small bay with plenty of crinoids filled coral bommies, a quick dive here to check it out revealed a few giant frogfish so I called this place Hanna’s Bommies as Hanna is crazy about frogfish and we hadn’t seen one in a few days. One of the frogfish had gone only to be replaced by a mating pair, Hanna stayed the whole dive waiting to see if they would go up and release their eggs, sadly not today, not on this dive!
Entering the Alor Regency we started in Pantar which is usual a real hotspot, however another top site was not quite on form. We gave the area a few days and managed to find a few different species of ghost pipefish, some divers came across a Wonderpuss photogenicus, there was only one pinhead sized orange frogfish, tozeuma (sawblade) shrimps, horned black coral crabs and many more crustaceans, the night dives here were as always outstanding. Before diving Pura we stopped off at a special spot which is great for close encounters and luck truly was on our side today. One tender boat had an engine problem and I waited patiently with my group for the others to join us. As we slowly descended and got to about 20m we were welcomed by a giant Mola mola. This was made even more special as the divers had never thought of ever being able to see one of these truly bizarre oceanic wonders. I haven’t dived site a lot, though each time it surprises me with great finds, apart from it being a very unique upwelling reef. On Pura we were hoping to find the holy grail of critters, though our luck had ran out on the mola and we never managed to see the Rhinopias (Weedy scorpionfish) which was hanging out here recently. The bay of Kalabahi brought us plenty of great highlights, we had Wonderpuss, Pegasus sea moths, 2 different sightings of the very unusual poison ocellate octopus (octopus mototi), all the fire urchin critters one could ask for, there was a brief sighting of a hairy octopus and a whole array of super cool nudibranchs.
On the way back towards Maumere we dived Muricella’s Garden, which is my favourite drop off and big fish dive in this area. Sure enough we weren’t let down, wrong tide for the usual eagle rays, however there were two really big grey reef sharks, a few black tips cruising round and white tips resting in the caves here. While the sharks were cruising off reef there were two giant Giant Trevallies going in and out of the divers as if we were in their territory, I’d never seen these here before – a very cool addition!
For our afternoon and night dive we would be on a great black sand site, a few divers opted to just do the night dive as I’d said this would be a top dive. The afternoon was good enough and on the night dive we saw the same 3 green robust ghost pipefish, a bunch of dwarf pipe horses, the huge school of shrimp fish surrounding the black coral bush and in the shallows amongst the sea grass. We spent lots of time around one particular patch of coral and rubble and found 2 juvenile frogfish, the very bizarre and super cryptic Lobiger souverbi (see gallery photo), plenty of other cryptic nudibranchs, another delicate gpf in the sea grass along with yet more nudibranchs and bizarre crustaceans.
For our final day we headed back towards Maumere and due to strong currents in the overnight crossing we wouldn’t arrive at our planned site till 10am, I chose to have breakfast first while we headed towards the shoreline. I knew we’d be diving on very beaten up reef here as these reef have been heavily impacted by nature and some illegal fishing. For us, it was ideal, another different habitat which brought plenty of different slugs, including the giant T bar nudi (notodoris serenae) and the tiniest of all and not so easy pronounce Sagaminopteron psychedelicum. As we over to our final dive site The Crack on Pulau Babi, a few divers had expressed a very keen interest in trying to see the afore mentioned unpronounceable slug again. I though there would be a very good chance at The Crack and sure enough after a few minutes of searching I came across one of these tiny (less than 5mm) slugs, though the pattern is simply outstanding and well worth the search. Apart from this, the wall here was loaded with Nembrotha’s, seen here feeding, mating, cruising the reef and even getting mixed up and trying to mate with different species – doh! As usual the leaf scorpionfish were found along tons more really cool and bizarre nudibranchs, including even more none of us had seen before and more not in any ID books. An excellent dive to end out trip on… It was a great pleasure to have two new divers join us and both were totally enthused by seeing new and unusual marine life. To me these are how all divers should see the underwater world, with a broad and open mind…
Thanks to all those who join Diving 4 Images charters. It’s you who make these trips such fun and adventure and this is what keeps the fire in me alive!