• Photo by Rantje Allen

  • Photo by William Tan

  • Photo by Rantje Allen

  • Photo by William Tan

  • Photo by Rantje Allen

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Wall Diving in Sulawesi

Chimneys

Rarely dived because of its distance from Gorontalo City, this wall is gouged by about 20 deep, narrow and straight cuts plunging down the wall face from its shallow reef crest. Only a few of these channels are wide enough for a diver to enter the world of Wall Diving in Sulawesi. Most are too narrow. Many of these “chimneys” are clogged with unidentified specie of gorgonian white fan. They obviously thrive in the protected environment inside the chimneys. This section of wall is also home to a noticeably higher number of large gorgonian sea fans than other sites in Gorontalo, including pale colored ones not found elsewhere. Another unique feature of this site is the lack of much intervening flat or slope between the upper wall and the next lower one. Humphead parrotfish (Bolbometopon muricatum) as well as Pinnate batfish (Platax pinnatus) like this site.

This site is about 550 meters long.

Depth: 0 – 40 meters

Highlights: a few caves, narrow chimneys clogged with white fans, deep lower wall, numerous gorgonians.

Conditions: Visibility at this site rarely exceeds 18 meters and sometimes is irritatingly cloudy after high winds or heavy surf. Owing to its proximity to the point jutting farthest into the sea, currents here can be unpredictable. Cold upwellings and down currents are most noticeable at new moon and full moon. Any wind will usually make this site unreachable.

Virtual Dive

Diving at an 18-meter depth, you begin to notice the wall’s many narrow chimneys as you pass five bends. The wall straightens after the sixth bend. Notice a very narrow shelf below, edged in deep black water. Experienced divers may wish to start their dive here at the limit of no-decompression diving to peer down the dark face of the lower wall, to investigate the cavern tucked above the shelf and to search for creatures of the deep.

On the wall’s mid to upper levels, notice the high number of gorgonian sea fans before reaching one of the few chimneys large enough for a single diver to enter. The interior of this chimney is covered with tiny white fans. After another 100 meters, the wall is scarred by numerous fissures and a quick succession of ten chimneys, most crowded with tiny white fans. Only the first one is large enough to enter. Sunlight floods these fan-filled chimneys. This section of the wall also has some fine Dendronephthya soft coral. After your dive, ask the dive master to find the smurf blue coral. A single example of iridescent blue branching Acropora grows on the reef crest. This unusual coral is more typically found in coral gardens in west Gorontalo in Tomini Bay. Northern Sulawesi, including Gorontalo, is home to over 500 species of hard coral.

Silvertip Grounds

Diving this wall site pits the smallness of the human frame against an imposing wall, towering caverns, huge sponges, large marine life and often ripping currents. The shallow shelf along this section of Gorontalo’s coastline is extremely narrow with many places measuring only about a meter wide! The clearly defined wall begins at between three to five meters and bottoms out in the 30 to 40 meter range. A shelf hugs the bottom of the wall and descends sometimes gently and sometimes steeply to the second wall, which drops off into the deep. When Miguel’s Diving staff were doing survey work in 2000, a Silvertip shark (Carcharhinus albimarginatus) routinely patroled this shelf, hence the name of the dive site. Several tall caverns tower above the shelf. The ever-bending wall lacks the complex series of buttresses and chutes common here in Gorontalo. Instead, the wall is much smoother. Along several lengths of wall, the current has deposited parallel bands of sand.

This site is about 350 meters long.

Depth: 3 – 40 meters

Highlights: imposing wall, towering caverns, huge sponges, large marine life, excellent coral growth and lots of fish

Conditions: Typical visibility is 20 meters. On occasion, that can double. Expect currents. Remember: the faster the current the more fish! Travel with a boat crew like the guys at Miguel’s Diving who know local conditions, as winds from certain directions can dramatically impact surface conditions and currents during the course of a dive. Heavy surf from sudden winds can cause significant down currents in some places.

Special Note: This is a site for advanced divers or those experienced in current diving. Make sure you have a clear alternate dive plan in case swimming against the current becomes too difficult. Because of the many sharp bends in the wall, divers may both ride the current and swim against it during a single dive. Currents here also ebb and flow. If possible, wait for five minutes in a protected spot, then try again to round the bend and swim against the current. If the current has not subsided within five to ten minutes, it is not likely to do so during the time you are diving.

Virtual Dive

Descend past a sloping point to peer into a small cavern wedged into a corner of the wall. The area at the beginning of the dive is the best place among all dive sites in Gorontalo to look for the beautifully colored Dendronephthya soft corals typical of Indo-Pacific waters and certain places in Sulawesi. The wall between the first corner and the next one hosts many sponges and gorgonians. After the second corner, divers encounter a steep ridge flanked by steep gullies and then more steep slope below 20 meters. Unbeknownst to divers, the land rounds a point here. Below the water line, the current usually speeds up here. The long section wall here is dusted with parallel deposits of sand and is relatively barren for Gorontalo. Below the 30-meter mark the wall becomes a gentle slope protruding into the current. The faster the current the more likely you are to see large Trevally (Caranx spp.) and large Emperors (Lethrinus spp.), which rise to feed. With time almost over, you will see the makings of a narrow cavern, a small divided point spilling down the lower wall onto the steep slope below and finally a tall, narrow cavern. Ascend slowly for the safety stopat the reef crest, which is right at five meters.

Traffic Circle

Located within Olele Village Marine Park, Miguel’s Diving pays the designated fee for guests to dive here. The village residents are proud that divers come from far away to enjoy the beautiful reef the sits just in front of their houses. One glance confirms that they continue to protect the site’s corals. Hard coral coverage is over 80%. The site contains two ridges of coral that protrude into the long shore current. Schools of fish will gather at one or both of these locations, depending on how much plankton is drifting by. Currents often reverse. On a typical dive the lower current carries divers past the two ridges and the surface current returns everyone to the mooring buoy.

This site is about 250 meters long.

Depth: 2 – 40 meters

Highlights: magnificent Salvador Dali sponges, schools of fish, including several snapper species, sea turtle and spectacular coral growth

Conditions: Visibility is typically 20 meters.

Special Note: The strange morphology of Petrosia lignosa that we call Salvador Dali sponge is only found in Gorontalo. Although the sponge itself is incredibly hard, it has two vulnerabilities. If its skin is lacerated by a careless fin kick, or even worse, by someone grabbing it with a glove, the skin tears, allowing bacteria and fish to eat away at it, something that can be life threatening. The other vulnerability is its fragile base and carefully weighted position. These huge sponges tend to grow below 20 meters where wave action cannot snap them off the wall. Careless divers can do the same. If one should fall, the once majestic and strong sponge can no longer eat and will disintegrate into dust within a few weeks.

Virtual Dive

Back roll into deep blue water and follow your guide along the reef crest. The coral wall is absolutely packed with hard corals in uncounted variety. A small school of batfish wiggle their tails and descend away from the approaching divers. A single Midnight snapper swims right up to the dive guide, as if to say hello, and then turns away to descend into the blue, casting its golden eye towards the new visitors.

Ahead a gigantic mound of Galaxy coral dominates the landscape. At his signal, descend with your guide to view a gigantic Salvador Dali sponge and a Pink sea fan so large that no Pygmy seashorse could ever get its tail around any of the fans branches. Around another point is the famous Flower Salvador, measuring about a meter and a half in diameter.

Even though the current is pushing against divers, your guide insists that you follow him. Wise divers will follow his profile exactly, since he knows best how and where to advance against the current. Once over a ridge of coral, magnificent schools of fish gather to feed, including snappers, triggers, fusiliers, butterflyfish and clusters of belligerent trevallys.

Traffic Jam

This spectacular wall has ten deep vertical chutes cut into its surface from the three-meter reef crest to its bottom. These narrow cuts are only large enough for one diver at a time to enter. Below you, look for the shy and singular Lyre-tailed grouper (Plectopomus oligocanthus) with its dark brown body splashed with blue scrawling, hovering in deep water. If you linger at a particular spot or swim close to the wall, carefully note your surroundings since Giant morays (Gymnothorax javanicus) are often sighted here. The wall also attracts large marine life, such as rays, Hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) and tuna. This is the favorite dive site of Gorontalo’s first governor Fadel Muhammad.

This site is about 400 meters long.

Depth: 3 – 40 meters

Highlights: millions of fish, wall cut by numerous chutes, dense coral growth, giant sponges

Conditions: Visibility is typically 20 meters. The current usually presents no problem but sometimes can become quite strong during the course of a dive. Please follow your guide.

Special Note: Northern Sulawesi has the highest marine biodiversity on the planet and this Gorontalo dive site provides dramatic proof. Take your time to enjoy the site.

Virtual Dive

Because of the height of the adjacent mountain, direct sunlight is late hitting the wall. About mid-dive, suddenly a sun-filled gentle slope spills down the wall. This slope is about 50 meters wide and is flanked by large inlets. Because this slope protrudes significantly from the wall, the current here is much stronger. But the stronger current also draws significantly higher numbers of fish, including five species of fusiliers, unicornfish, Schooling pyramid butterflyfish (Hemitaurichthys polylepis), chromis, damsels, and anthias. This is a good place to look for Orang-back wrasse (Cirrhilabrus aurantidorsalis), a species endemic to Tomini Bay and only named in 1999. The shallow reef crest has excellent coral growth to enjoy during your safety stop. During your surface interval, find out if the crew has seen dolphin or the shell of a Chambered nautilus (Nautilus pompilius).

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