• Photo by Rantje Allen

  • Photo by William Tan

  • Photo by Rantje Allen

  • Photo by William Tan

  • Photo by Rantje Allen

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Yearly Archives: 2020

Reef Safe Sunscreen for Gorontalo

Reef safe sunscreen is a concern of divers around the world. This includes guests of Miguel’s Diving. Divers need to protect our skin from harmful ultra-violet rays but also to protect the marine environment from harmful chemicals.

Strategy One: Physical Barriers

Although various media sources highlight the need for reef safe sunscreen, we suggest another strategy first. Physical barriers provide much better protection against sun rays. Most divers already use a great barrier. We wear wet suits, which can cover skin from ankle to wrist. During surface intervals, divers usually open the top of their wet suits. Rather than coat your shoulders and arms with creams or sprays or oils, please wear a T-shirt.

Another must-have item besides reef safe sunscreen is a wide brim hat. This keeps sunlight from hitting your head where sunscreen cannot be applied. A wide brim helps shield a diver’s face and neck. Moreover, sunglasses with appropriate ultra-violet protection are a must for divers.

on the dive boat
Our blue canvas helps protect from sun rays

To assist in decreasing the need for our guests to use lots of sunscreen, each of our dive boats has a complete canvas top. Moreover, this would be considered another physical barrier.

Mineral blockers that contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide coat the skin and reflect ultra-violet radiation off the skin. The media generally consider a mineral blocker to be reef safe.

Strategy Two: Reef Safe Sunscreen

Chemical sunscreens work by absorbing ultra-violet light and converting the radiation to heat. The two most harmful chemicals in sunscreen are oxybenzone and octinoxate. Research suggests that these could potentially harm marine life. Locations with high tourist volume are most affected.

Researchers estimate that up to six thousand tons of sunscreen wash into the ocean annually. In the United States, both Hawai’i and some Florida locations have banned the use of products containing these two ingredients. Gorontalo hosts very few tourists, which greatly helps to limit potential damage.

reef safe sunscreen
Read the active ingredients of sunscreen

To avoid purchasing a product that is not a reef safe sunscreen, simply read the label. However, divers should recognize that scientists have not determined the definition of “reef safe.” That is why divers should use the first strategy of physical barriers. Then divers can apply sunscreen only on the face and hands. Dermatologists suggest that sunscreen should be applied every two hours. The first application should be before you enter the water. That way the sunscreen has time to dry on your skin rather than wash on immediately into the ocean.

Additionally, Miguel’s Diving requests that guests not use aerosol sunscreens onboard. Particles of these sprayed chemicals drift in the air onto the dive boat, other guests, and over the waters.

To dive with an operator dedicated to protecting Gorontalo’s marine environment, please make your dive reservations with Miguel’s Diving.

Salvador Dali sponge spawns

Sponge spawning of a Salvador Dali sponge gave divers a glimpse of a rarely witnessed event. Occasionally, Miguel’s Diving staff witness a large sponge releasing sperm into the current. This video records the only time we have witnessed spawning of a Salvador Dali sponge.

Salvador Dali Sponge Spawning

Most sponges are hermaphrodites, having both male and female reproduction capacity. Other sponges, like Barrel sponges, reproduce by spawning. Males release clouds of sperm into the current. Since the sperm is buoyant, the event looks like the sponge is smoking.

A female sponge will release eggs into the current. However, eggs are negatively buoyant, so the eggs sink to the ocean bottom. Some eggs may remain inside the ex-current opening of large vase and barrel sponges. When a female sponge releases her eggs, the nearby area of ocean bottom will look as if snow has fallen there. Miguel’s Diving staff have never seen a female sponge releasing eggs.

Spawning of a Salvador Dali sponge

In the video of a Salvador Dali sponge spawning, notice the clouds of sperm into the current. This indicates that the sponge is male. No one knows how often a particular sponge will spawn. Miguel’s Diving staff have witnessed simultaneous sponge spawning among numerous sponges over a certain area of reef.

Gorontalo’s Surreal Sponge

When Miguel’s Diving first opened diving in Gorontalo, we discovered a strange and giant sponge. No one had seen this morphology before, although they were quite common on Gorontalo’s deep walls.

The surreal surfaces of this sponge reminded us of the Spanish painter Salvador Dali. So, we began calling it the Salvador Dali sponge.  

A Local Morphology of Petrosia lignosa

Sponge spawning of Salvador Dali
First ever photo of a Salvador Dali spoge

In order to discover the identity of this unusual sponge, we sent two samples to Nicole J. de Voogd. She was studying sponges at the Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics, Zoological Museum, University of Amsterdam. The interior bodies of sponges are composed of mazes of microscopic spicules. Each sponge species has a unique pattern. After looking at the two samples we sent under a microscope, Nicole could identify our Salvador Dali sponge. It is Petrosia lignosa.

The genus name Petrosia actually means “stony hard.” When compared with other sponges, all Petrosid sponges are hard and rock-like. So far, Petrosia lignosa is known only from vertical walls in eastern Indonesia. It was first described in 1925 from the Togian Islands, south of Gorontalo. However, in other locations this sponge lacks the distinctive swirls found on our Salvador Dali sponges.

No one knows why this sponge looks so different here in Gorontalo. According to Nicole, the “Salvador Dali sponge” would be a locally unique morphology of Petrosia lignosa

Although divers cannot expect to witness sponge spawning, Salvador Dali sponges are common in Gorontalo. For your chance to see some for yourself, please make your dive reservations and join us for some great diving.

Who is Miguel?

Curious travelers sometimes ask this question. At other times, divers call the dive center and ask to speak with Miguel.

Who is Miguel: The Official Answer

He is the first son of the company’s founding director Mustafa Abulhajat. At the time of exploration work for the dive business in Gorontalo, he was only four years old. Now however, our dive center is ready to enter its eighteenth season. Miguel is now in his mid-twenties.

Arriving from a motorcycle trip

To understand who is Miguel, one must realize that he is not only a scuba diver. He also loves to sky dive. Another passion comes directly from his father. That is long distance motorcycle trips. Miguel has driven the mountainous Trans-Sulawesi highway from his home in Manado to Gorontalo. That trip took several days. Each trip he will stop by the dive center for a photo op.

The current answer to the question who is Miguel has a professional angle. He has a post with the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Beside speaking Bahasa Indonesia and Manadonese, he speaks English, Dutch, and French. At the time of his appointment, he ranked number three out of one thousand candidates nationwide. Not doubt, the crew at Miguel’s Diving is very proud of him.

Pioneers in the Dive Industry

Miguel school boy
Miguel as a schoolboy

Who is Miguel also has a family answer. His grandfather was an influential figure in the early days of tourism in Manado. His father counts among the first Indonesians active in diving Bunaken. His grandfather also ran the first electrical lines to remote western Gorontalo. In those days, no bridges crossed the rivers there.

Originally, Mr. Mustafa created Miguel’s Dive Club to support diving activities around Bunaken Marine Park. After he made the decision to open diving in Gorontalo, the company name became Miguel’s Diving Center. We are the pioneer dive operator in Gorontalo. Other operators have come and gone. We have operated seasonally since opening in 2003.

Experience Counts

who is Miguel
Graduating with a law degree

Our business model is based on ecological sustainability and community development. To sail and dive Gorontalo waters requires experience of the area’s micro environments. So, we train Gorontalo fishermen as dive staff. Our guests benefit from their local knowledge.

Miguel’s Diving provided the push to create Olele Village Marine Park. Our staff are officially recognized as guardians of Gorontalo’s marine environment. This includes community education and input to government programs. They also report violations to marine patrol officers.

For your chance to dive with Gorontalo’s pioneer dive operator, please make your dive reservations with us.

Galaxy Coral Forms Massive Colonies in Gorontalo

Galaxy coral forms the largest hard coral colonies in Gorontalo. Massive mounds and columns of this spiky coral astound passing divers.

Stars of the Reef

A colony of Galaxy coral is made up of countless individual corallites. A single Galaxy corallite measures between three and four millimeters. A corallite is composed of a circular polyp, which is living. Surrounding the polyp are ridges that radiate from its center. These radiating ridges serve to protect the polyp from predators. These radiating ridges give each individual polyp the appearance of a star. A colony composed of countless stars gives rise to a galaxy of coral.

However, divers should be careful when approaching Galaxy coral. Those radiating ridges are extremely sharp and can easily cut one’s skin. Moreover, the scientific term for radiating ridges is septa.

Galaxea astreata

Galaxy polyps in Gorontalo
Galaxea polyps open

The most common Galaxy coral in Indo-Pacific waters is Galaxea astreata. Usually, its colonies are low and encrust the substrate. At other times, it forms upright columns. For Galaxea astreata, its septa count is eight to twelve. Usually, it does not fully extend its polyps during the day. This helps protect it from daytime predators. In the closeup shot from Gorontalo, note the white-tipped polyps in this daytime photo.

Galaxy coral in Gorontalo

Galaxy coral colonies
Massive Galaxy colonies in Gorontalo

The large and notable Galaxy colonies of Gorontalo are most likely Galaxea astreata. In total, there are ten species of Galaxy corals. Possibly, Galaxea fasicularis is the coral found at dive sites here because it forms the largest known colonies. In Gorontalo, Galaxy corals form colonies larger than a city bus. This colony size is far larger than any described in scientific literature. In the wide angle shot from Gorontalo, note that the corals far in the background are still part of this massive colony of Galaxy coral.    

Two factors contribute to the giant size of Galaxy colonies in Gorontalo. The marine environment here is extremely healthy. Also, Galaxy corals possess special sweeper tentacles. These are a defensive organ tipped with powerful stings. Those stings keep other corals from living close by. That makes room for the colony to expand.

Galaxy corals not only feed on plankton caught with the polyp’s tentacles. Inside its body live zooxanthella. These convert sunlight into food. Notably, Gorontalo lies slightly north of the equator, so sunlight is abundant.

For your chance to marvel at the Galaxy coral found in Gorontalo, please book your dive trip with us.

Bottlenose Dolphin Video

Bottlenose Dolphin video from Gorontalo, Indonesia, brings joy to those who love the sea and its many inhabitants.

Side Job with Benefits

Miguel’s Diving is committed to educating and training local Gorontalo people to work in the marine tourism sector. As a result, almost all of our staff are local fishermen. Moreover, all of our dive staff have successfully trained to be PADI dive masters.

On days when they are not diving, our dive staff often head to sea to fish. Gorontalo is an exporter of high-quality Yellowfin Tuna. The tuna is caught by handline from small wooden boats. These boats are outrigger canoes and made by hand in the village. A fisherman here can only catch one tuna at a time. That makes this local style of fishing most eco-friendly.

Bottlenose Dolphin Video

At the urging of Miguel’s Diving, our dive staff bring their handphones sometimes when they go to sea. One day, Boka, one of our dive masters, joined a school of happy dolphins. He made this Bottlenose Dolphin video to share. Enjoy – the dolphins clearly did!

A Pod of Bottlenose Dolphin play in Goronotalo

Cetaceans are commonly seen in Gorontalo waters. Ocean depths drop below four kilometers not far from our coastline. In this Bottlenose Dolphin video, the proximity of deep blue waters to shore is clearly visible.

Pods that Pass

Pods of Bottlenose dolphin often pass through Gorontalo waters. Inshore Bottlenose Dolphins tend to be smaller than those that stay in deep water. Indeed, they are the smallest cetaceans we see regularly. Adults typically measure less than two meters long. Their most prominent feature is their beaked “bottle” nose. Also, they stay in social groupings called pods. They are friendly and active. This identifying behavior makes the Bottlenose Dophin video so entertaining.

For your chance to see Bottlenose Dolphins, please make your dive reservations with us.

White ribbon eel glides in Gorontalo

White ribbon eel glides across the sandy bottom in shallow water. It undulates in effortless motions.

An Unexpected Sighting

During daylight hours, white ribbon eels usually stay hidden in their sandy dens. They live in shallow lagoons, preferring areas with white sand. At night, they emerge in search of food. They prefer to eat small crustaceans and molluscs. Sometimes, they will eat nudibranchs.

white ribbon eel face
A White ribbon eel glides over the sand

At other times, they will move from one den to another. This means they will swim across the sandy bottom. One day, Miguel’s Diving staff observed a White ribbon eel doing just that. However, this one did not move quickly from one hole to another. It spent fifteen minutes swimming across the bottom. Occasionally, it stuck its head into goby holes. Perhaps it was searching for a shrimp to eat.

Once, it swam underneath some cloth lost by a fisherman. The cloth was half buried in the sand. Soon, the White ribbon eel emerged from the other side. After crossing back and forth, it finally disappeared head first into a hole.   

Elegance in Motion

This ribbon eel has a pale body color. Its dorsal fin is continuous and edged in brilliant white. Its face is peppered with small spots. When swimming, its motion in indeed like a sensuous ribbon.

The Truly Unique White Ribbon Eel

White ribbon eels belong to its own genus of which it is the only species. That means its morphology is truly unique. As with other eels, it does not have scales. Instead, slime covers its body. This mucous coating allows it to enter and exist holes in sand and gravel without getting scratches. Also, the slime repels parasites.

The eyesight of this unique eel is not as good as its sense of smell. That sense is well developed. Moreover, it has not two nostrils but four. The first pair lie on the tip of its nose. The second pair are barely visible and lie level with its eyes. Its sense of smell leads the White ribbon eel to its prey. In fact, during the long interval with our dive staff, the ribbon eel totally ignored the diver and camera. Nothing good to eat there!

ribbon eel searches for food
A White ribbon eel searches for food

As with many eels, the branchial openings are small holes. They are found behind the head, one on each side.

The maximum length of this beautiful ribbon eel is about one meter. However, most measure between fifty and eighty centimeters in length.

Its Scientific Name

Pseudechidna brummeri is the official name of the White Ribbon eel. Its genus name consists of two Greek words. Pseudes means false and echidna means viper. This name is meant to describe the pointed feature of its long snout.

Pieter Bleeker was a Dutch doctor who lived in Indonesia for eighteen years. During that time, he collected over twelve thousand specimens of marine life. He published extensive studies in his two work classic Atlas Ichthyologique des Indes Orientales Néêrlandaises. One of the species he discovered and named was the White ribbon eel, Pseudechidna brummeri. The species name honors Lieutenant Medical Colonel Brummer. Brummer was a colleague, friend and fellow collector.

For your chance to dive with beautiful marine life, please make your dive reservations and perhaps you will sight a ribbon eel.

DIVER Magazine Features Salvador Dali Sponges

DIVER magazine features Salvador Dali sponges and their distinctive swirls in an article by Steve Jones.

Swirled Surfaces

Salvador Dali sponge
One of Gorontalo’s Salvador Dali sponges

One of Gorontalo’s claim to fame is the discovery of Salvador Dali sponges. This morphology of Petrosia lignosa is unique to the northern coastline of Tomini Bay, Indonesia. The article found in DIVER magazine explains the discovery. Also, it explains the origin of these bizarre looking sponges. Rantje Allen christened this sponge after the famous Spanish painter. He is the diving pioneer in Gorontalo. The surreal style of Salvador Dali describes the appearance of these giant sponges.

Divers will usually find these sponges below 25 meters. At those depths, they are protected from seasonal high waves and storms. Additionally, they grow off the vertical coral walls in Gorontalo. There, ocean currents bring plankton to them. The article explains how they can break off in storms. When this happens, these ancient giants fall to the ocean bottom. They can no longer feed and soon die, turning to dust in a matter of weeks.

DIVER Magazine Spring 2020

DIVER magazine is the longest established dive magazine in North America. It is published in British Columbia, Canada. Moreover, DIVER magazine is available in print, mobile and on-line editions. This flexibility in format makes the magazine a favorite among divers.

DIVER Magazine cover
DIVER Magazine Spring 2020

Currently, divers are mostly staying at home because of the corona virus (Corvid-19). As a result, DIVER magazine is making its Spring 2020 edition free of charge. Interested divers simply click this link and then access magzter. Then they can open an account and enjoy free access to this edition and others for a seven-day period. What a great idea!

An Award Winning Photographer

This Spring edition of DIVER magazine contains an article on Salvador Dali sponges. Accompanying the article are incredible underwater photographs by Steve Jones. Mr. Jones is an award-winning underwater photographer and journalist. His travel and work spans the globe, including Antarctica.

During his worldwide travels, Mr. Jones visited Gorontalo during wave season. Ocean conditions are challenging during that time of year. However, he left with a sizeable archive of spectacular photos of Gorontalo’s marine environment.

The article also explains conservation efforts of Gorontalo’s marine environment. Specifically, Mr. Jones describes the great care that Olele villagers take of their home reefs. Additionally, the education campaigns that Miguel’s Diving promotes get a shout out.  

After enjoying the article consider becoming a subscriber to DIVER magazine. Then, please make your dive reservations with us to see those Salvador Dali sponges for yourselves!

Pilot Whale Beaches in Gorontalo

A pilot whale beached itself close to Olele Marine Park in Gorontalo on 3 January 2020.

Too Big to Help

A local fisherman named Iwan Adam discovered the large pilot whale on the beach near his house in Tolotio Village. The time was 0530 hours. According to Iwan, the cetacean was still breathing and alive when he found it. So, he called nine friends to discuss options for saving the whale. Unfortunately, the discovery coincided with low tide.  Also, the pilot whale weighed almost two tons. Dragging the whale over the rocks and coral proved impossible, given the conditions. Although they poured water on it to keep it cool, the whale died twenty minutes later and before the tide rose again.

pilot whale beached
Short-finned pilot whale beached in Gorontalo

Government officials arrived to assess the situation. According to their notes, the whale measured 482 centimetres long. Its girth was 220 centimetres. Moreover, it was male. In order to avoid contamination, the villagers buried the carcass.

Sightings of Pilot Whales in Gorontalo

Miguel’s Diving staff have observed pilot whales on other occasions. Although these cetaceans are famous for traveling in pods, we have only observed single pilot whales near diving areas. Pods of pilot whales occasionally pass Gorontalo fishermen, who are handlining yellowfin tuna farther from shore. The dorsal fin of a pilot whale tends to fold back a bit. Thus, with this observation, visual identification is possible.

The Short-Finned Pilot Whale

dead whale
Distinctive head, mouth and fins of a pilot whale

The unfortunate whale that beached itself was a Short-finned Pilot Whale. Globicephala macrorhynchus is its scientific name. Distinguishing features include a rounded, bulbous head. Its fins are set forward on its body and point sharply back. The mouth slants upward. Mostly, its color is uniformly black. Some individuals exhibit a diagonal stripe from eye to dorsal fin and a cape. Sometimes, a lighter belly patch is visible. The body is slender but robust. In death all color will be lost.

The Short-finned Pilot Whale is among a group of marine life called blackfish. These cetaceans are mostly jet black in color. The Long-finned Pilot Whale is not found in our area, as it prefers the cold waters of the northern and southern oceans. In Gorontalo, Miguel’s Diving staff have seen other blackfish species. This includes Pygmy Killer Whale, Melon-Headed Whale and False Killer Whale. Surprisingly, the most common blackfish we see are Killer Whales or Orca.

Behavioral Characteristics

Short-finned Pilot Whales usually travels in pods but rarely breaches. Feeding mostly at night, they love deep-sea squid. These whales have no fixed migration routes, but they often follow squid spawning. Also, they prefer the edges of continental shelves and deep underwater canyons. This perfectly describes the marine substrate along the southern shores of Gorontalo in Tomini Bay.

For your chance to see one of Gorontalo’s blackfish, please book your dive trip with us.  

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