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Central Sulawesi is not very well known, but a very interesting place for diving. At the very center, where the several arms of the island join together lies the driest place in Indonesia - Palu - and a small but beautiful dive area in Donggala. To the east is the Bay of Tomini with a large group of islands - the Togian islands - an isolated area with an interesting endemic marine species. Travelling further to the east yet are the Banggai islands, best reached by liveaboard.
Palu lies in central Sulawesi on the western shore at a narrow and very deep inlet. Donggala is a small village, about an hour drive from Palu's airport, the dive resort is located at Tanjung Karang, a small beach in the north of Donggala.This is supposed to be one of the driest places in Indonesia. We didn't have a single day of rain in 2 weeks, though the sky was overcast during 2 days. From Palu you can reach the beautiful Lore-Lindu National park, about 60 km inland from Palu. Plan enough time to do some trekking.
House reef: This is actually my favorite reef (but avoid the weekends, when people from Palu come to beach) around Donggala. You just grab a tank and walk in from the entrance of the resort. Then you decide whether you go to the right towards Alex Point or left to the Green Wall. Ask in the dive shop and they will also bring you by boat to some spot on the reef, so you can swim with the current back to the exit. Depths range up to 36m, but most dives are around 15 to 20m.
This reef is teaming with life during the day - large groups of sweetlips, fusiliers and snappers congregate around the coral blocks. Take a closer look and you will find many nudibranchs, anemones and flatworms. There are always some anemonefish, specially the spinecheek anemonefish (Premas biaculeatus). I also found leaffish, pegasus, hawk fish and several ghost pipefishes. I even saw an eagle ray, but only for a very short time.
I made a night dive nearly every night because there are plenty of really interesting animals there: twin spot lionfish, Spanish dancer, stonefish (lying beneath a coral block just at the entrance to the resort), many cuttlefish and small nearly transparent octopuses, lobster and decorator crabs and much more!
Anchor Reef and Natural reef: These reefs lie south of Donggala about 10 min by boat. Depths range from 25m to 6m. Coral blocks on sand with hidden animals like moray eels, leaffish sometimes ghost pipe fish. On the deeper sandy area there are nearly always large rays. Sometimes really large groups of bumphead parrotfish and blacktip reef sharks visit this area.
Pasi Kawe, Pasi Utara, Pasi Ujung and South Atoll: These reefs also lie south of Donggala, but about 30 to 40 min by boat, near Towale. Depths range from over 30m to about 8m. At these places we always saw blacktip and whitetip reef sharks from very close. One actually swam right through our group and directly towards me and turned to the side only half a meter away! Great! These reefs are nicely covered with corals, lots of acropora and whip corals. I specially liked Pasi Kawe where I found many nudibranchs, saw a cuttlefish laying eggs and where Igede, the dive guide even found a yellow frogfish (probably Antennarius pictus)!! That made my day.
Batu Suya and Enu I and II: These reefs lie north of Donggala on the other side of the inlet, about 30 to 40 min by boat. The dive sites are all vertical walls covered with beautiful gorgonian fans and soft corals. Depths range from ca. 5m to probably 70m! There are small caves and overhangs. On one dive we had a lot of current - at one corner there was a huge group of mackerel but we had to turn back because the current was going to sweep us away. On another dive we saw bumphead parrot fishes and 3 napoleon wrasse. In the gorgonian fans there are always longnose hawkfishes (Oxycirrhites typus), these are beautiful but very shy.
The Togian Island Group (Kepulauan Togian) are a archipelago of 56 islands and inlets, located in the Tomini Bay just south of Gorantalo, North Sulawesi and is a 100'000 ha proposed marine reserve. Unfortunately there are also some areas devastated by dynamite (blast) fishing. Though through efforts from the Tengah Walea Dive Center the area around Walea is protected from that kind of fishing since 5 years.
The islands are not volcanic and sit on a plateau no deeper than 200m. On land there are also interesting animals to see like many rare birds (hornbills, parrots) and other animals. The reefs and large coastal mangrove areas are habitat and breeding areas for hawksbill turtle, the green turtle and the dugong.
1995 some scientists discovered that a few marine species occur nowhere else in Indonesia, for example 3 endemic coral species. The Tomini gulf is cut off from the primary ocean currents that run north to south on either side of Sulawesi (look at the map of the Indonesian Throughflow) so the dispersal of planktonic larvaes is restricted. There is also a theory, that the Togean islands were a refuge for species isolated by the low sealevel during the ice age.
The two dive operators are located in Walea Bahi (east) and Kadidiri (central). Around Walea there is some nice wall diving (some of them quite deep 50m - the crack) but also coral gardens and sea mounds and a dive site on the volcanic island of Una Una (day trip). Currents can be strong at some dive sites on the point of the island. A lot of fish, also some sharks, eagle rays, barracudas and jacks. There are very large sponges in abundance and many gobies and blennies. Around the inner islands calm waters with visibility about 20m.
World war II plane wreck: The B 24 Liberator rests on the bottom in 16 to 22 meter of water, but in good condition. One barrel of the turret gun is still in place. Lionfish, jackfish, nudibranchs are seen on site. Not so good visibility since the dive site is close to a mangrove forest. 1 hour boat ride from Kadidiri.
There is also the possibility to dive around the city of Gorontalo which lies in the northeast of the bay of Tomini towards Manado. You will find some nice reefs, underwater rock formations and caves. All dive sites are along the southern shoreline of Gorontalo, most within a 30 to 50 minutes boat ride with spectacular views of some limestone cliffs. There is a dive operator (Miguel's diving) who offers dive packages and trips to all the dive sites in the area and also excursions to the Togian islands (transfer by ferry, staying on Kadidiri island). For more information look at the website of the dive operator.
These islands are situated in the western part of central Sulawesi. They are home of the famous endemic Banggai cardinal fish (endemic species = restricted to a particular geographic region and found nowhere else in the world). Jerome Doucet and his wife Yani (Maleo cottages) have started a conservation project with the local government in order to protect part of the Banggai islands. According to a report from Coralcay (PDF) the Banggai Islands have some areas that have suffered from destructive fishing methods like dynamite fishing.
Jerome Doucet who does liveaboard trips (M/V Paisabatu) and a dive buddy of mine, Michael Bode, write that on the outer reefs there are some very beautiful walls, with a lot of gorgonians and black coral, small caves and overhangs. At some dive sites there are strong currents and you have to plan your dives and be there at the right time. There you will encounter larger animals like turtles, groupers, sometimes sharks and eagle rays. On the inner islands there are fringing reefs with coral gardens populated by small fish and also special animals like frogfish, ribon eels, bobtail squid and more. Read Michaels report in English / Deutsch.