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If you want to see healthy coral reefs in pristine conditions and lots of fish you should go to the Togian islands. The reefs mostly consist of corals with impressively large sponges and gorgonian fans. The biodiversity is high, a rapid marine assessment by Center for Applied Biodiversity in 1998 has found a reef fauna containing at least 314 species of corals, 541 species of molluscs and 819 species of fish! 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 sea level during the ice age.
Here you find all kinds of reefs, from a large barrier reef stretching from one end to the other of the archipelago in the north and smaller fringing reefs as well as a few atolls. The reefs and large coastal mangrove areas are habitat and breeding areas for the hawksbill turtle, the green turtle and the dugong. On land there are also interesting animals to see like many rare birds (hornbills, parrots) and other animals. With luck you might even see the endemic Togian Hawk-owl (Ninox burhani).
The Togians were declared a National Park in 2004, but there is no park administration center yet or patrols. Because a lot of people live from coconuts and not much from fishing, there is still an abundance of fish life. there seem to be some parts of the reef that were damaged by dynamite fishing,but I didn't see any actual damage. Around the Tengah Walea Dive Center there is an area which is protected from that kind of fishing since 5 years.
Most of the dives are on wall or steep slopes. There can be some current, but it is mostly relatively easy diving. Watch out for your depth though, because with clear water it is so easy to go deeper than intended. Around the inner islands calm waters with visibility of about 20m to 30m but close to the mangrove areas visibility can worsen some.
We did a liveaboard trip with the MV Paisabatu II, but it is also possible to dive from any of the four land based dive centers on Kadidiri, Waleabahi and Batudaka. The MV Paisabatu II is an excellent boat - very large and comfortable and with a quiet engine. It also has - Maldives style - a second boat with the compressor and diving gear, which is is used just for diving. And also important - his cook is just great and there is enough water to take showers after diving!
Una-Una lies isolated 30km north of Batudaka and rises steeply from 1800m. The islands is circular with an active volcano, Gunung Colo, which has a height of 508m above sea level (Sakora peak) and has a 1100-1350 m wide caldera with a small central cone. The most active peak is Colo (238 m in the southern crater). The last eruption, on the 23th July 1983, produced a 5km high column. An earthquake with 4.3 on the Richter Scale occurred and pyroclastic flows swept over most of the island and destroyed the coconut and clove plantations there. Fortunately the residents of the island had already been evacuated, so nobody was killed. The island was covered with approximately 42 million m³ of tephra (=air-fall material produced by a volcanic eruption) and ash fell as far away as Kalimantan.
No activity can be observed at the moment. The beaches are of a gray sand - the volcano put fourth a lot of ash. This sand is very fine and easily clouds when stirred by careless fins. You dive to the east and south of the island, but there are also some interesting sites in the north.
1. Jack's point: This is a corner where the reef
forms a small edge around 30 meters and then continues down much deeper. A few
large sponges protrude and there is often some current here, so jacks, mackerels
and big eye snappers converge here. We were lucky and also saw a group of large
tunas passing by several times. A few hunting rainbow runners were joined by
a school of fusseliers and two Napoleon wrasses. This is a place you should
stay as long as possible at the corner, because, although there are nice walls
on both sides - the action is here!!
Although the depths beckon - mackerels are visible forming spirals and vertexes, it is better to stay further up, so you can stay longer. After a while decompression looms and you leave, following the wall and turning your attention to smaller animals. The wall is quite steep with several cracks, overhangs and crannies. Look in some of the caves where the bottom is sandy and you can find the elusive Randall's shrimpgoby (Amblyeleotris randalli) and even the small whitecap goby (Lotilia graciliosa).
2. Menara: This is a great dive site with beautiful Gorgonians fans of amazing proportions. Parts of the wall are covered with them, nearly like a forest. Huge sponges jut out and fishes are everywhere. Just at the beginning a eagle ray passed us only a couple meters away and hunting jackfish flittered passed. There were several Napoleon wrasses as well as large groups of big eyed snappers.
3. Fishomania (The Pinnacle): This dive site is known for the large schools of fish that gather here. We saw an incredible amount of yellow-blue snappers, red tooth triggerfish, endless bands of blue fusseliers and grouper and this everywhere! Usually this is a shallow dive, max. 15m, the place is not that large and on the top there are some areas with rubble. A special experience provided a turtle which had its head struck under a coral block eating a tasty sponge and who didn't seem to be bothered by us divers at all. To get a better grip it hung head down, body high up and pushing with its forward legs. Suddenly it lost its grip and saw us divers hanging around and observing. Even now it went back for its tasty meal - a sponge - and only sailed away later and with a flip was gone.
4. Kololio sore: We made a late afternoon dive here. It is a gentle slope, large coral bonnies interspersed with sand and huge sponges. What I liked most was the incredible atmosphere, the light was very soft and everything was slowly moving - large schools of yellow-blue snappers flowed over the corals, bannerfishes rose over the huge sponges and large groups of big eyed snappers mingled with endless bands of blue fusseliers. The sheer amount of fish was just amazing! In the middle of this "fish soup" a turtle was resting, when we approached the rose leisurely and sailed away, soon disappearing among the fishes. A great dive for the afternoon (= sore in Indonesian language)
5. Apollo: This is a reef which
starts on about 22m depth and gently slopes down to 45m and more. The main attraction
is a school of large blacktail barracudas which is often found here. Although
if there are no barracudas is is also nice to just watch the number of yellow
snappers which seem to cover the reef like a moving carpet. If you see the barracudas
- when we dived there they gathered around 35m - just stay put, they will come
to you. Then you can slowly rise until you are in the middle of a revolving
spiral. If at that moment a turtle joins you, swimming in front of the barracudas,
your day is perfect!
This is a site, where you dive relatively deep, spend as much time as possible there and then either go up straight away for a safety stop which is either done just above the reef in the open water or you dive back towards the beach. From 22m up there is a sandy slope with some submerged palm tree trunks - look underneath, there are often lionfish and groupers hiding and up at the sandbank look for small nudibranchs (Thuridillla lineolata) and have a look at the garden eels close by. There also seem to be sometimes a gathering of thousands of Bennett's toby fish (Canthigaster bennetti) seen - when we dived here I didn't see a single one...
6. Tapuan I and II: This is a volcanic island (83m high) surrounded by a well developed barrier reef and an extensive lagoon (27m deep). We didn't dive here, so I don't know if the diving is good or not.
7. / 8. Pasir Tengah: Here you dive on an absolutely steep wall which reaches up to just under the surface. At some places the wall is overhanging and you can't see, where the bottom might be, just the dark waters underneath. Everywhere are caves, overhangs, deep incisions and swim throughs. The wall is mostly covered with tube corals, small sponges and hydroids but in the cracks and overhangs there are huge bushes of black corals. At one of the corners there is a large double overhang, very impressive.
9. Goagoa: This atoll is similar to Pasir Tengah but the walls are not so steep. Again there are a lot of large caves with black coral bushes, look here for the elusive longnose hawkfish, it likes to hide - mostly in pairs - inside the coral bushes.
In the north of Batudaka, the Togian island and Malingi a large barrier reef stretches over 165km, complete with a shallow lagoon which is up to 100m deep. Just in the north of Kadidiri island (also written as Kadidi island in some publications) are several very good dive sites, all on the outer edge of the barrier reef. The dive sites lie quite close together (Nursery Rock, Kota Wall, Gap, Crack, Shark Rock, Dominic Rock, Labyrinth, Taipi, Batu Gila, Lost Reef), we didn't visit them all. The Crack, Labyrinth and Dominic Rock are deep dives more suitable for experienced divers, the other dive sites are shallower.
10. Batu Gila: This is a ridge, about 20m wide which lies at a depth of 30 to 40 meters. This is said to be the best place to be in Togian Islands diving to see schooling scalloped hammerhead sharks.
11. Dominic Rock (Dominik Rock): This dive site lies more to the east and should be done as your first dive, because you go very deep. The top of Domenic rock lies on 37m but if you want to take a good look like we did, you dive down to 45 meters or more. Actually you sweep down from Taipi wall, circle over some huge boulders which jut out from a lower lying sandy shelf, then Dominic Rock looms out of the dark, just behind it the plateau falls down sharply to an abyss of I don't know what depth. The Rock is covered with gorgonians and whip corals, some large sponges and soft corals, very nice. In the deep waters here sharks, eagle rays and big eyed trevally are found. Then you turn back towards the wall and finish the dive following it towards the right.
12. The Gap: At this dive site you have to be careful, that
you start the dive right on the edge of the reef and not from the lagoon. There
is a strong current flowing over the edge of the reef and into the lagoon, so
if you start at the wrong place you have to swim against.
The outer reef is very beautiful, lots of lettuce corals, huge sponges, large gorgonian fans and other hard corals. Two Napoleon wrasses were accompanying us the whole dive and a large group of barracudas gathered over the shallow part. We saw mackerels and a group of bumphead parrotfish and made our safety stop over the lagoon, accompanied by a curious turtle.
13. Kadidiri House Reef: This reef is nice for night dives. I heard you can find ghost pipe fishes here and other small critters. I think it is best to go there with one oft the dive operators on Kadidiri island, since they know this place very well. Otherwise the beaches here are quite nice, seems like a good place to relax, also if you do snorkeling.
14. World war II bomber plane wreck: The Consolidated B 24 Liberator rests, slightly tilted to the right on sandy bottom in 16 to 22 meters of water. It is 17 m long and 22 m wide. The plane is in good condition, the wings with one propeller and the tail still intact and the two barrels of the turret gun on top are still in place. You can swim round and actually look into the cockpit where you still see the instruments and seats. You can dive underneath the left wing and look at the wheel there which is totally bent with the large tyres resting flat on the ground. The tail is very impressive with the large side flange.
Since the dive site is close to a mangrove forest the visibility is generally not very good - when we dived we had about 12m which was considered good, sometimes visibility can be down to only 2 meters. You finish the dive over a small reef, we found some nudibranchs and shrimps, otherwise it is not that interesting.
A confidential ditching report by Lt. Henry Etheridge dated 3 May 1945 says the following: "Our number one engine caught fire about one and a half hours from target, when at the northern tip of the gulf of Bone. We closed the cowl flap... (technical details) ... With these power settings the fuel supply would have been inadequate to return to base. The radio operator... (arranging ditching site) ...We decided to ditch the plane rather than to parachute because all these islands are heavily wooded with rough terrain... ...We passed over the landing site two times at about 2000 feet while all crew members were briefed on the proposed landing and last minute preparations were completed prior to setting the plane down. There was a 8-knot surface wind... (details of preparation, ditching of equipment and bombs and the positions of all men in the plane) ...All men wore winter flying equipment to act as padding against the shock of landing... ...Airspeed was 110 MPH, loosing altitude at a rate of 50-100 feet per minute. The power was held to within approx. 5 feet of the water.... ...The plane skidded an estimated 50 yards on water before coming to a stop. Every man was out of the plane within one minute... ...At this time medical attention was given to those with cuts and abrasions. As the plane was still afloat we were able to salvage and inflate six one-man life rafts... ...The plane was still afloat one and a half hours later when rescue was affected (a Catalina from the 13th Emergency Rescue Group picked them up)."
15. Gung Laut: This dive site lies south of the Togian islands in open ocean. The top of this underwater mountain reaches to 17m, so you have to plan your dive well in order to be able to spend some time there without getting any deco. We put down a buoy which was very helpful because there was some current. The best place to dive is on the edge of the plateau just on the top of the mini wall (down about 25m) to the north. To the southeast and northwest the plateau falls down and to the south there is an area with sand. This is a nice place to just hang out on about 20 to 25 meters and watch the fish. Surgeonfishes, jacks and redtooth triggerfishes were everywhere. Several cuttlefish were hiding between the coral blocks on the plateau and anthias and damselfishes gathered over the lettuce coral.
16. Malingi: A wall with many low growing hard corals and a few small gorgonian fans, we saw some flatworms, nudibranchs and morey eels. A nice easy dive.18. Milli's Reef: At this dive site we found an amazing amount of nudibranchs and slugs. Most species were quite known to me like Chromodoris willani and kunei, the beautiful pink Hypselodoris bullockii or Nembrotha kubaryana, but I also saw the rarely seen Orodoris miamirana, a brown nudibranch seldom found. At the top of the reef are huge fields of staghorn corals and on the steep wall are nicely covered with hard corals. There is a dive site similar to this one (17. Bullocki) lying a small distance to the north, where you can also find plenty of nudibranchs.
19. Walea House Reef: A few years ago this area was made into a small marine park where fishing and anchoring is forbidden. We didn't dive here, but we heard the reef is very nice, if you like to search for small critters.20. Cape Balikapata and 21. Walea strait south: Walea is separated from Puah island by the Walea strait (459m deep, 2.5km wide). The dive sites on both sides of the strait are supposed to be nice, but I haven't dived there yet.
22. Pulau Puah: This island lies southeast of the Togians on the tongue of relatively shallow water that reaches from the mainland towards the group of islands. The reef is quite flat with sandy areas between the beautiful coral gardens consisting mainly of huge table corals. I was very impressed by this dive site mainly because of the incredible large sponges that can be found here. We swam over them and tried to measure them - some must have easily been 3m or more! I have no idea why they grow so large here, large sponges are typical of the Togian islands, but at this dive site they are even bigger than usual. Unfortunately no frogfishes seem to live on top of these sponges, I didn't see a single one during the whole trip in the Togians....
23. Pulau Dondola: Out in the middle of the ocean is a small isolated sandy island with a couple trees on top and with a fringing reef around it. There is a shallow lagoon on the leeward side but we dived on the outer slope on a wall. There are lots of overhang and cracks where black coral bushes, gorgonians and some large sponges (Xestospongia) grow. This site was judged as excellent during a rapid marine assessment.
24. Pompelon: The first thing we saw when diving here were two large white tipped reef sharks in a cave on 37 meters! They stayed inside for a long time until one decided to swim off and the other followed shortly after. You dive along a wall covered with hard corals and large sponges and some small caves. Schools of fish congregate out in the blue and we saw two turtles.
25. Sendiri: This is a small sand island surrounded by a nice reef forming a wall with several caves and overhangs. The safety stop on top of the reef was specially nice, we saw six cuttlefishes in pairs, probably laying eggs in the corals there.
When we dived here in July, the visibility was not so good, but I think, it would have been an excellent place to dive. At one dive site (Alibaba, Pulau Dua) the large boulders were covered with beautiful soft corals in brilliant colors and gorgonian fans. There was a lot of fish around, but because the visibility was down we couldn't really see them that well.
If you dive there I heard that Pinnacle (Batu Gong), Cape Dongolalo and Tanjung Pasirpanjang are very nice dive sites with soft corals. The pinnacle and the Cape can have quite a lot of current, but then you see a lot of fish like mackerels, tuna, barracudas, surgeonfishes, sweetlips, black triggerfish and also sharks. There is even a small ship wreck you can visit. Diving here can be combined with diving in the Banggai islands, because the climate is similar.
According to a rapid marine assessment by Center for Applied Biodiversity in 1998 there are several sites with good coral cover and plenty of fish on the way from the peninsula to the Banggai islands such as the northeast of Peleng island, Potil Kechil Island and Badang island.
This archipelago is situated in the western part of central Sulawesi, about 115km south of the Togian islands in the northern section of Tolo Bay. The Banggai islands have a different climate from the Togian islands, best time to dive here is October to December and then March to May, so a combination with diving in the Bualemo Peninsula is possible. The land area is about 1912km². Surface currents flow northward past the Banggai islands.
According to a report from Coralcay the Banggai Islands have some areas that have suffered from destructive fishing methods like dynamite fishing, but if since you can only dive here with the liveaboard M/V Paisabatu you don't visit them. Actually a rapid marine assessment has reported only moderate reef damage and Jerome Doucet and his wife Yani (Wallacea Dive Cruise) have started a conservation project with the local government in order to protect part of the Banggai islands.
Jerome when asked said, that most of the dives are on off shore reefs with vertical drop-offs down to several hundred meters. So you dive on walls, with a lot of gorgonians and black coral bushes, small caves and overhangs. At some dive sites there are strong currents and you have to plan your dives well and be there at the right time. But here you can also 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, ribbon eels, bobtail squid and more. In the south are several small islands and atolls that are also visited during the dive cruise.
Dolopo Island (western Banggai) has a barrier reef about one kilometer offshore from the island with a reef and very nice coral cover. Close by are more excellent dive sites like Banyak Island (west Peleng island) and Makailu island with fringing reefs. For large schools of fish you can also dive at Lost anchor and George's wall (Banggai).
These islands are home of the famous endemic Banggai cardinal fish (endemic species = restricted to a particular geographic region and found nowhere else in the world). The Banggai Cardinalfish is the only known marine fish to both mouthbrood eggs as well as provide oral shelter for juveniles after hatching. It is a very beautiful fish and I have seen it living among sea urchins and anemones, usually in large groups. Best places to see them are Banggai Harbour, Kembongan Lagoon, Kokunan bay and southern Peleng Island near Bobo Island. Actually in Lembeh (northern Sulawesi) you can also see them, probably they were released from an aquarium and have proliferated and now populate nearly the whole strait.