Although my dive training began in a freshwater rock quarry in Pennsylvania (USA), I read dive magazines that allowed me a glimpse of magnificent reefs far, far away. I keep a notebook of outstanding dive areas; a couple of years ago I became intrigued with North Sulawesi and added Bunaken National Park to my watch list. This park was established in my lifetime (1991), and presents a unique case study of the short-term benefits of marine protected areas.
North Sulawesi offers a “Passport to Paradise”. The highlights include Bunaken National Park, Bangka Island, and Lembeh Strait. Strong currents, particularly around Bangka, set the stage for incredible fish abundance. Diverse reef topography, from gentle slopes to steep walls to patch reefs, allow for varying reef ecosystems, among them the unusual muck habitat. To many, muck diving may sound unappealing, however, it is not something to pass up in Lembeh Strait and around Manado Bay. The muck serves as a bland background, but divers are motivated to find unusual, stunning creatures hidden within.
Given the abundance of fish, it is not surprising to learn that fishing is a central aspect of life around North Sulawesi. En route to our various dive sites, we see floating wooden houses (bagang) on the water, which at night catch schools of fish by shining lights in the water. One local recalled seeing a whale shark siphoning all of the fish out of their net! It is common to see a plethora of brightly painted wooden fishing boats sprinkled along the water’s surface, as well as simple floating fishing traps and nets outfitted with plastic bottles and flip flops. While diving, fishing nets and lines are evident, and we’ve also seen bamboo fishing cages, igi, lying on the seafloor.
The team is heading to Sangihe archipelago. A local from Sangihe, who has been working with us aboard the Makarena vessel, spoke of the importance of protecting coral reefs for their sons and daughters. He explained the people’s strong desire to preserve the resources near their home, and said that fishermen travel to blue water to fish (tuna) so as not to fish the nearby reefs surrounding the islands.