Posted in 28 Oct 2016 by Dhave Dhanang
Indonesia is a save haven for coral-reefs and fish. I was fortunate to visit one of the area renowned for its underwater wonderland—the island of Sumbawa, West Nusa Tenggara. In earlier times, this island used to be ocean floor. Yet as Mt. Tambora grew, the ocean floor was lifted, forming the island of Sumbawa along with its neighboring Lombok island.
One day, after loosing the mooring rope of KM Tenggara 2, we sailed from the port of Benete to two dive spots—Reef-Ball and Monkey Beach Point. The first site, Reef-Ball Point, is only three doors down from port Benete, nigh the inlet and outlet pipes of PLTU. Muklis and Markus were my buddies on this first dive.
Dayat, the dive master of Newmont Nusa Tenggara, suddenly pushed me out of the boat. With a BCD and an oxygen tank wrapped on my body, I hit the water. It felt bubbly for a while as the white foam caressing me. I was panicked for sure, since all I could prepare was my undewater camera whereas my mask and my second stage regulator had not yet been placed on their right place.
‘Come on! You can handle it!’ Dayat shouted from the boat. Fortunately, I was given a diving lesson this morning. I had a glance at magnificent coral-reefs of Teluk Benete—I had even touched them!
I eventually managed to put things in order. At first, I could not see the giant spheres from the surface. What I saw was coral-reefs spreading over the bottom of the ocean. Yet when I was already five meters deep, I could see seagrasses. Its yellow-brownish leaves moved slowly in harmony with the current as if beckoning us to get deeper into the deep.
Teluk Benete here was no different than Teluk Buyat in Minahasa, North Sulawesi, which I had visited last year—they had been broken by fish bomb. For decades, the fishermen had taken a shortcut by utilizing explosives. Most of the fish killed were floating on the sea surface and the coral reefs were shattered all over the place. The ecosystem was damaged.
For a while, no fish could be spotted around the area, since there were no healthy coral-reefs. Then someone uttered an idea to do ‘reforestation’ of the coral-reefs using reef-ball method—giant orbs made of sand and cement put on the ocean floor. The coral-reefs then come either naturally, or are transplanted.
Filum cnidaria is a unique organism known as corals, which can breed sexually or asexually. It multiplies sexually when the male and female gametes encounter, forming planula. The planulae will float on the ocean, becoming Larva bersilia. When the planula find a suitable substrate, it will transform into polyps or corals. Furthermore, the coral-reefs will multiply asexually by fragmenting themselves, filling the surrounding area. It is the reason why there are so many coral-reefs on the ocean floor.
In Teluk Benete, five to twelve meters below sea surface, the reef-balls are put near the port of Newmont Nusa Tenggara, providing the right substrate for the planulae so that they could transform into polyps. The utilizing of reef-ball method turned to successfully recover the underwater world of Teluk Benete, which now could be put abreast with that of Bunaken, Manado.
The reef-balls were like the legs of the tables supporting a massive three meters hard-coral. Anticipating our arrival, a school of blue juvenile fish swam back and forth, either anxious or jubilant. A read sea fan waylaid us as if offering a service. But we didn’t need it—we were already cold underwater. We kicked our way to see the reef-balls which had been planted. Somehow, all of the surface of the balls had already been covered with fragmented polyps.
As I was enjoying the vista, Muklis suddenly gave me a hand signal, asking the whereabouts of Markus who had gone missing. As I had never parted from Muklis, I replied that I didn’t know. Muklis then raised his thumb which meant that we had to surface. It turned that Markus had already surfaced and floated one hundred meters away from us. He had gathered with the other group.
Thereon, the speed boat fetched us and advanced to Monkey Beach Point. The second dive was different in that we got to see a more natural coral-garden. Yet it was more brief because we only dove to twelve meters for half an hour, therefore we had to use it wisely. After completing the interval time—between the first and second dive—we did the second entry.
Not long after I had deflated all the air, my eyes encountered a wonderful coral garden. My buddy made a horn by putting his two index-fingers to his forehead—a sign for a school of lobster. From over an Acropora, I could see two hiding lobsters—perhaps we scared them out. I pondered, ‘You are safe, fish. We won’t harm you.’ I am allergic to fish.
Twelve meters deep I could see the remnants of the bombing done by fishermen. The coral-reefs were shattered like houses destroyed by an earthquake. Yet on the periphery I could see groups of various polyps, where fish were cheerfully playing hide and seek. Perhaps they belived that we wouldn’t harm them. For a while, I thought I was having hallucinations—triggered by nitrogen narcossis—when my buddy gave me the thumb signal. We had to go up.
I felt contingent to have been given an opportunity to dive in a site such Teluk Benete. Today, it is a national vital-object and not everyone is permitted to enter this area. Knowing this, the sea creatures below would be jubilant because they could not be harmed no more by their fellow earthling—homo sapiens. On the way home, from the starboard I gazed vacantly to the ocean floor, to the coral reefs and fish which found home around it.
This article is written by Dhave Dhanang and previously published on his personal blog. Translated by telusuRI.
A biologist who is trapped in the world of photography, adventure, and journalism.