At the beginning of this century Bunaken Marine Park was chosen to be the first place in the world for new state-of-the-art ceramic reef models. With the lead from marine biologist Dr. Mark Erdman, a new artificial reef system “EcoReefs” was introduced. Unlike any earlier artificial reef structures, the idea behind EcoReefs was that the installed non-toxic ceramic blocks were designed to mimic natural reef thickets of branching Acroporid corals to be ideal for new corals to attach and grow. The settling plates at the center of each module create a shaded microenvironment for small creatures and eventually the blocks will become part of a natural reef ecosystem, leaving nothing artificial behind.
The very first study site was established in Manado Tua island, in front of a village called Negeri. The reef had been destroyed in 1970’s by damaging fishing activities and corals were reduced to rubble. Local villagers were eager to restore their reefs and agreed to help and protect the installation. The reef’s recovery exceeded all expectations. Few years later it was time for a second Eco Reef installation in Fukui, Bunaken island.
Like Negeri, the vibrant dive site Fukui in Bunaken used to be a popular fishing spot among local islanders. Before Bunaken Marine Park was establishes in 1991 destructive fishing activities and boat anchoring had caused considerable damage to the shallow reef areas, and due to regular strong current sweeping over the reef, many corals were broken into rubble. Even though the dive site had for years been protected from further fishing activities and the only visitors to the site were divers and snorkelers, the rubble areas had not shown much improvement. Because of the currents small coral pieces were regularly turned over and over, making it difficult for new corals to attach and grow. The EcoReef installation in Fukui was was funded by Dr. Erdmann's family and friends in memory of his brother Stephen, who died in a bus accident in Egypt in 2003, and was carried out with the help from the marine park’s dive community.
Scientists were amazed by the speed that both reefs started to recover from the very beginning. Now, over ten years later, the corals in Negeri and Fukui are thriving and the reefs sustain healthy fish and invertebrate ecosystems.
Photo credits: Edo Ang and Jaakko Aalto
Being a bit of tradition I’m now writing about my time in Living Colours Dive Resort in the lovely Pulau Bunaken. And just to start with I’ll introduce myself. First you’ll hear a small story my dad loves to tell.
While you were a little girl, maybe around four years old, my colleagues were asking what will you do as a grown up girl. And you know how they expected you to answer something common like a vet or a princess (you were still so young). But with no doubt you told them that you’ll become a scuba diver and you can only imagine how their faces looked after you said that with plain certainty in your voice. And eight years later you came to me with the brochure of PADI Open Water Diver –course starting in few weeks. And less than a month from that you already had your Junior OWD –certification.
Young Sara, photo Hannu Waenerberg
Since then I’ve been exploring the diving around the world (including Finland). And now, nine years later I’m finishing my PADI Divemaster -course in a place to be. During the nine years I’ve also found my way to the Kajaani University of Applied Sciences where I’m currently studying a Bachelor’s Degree in Sports and Leisure Management which includes instructing sports from basketball to hiking and gym training to swimming. As a part of the studies we’re required to complete an internship including planning/implementing sports sessions and also getting hands-on experience from the managemental tasks and administration of a sports business. When it was time to decide the place for the training I had already got many negative answers but then I remembered this place where I was on holiday four years ago and sent an email to Mia about the training. She welcomed me to Living Colours and Bunaken and I was able to start figuring out the practical things to actually get here.
So now when the major part of the training is over and the return to the daily life and routines is pretty close, you’ll get to know few pros and cons of my time in here.
People and atmosphere in here are one of a kind. You’ll find the locals very nice and positive, always smiling to you and greeting you. They will also try to help if there’s any problems (even they might not speak English) calling around multiple people to find the solution. On the evening if you happen to walk outside the resorts you’ll find locals playing guitar and signing (probably also drinking) and having a great time. They might as well be playing cards or just hanging around with friends. By being here four months you’ll also get to know the staff quite well and sometimes even end up in the middle of their houses enjoying the evening with friends, good music and some local snacks.
Boat trip from Manado to Bunaken with a local family, photo Jii Danya
Diving is the main reason people come to Bunaken. The island is surrounded by the worlds best coral walls and most diverse marine life. Majority of the sites around the island are walls but we do have a few nice slopes too not to forget the great muck diving just across the strait in the shores of the mainland. Just to mention, my favourite sites are Lekuan 3 and Beruntung (Lekuan 2,5) due to the various shapes the wall has and of course the unbelievable amount of creatures living there. Other sites I enjoy are Bunaken Timur 2 (and the whole house reef: Timur), all the Lekuans and Muka Kampung, Wori (muck) and the Molas Shipwreck. I’ve seen so many great things underwater: hundreds of turtles, red-tooth trigger fishes and nudibranches in various sizes and shapes, few sharks, rays and huge groupers. We also found both Nemo and Dory underwater and many tiny tiny seahorses (which I never found by myself, only with the guide).
Sachiko's Point Bunaken, photo Jaakko Aalto
I rarely ate spicy food in Finland and at start I found almost everything with chili too spicy for me. Now after four months I’m able to eat local foods with sambal or dabu-dabu with much better feelings and less tears. The food in our restaurant is great; I haven’t lost any weight during my time in here whilst I still have been diving quite a lot. They have multiple dishes from where to choose and the options vary on a daily basis. I’ve also eaten few times in Manado in the street restaurants and few times in my friends home in Bunaken. What a great food you can find also from there. And mostly the spicy sauce is served separately so it’s easy to adjust the taste. I’ve also learned how to eat rice, chicken and veggies with only one hand. Huh – that was difficult in the start, but time after time you’ll get used to it (and the locals laughing to your effort).
Local delicacies, photo Sara Waenerberg
One thing I found very difficult in here was to adjust to the Indonesian time. Given that in Finland mostly people are on time or even a bit early, here it’s nothing like that and you’ll have to get used to waiting multiple things such as locals coming to work, food, boat ride etc. But after you settle to the idea, you can manage with it and find waiting actually more pleasant than you first thought. If you have to be somewhere on an exact time, you should consider reserving great amount of time to actually get there, because it’s obviously possible to be late in Indonesia too.
One of the worst things to happen in a place like this is to get sick. I had prepared with few antibiotics and pain medication plus a whole bunch of medicines to the possible ear problems when I left from Finland. You should really pay attention what medicines should be brought with though Living Colours do have a nice small availability for the most common medicines needed. I had quite a few issues with my ears whilst in here. The key to avoid ear issues is to keep them anti-contaminated: rinse with fresh water and dry after contact with sea water, protect from wind. While being sick I was feeling blue not being able to dive but also because I have my own routines back home whenever I catch a flu or something else. Luckily though I had one good friend in here trying to cheer me up and Annika and Mia will also be happy to help you if needed.
Overall my time here have been amazing, great, unforgettable, sometimes also boring and sad, but still the best thing in my life for a while. I will miss every and each one of here: people are the ones who made this like it have been. So I would thank you all the guest visiting Living Colours during my internship, the whole staff working in here, especially Mia and Annika who have been the warp and woof for me and all the Bunaken people I’ve met during these wonderful four months.
Divemaster Sara, photo Teemu Siimes
Terima kasih banyak! Sampai jumpa temanku!
Text: Sara Waenerberg
These mythical marine mammals graze regularly right here in the wide seagrass beds of Bunaken Marine Park. They are amazing creatures that will definitely surprise you if encountered on a dive or snorkeling trip. Any diver will get confused for a moment at the first sight and wonder what is that giant, somehow familiar but odd-looking, creature. The first time I saw a dugong during a safety stop at Fukui for a second I thought it was a tiger shark. And the moment it swam by us and looked at us, a big smile got on our faces and we realized it’s a dugong! A bit later I remembered that I was holding onto a camera and finally managed to push on the record button for some evidence.
Dugong has a dolphin-like tail, small eyes with limited vision, good hearing, paddle-like fore limbs, nostrils on top of the head and two teats behind each flipper. They grow up to 3 meters in length, weigh up to 400 kg and can live for 70 years. They swim mostly in shallow water feeding on seagrass beds and can hold their breath only for about 6 minutes at the time.
When you go snorkeling past the seagrass bed on the way to our amazing house reef, you can see white lines in the seagrass. These are dugong tracks, they dig up the whole plant with their large horseshoe-shaped mouth, shake the sand off and eat the grass. The best time to see dugongs here in Bunaken is around full moon or new moon in late afternoon when the tide is the highest. Many of our guests have seen them while diving or snorkeling on our house reef or at the seagrass bed.
Traditionally dugongs have had different meanings for different communities. For example in Malaysia and Philippines dugongs are called “lady of the sea”, in Kenya “queen of the sea” where they use them for food, medicine and decorations. In India they make dugong oil and in Japan they make carvings from their ribs. Southern Chinese call them ‘the miraculous fish”, but still regard it as bringing bad luck if you catch them, same as in the Philippines where they use parts of them to scare away bad spirits. Australian Aboriginals regard them as part of their aboriginality and in Papua New Guinea dugongs are a symbol of strength. In Thailand their tears are used as a love potion… and finally here in Indonesia they believe dugongs are reincarnations of women, so ladies, don’t get offended if someone calls you a dugong when you jump in for a swim from the boat!!
Even though in English dugongs are called ‘sea cows’ they are not related to cows but rather to elephants. Their closest relatives in the sea are manatees, the heart-shape tailed Atlantic cousins, and together they form the order ‘Sirenia’.
Dugongs are facing some problems too, their biggest threat being, unfortunately, humans. They are hunted for their meat and oil, and entanglement in fishing nets, vessel strikes and oil spills are very harmful for them. Disappearance of sea grass beds caused by reclamation, sewage, detergents, hyper saline water, waste products, mining etc. means a loss of their habitat.
Dugongs are slow in reproduction as they reach sexual maturity only at the age of 8-18 years and females give birth only few times during their lifespan to a single calf at the time. Parental care lasts for 2-7 years. Newborns start to feed on sea grass after birth, but nursing lasts up to 18 months. We have been extremely lucky to have spotted dugong mothers with their babies many times on our house reef right in front of Living Colours!
Text by Annika Hartell
Here in Bunaken, Indonesia, we have seen many unique and rare visitors on our reefs, such as whale sharks, mola molas, hammerhead sharks, leatherback turtles, thresher sharks, orcas, dugons, sperm whales and even a guitar shark. The more hours you spend in the water the more likely you are going to see something unusual.
However, this time the surprise visit was on land. One late evening this March our dive guide Harli called us over behind the dive center where there was lot of noise coming from the bush and the whole two meter high plants were shaking. Something he first thought was his friend getting lucky, turned out to be a hawksbill turtle checking out a place for nesting. Earlier in the evening there had been high tide and the turtle's tracks showed us that she had came to the beach some hours ago when the tide was still very high.
It is yet unknown, but believed that turtles come to nest on the same beach where they hatched from the egg. Before they decide where to lay their eggs they will come up on the beach few times just to check out a suitable place for digging their nest. It has to be on dry part, high enough where even the highest tide with waves can’t reach the nest.
This 80 cm long, 50 kg heavy hawksbill turtle behind our dive centre probably realized that the sand or soil was too hard for her to dig a half a meter deep hole. Luckily there is a more suitable big stretch of empty beach next to Living Colours, where we have already seen some hawksbill turtle hatchlings few years ago. Normally turtles lay from 80 to 120 eggs and they nest every 2-3 years after reaching sexual maturity at about 30 years age.
Because of new moon, we had big tidal change and by the time the turtle was heading back to the sea, the mangrove air roots were already showing. The turtle got stuck in the roots and we had to go and bring her back to the waterline and guide her about 40 meters along the beach to the nearest boat channel from where she could finally swim back to the drop off.
Turtles mate in water where the male turtle attaches to the females back with its flipper claws and bites the female’s neck or front flippers. You recognize a male turtle from its very long tail, which it uses for holding the female on place during copulation. Females mate with many different males to keep the genetic diversity high. After laying eggs on the beach, the incubation takes about two months. Only one out of hundred eggs will survive to reproduce again.
Turtle's life is very dangerous and difficult from the egg stage until adulthood. The eggs are delicacy for monitor lizards, ants, grabs, monkeys, dogs, raccoons and some humans too. When the eggs hatch and the hatchlings are trying to run to the sea they get eaten by crabs and birds. Once in the sea many hungry fish are waiting for them. During their first years they will drift with sea currents floating on the surface, where they will be an easy prey for birds. They will feed on small jellyfish, too many times mistaking plastic for their food. Once a hawksbill turtle reaches 30 cm in size they will settle to live on a coral reef and feed on sponges, anemones, squid and shrimp. Adult hawksbill turtles can grow up to 70-100 cm long and only large sharks can prey on them.
Text by Annika Hartell, Photos by Annika, Jaakko and Micky