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diving with dugons

 

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.

 

snorkeling with dugong

 

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’.

 

sea cow dugong

 

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

 

 

 

turtle rescue

 

This time all the action happened in the early afternoon. I was just completing some paperwork with Johannes and Ira, who wanted to sign up for diving, when Rupert started shouting that there are baby turtles everywhere on the beach. We all rushed to see the hawksbill hatchlings. Again the tide timing was not ideal for the small vulnerable baby turtles to get out to the sea.

The mother hawksbill turtle we saw a bit less than two months ago (blog post on March 17th 2016) had decided that laying her eggs behind the dive center was a good spot anyway. She almost got into trouble herself heading back to the sea when the tide had already gone out. Well, the crabs living in the mangroves would not have been a threat to the mum. But her offspring would not get the easiest start of their life. 

 

living colours bunaken sea turtles

 

The nest had been high up on the dry part of the beach past some bushes and piles of leaves collected from the coconut trees. Some of the hatchlings had made it to the beach around the pile, but most of them were heading directly into this pile of leaves, from where they were struggling to find their way out to the beach.

 

bunaken diving

 

We started to collect all the hatchlings into baskets because the tide was still very low and the babies would have troubles getting trough the dense mangrove air roots on low tide. Unlucky day for the crabs living in the mangroves, since baby turtles would have been a delicacy treat for them.

 

mangroves bunaken
Ira, Johannes, Annika and Steven releasing the hatchlings

 

Within 10 minutes we had collected nearly 100 hatchlings into the baskets and rushed them along the beach trough the mangroves and waded into shoulder deep water to reach the deep wall drop off where we released them. What a unique moment to see all these tiny small turtles heading for the open ocean and wishing them safe start of life.

Thank you Ira, Johannes, Rupert, Steven and all our staff who helped us to get these small hatchlings quickly and safely out to the sea!!!


Text: Annika Hartell
Photo credits: Rupert Hölzl


 

sea turtle species bunaken indonesia

 

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.

 

sea turtle nesting bunaken indonesia

 

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.

 

sea turtle rescue

 

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.

 

sea turtle nesting beaches indonesia bunaken

 

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.

 

sea turtle protection indonesia

 

Text by Annika Hartell, Photos by Annika, Jaakko and Micky

 

 

After the Rescue Diver course it was time for me to start with the Divemaster course. Every morning I woke up early, had some breakfast and headed for the dive center. I packed the equipment and set it up on the boat, so that we were ready to go when the customers came down to the dive center after their breakfast. When all the divers were on the boat, we headed out to the sea and soon enough we were on the first dive site of the day!

During the Divemaster course I got to dive almost every day. I learned new skills, guided fun dives, assisted on courses, took care of the equipment on the boat and at the dive center. Thank you Heini and Ali for teaching me so much new about diving! I had in mind that I want to learn something new every day during the course. And I surely did!

I really enjoyed to assist on the Open Water and Advanced Open Water courses. The excitement of the students was almost touchable! While watching and assisting the courses I could also remember my excitement from when I did my OW and AOW courses. It's so much fun to learn new skills!

 

bunaken island diving

 

There were some funny incidents during my Divemaster course. For example one time when I was assisting on an Open Water course the instructor Ali found a rock with a long rope tied around it. He couldn't get rope off, so he gave the whole rock to Heini, whose group we met during the dive. Little bit after we met Heini, I felt that I kicked something with my fin. When I turned around, Heini was right behind me. I signaled sorry to her and she replied that she's okay. When I continued diving, I realized that all my buoyancy and trim was gone! Help! What happened? Is there something wrong with my equipment?! After I got my buoyancy back, I found out that Heini had tied the rock on my tank strap without me realizing anything. As I couldn't reach the stone behind my back, I finished the dive with a stone dangling on my tank and a really bad trim. 

 

padi divemaster course bunaken

 

In the end of my course we were diving on a dive site called Fukui. I was mapping the site for my course. Fukui is a nice dive site with many things to see. There is for example some really nice giant clams. There is also a place on the site called the Triggerfish alley. I've never seen any triggerfish there, so all the time I've been wondering where the alley got its name. We were just entering the alley when I found three big cone shells on the side of a stone, so I signaled Heini to come and take a look. Heini came and as she was watching the cone shells she felt something bump into her fin a couple of times. She turned around, and there was a Yellow margin triggerfish attacking her fins! After fleeing away from the angry triggerfish protecting its nest, I now know where the name of the alley comes from!

 

bunaken dive site map

 

Diving here on Bunaken is beautiful! Beautiful corals, fishes, turtles, sharks, nudibranches, shrimps, crabs... We even saw a Mola-Mola one day jumping from the water when we were returning from the dives! It's so much fun with so many things to see! I couldn't have chosen a better place to do my Divemaster course!

During this time I've had the chance to dive with many kinds of divers. There were many divers with a lot of experience whom I could learn a lot from. I also got to dive with people who had just started diving or who had had a couple years break from diving. Some of them were a bit nervous before the first dive, but planning a nice dive to a nice and easy dive site, having a good briefing before the dive and making the the first dive in a really relaxed manner, all the nervousness was gone after the first dive. It really is a pleasure to see people enjoy their dives!

The Divemaster duties can be really variable. After I finished my Divemaster course we had a search and rescue out of the ordinary. In addition of the tame dogs, there is half-stray dogs living on the island and one of the dogs living in the area of Living Colours just had puppies. The mama-dog moved the small two week old puppies to a place she thought was safe for them. Unfortunately it was a place where the puppies would eventually drown when the tide is getting high. We didn't know where the puppies were exactly, but after a couple of days we could hear the mama-dog barking anxiously when the tide was rising. Me and Mia grabbed our booties and ran to take a look where the barking came from, in the mangroves next to the high cliffs. Luckily we found the small puppy hiding under a cliff just in time. The puppy had fallen down to the beach from the cave where the mama-dog had hidden the puppies and as the tide was rising, the puppy went under the surface every time a wave came in.

Finally we knew where she was hiding the puppies! The mama-dog was very protective and as she was feeding the other puppies, we had to wait for her to leave the puppies for a moment to get them out of the small cave. Later in the evening when it was already dark, I could hear the mama-dog barking somewhere. I grabbed a torch and a bucket and ran to the beach to take a look. The mama wasn't there, so I climbed up on the rocks up to the cave and put all the remaining puppies in the bucket and I got them safe just in time. Unluckily for me on the way back I fell and cut my legs on sharp rock when I was walking in water up to my chest with the puppies, but at least the puppies were safe for now. Couple hours after the rescue the mama-dog started moving the puppies again, but hopefully this time she found a better and safer place to hide the puppies and we'll get to have a nice addition to our pack on the resort!

The last two months has been really busy, but it has really been a lot of fun the whole time! Soon I'll be heading to Thailand for my next adventure. I'm certainly going to miss Bunaken, it's wonderful people and the amazing diving of course. But for sure I will return to beautiful Bunaken some day!

 

bunaken island reef fish

 

Text and photos Petra Laurinen PADI Divemaster / Living Colours Diving Resort 2015

 

 


 

 

Diving with friends is lot of fun

 

From my first day I felt warmly welcome and after a month the feeling still lasts. - Petra, DMT / Living Colours Diving Resort

Diving is a sport that I got interested in years ago when I did a PADI Discover Scuba Diving -dive while being on holiday in Thailand. Three years ago I finally had the opportunity to take my PADI Open Water Diver course. All the way from the beginning my love for diving has grown bigger and bigger for every dive. Last spring I went for a one month dive holiday in Thailand. When I got back home I just couldn't stop thinking about diving. After a while I decided that I want to sign up for a PADI Divemaster course.

From the beginning I had in mind that I wan't to go somewhere I haven't been before. I chose South East Asia, because I'm interested in SE Asian cultures and I love the food. Also I feel safe when travelling here. After all there isn't many places in the world where you can travel alone safely as a woman. During last summer I was searching on Internet for places to go and where I could do my Divemaster training. I had heard about Living Colours earlier and many people (like my mom!) recommended North Sulawesi and Bunaken National Park for excellent diving.

Party night at Living Colours

Maria and Petra having cocktails and beers by the beach at Safety stop bar. Freddy is singing background, one of those fun party nights - again. 

So here I am now on Bunaken island doing my Divemaster course. Bunaken is a lovely small island with a friendly and laid-back atmosphere. From my first day I felt warmly welcome and after a month the feeling still lasts. I really have fallen in love with this remote small island and it's people!

Before I could start with the Divemaster training I had to take the Rescue Diver course. I can't compare the Rescue Diver course with the other dive courses I've taken before, because the content is totally different. There was a lot of training on and under the surface and I learnt a lot of good new skills during the course.

I improved my compass skills and safety thinking and learned how to help divers in distress. It was a really fun course and I absolutely recommend it for everybody who wants to improve their diveskills and learn how to prevent and manage problems and accidents. After all these are skills that all divers can benefit from in their everyday life.

So how my Divemaster course went? You'll hear from it soon enough!

Change your life and book YOUR divemaster course with Living Colours: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

PADI Divemaster course with Living Colours Diving Resort

 

All pictures Heini Härsilä / Living Colours Diving Resort / Bunaken 2015.

 

 

 

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Hiding behind the mangroves
05 September 2017
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Living Colours Diving Resort 
PADI 5 Star Dive Resort S-36220
Pangalisang Beach, Bunaken
North Sulawesi, Indonesia

Tel: +62 812 430 6401 Mia | +62 81 2430 6063 Jaakko

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