Bunaken beach


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. 

PADI Divemaster Indonesia 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 to Bunaken 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).


Bunaken dive sites 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).


Spicy foodLocal 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.

Diving BunakenDivemaster Sara, photo Teemu Siimes 

Terima kasih banyak! Sampai jumpa temanku!     

Text: Sara Waenerberg




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





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Contact Details

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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