Diving in Cendrawasih Bay, Papua

Story by Ong Hock Chuan
Unspun was seduced by the words “exploratory dive trip” and signed up early for a 12-day liveaboard dive trip to explore Cenderawasih Bay in Papua.

What, thought Unspun, could be more alluring that exploring the bottom of the sea in exotic and unexplored Papua?
So on August 22 Unspun with six others – an Indonesian couple, two Americans and a Kiwi-Singaporean couple went on board the Putri Papua in Biak for what could be a dive of a lifetime. The first couple of days was spent diving around Biak, including the Catalina wreck. As before Biak’s seas had great visibility but there was not much by way of marine life to see. A few nudibranches here and there was all. The waters were calm and warm.

Then we set sail southward, into the bay. On the third day we dived at Ruras island, off Biak. On the third day we dived at Gayepi Reef, actually an atoll in the middle of the bay. Again, we had clear, warm water, good visibility but little to see.
It was only on the fourth day, when we dived at Rouw Island that we got lucky. We saw a hammerhead and a loepard shark and lots of nudibranches. In the interval we moored at a bay on the island which had a waterfall that we went to bathe in. It was beautiful. The second dive at the island we saw a crocodile fish, a dancing octopus, pygmy sahorse and lots of other critters.

After that we dived at Roon Island, Numbrat Island, Yop Island, Tanjung Dunesore, Tanjung Wanabore, Windesi Harbor, Tanjung Reweasa, Purup Island and Rumberpon. But there was little to see other than corals and nudibranches of the same species. We were begining to get a bit depressed and Unspun could not help wondering if Teluk Cenderawasih was sterile or it was really difficult to find good dive sites, even in pristine Papua waters.

Some of the places we sailed through were so remote that we were out of handphone range and we did not see anyone for days. When we got nearer toward civilization we would see papuan fishermen and their families, materializing out of the islands with their boats. Each time we moored it was the same: they would come on board and make some small chat before asking for some petroleum.

Our guide explained that the government had given many of the Papuans outboard motors but getting fuel to power them was a real problem out there in the remoter regions of Papua. There were not petrol stations and when petrol is transported out to where they are they are so expensive that the Papuans could not afford it. Therefore their only recourse was to beg or coerce passing boats to donate some fuel to them.

On the 10th day we struck gold where diving was concerned. At Haiwai Point we saw a woebegong shar, pygmy seahorses and nudibranches. Thing were looking up down below. We then proceeded to Sungei Omiand it go even better still. Sg Omi is a black sand beach with lots of rocks. The diving there was just as good as Lembeh in Manado. It was muck diving and there was lots to see – a pygmy seahorse, sea snakes, a small fish, white with an antennae on its forehead and lots more.

We capped off our dive by diving the Pillbox and Shinwa Maru wrecks off Manokwari. The Shinwa Maru wreck was quite spectacular. It is a large Japanese ship that was sunk just off Marsinam islan, off Manokwari. There were still hoses and beer bottles in the ship but the diving helmets that some other divers had said were there had been removed. Still it was interesting swimming through the shop’s bowels before surfacing to the bright sunlight.

photo by Unspun


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