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The Banda Sea

© 2004 by Bonnie McKenna
All Rights Reserved
Page 1

Imagine diamonds dancing on an azure sea, smoking volcanoes, untouched reefs teeming with life, and sweet smelling verdant land. You now have a picture of the Banda Islands. The Banda Islands of Indonesia are as full of storied history as they are beautiful. The Banda’s are part of the Moluccu Islands, the true Spice Islands. For over 300 years the Portuguese, Dutch and British fought among themselves and massacred thousands of Bandanese all in the name of the Nutmeg grown on these

tiny islands. Today these islands are peaceful and inviting, but the traces of those early colonial years are still evident. Massive forts dot the islands and old Dutch architecture is still evident in the towns.In June 2004 Randy Thompson (ASA/HOU), my husband, myself and 6 other guests boarded the M/Y Pelagian for a dive trip to the Banda Islands. These are the fabled islands of adventure stories; the ones that you read about and dreamed of seeing since you were a child…The Spice Islands, how exotic can it be??

Our trip started in Sorong, West Papua (formerly Irian Jaya). We sailed south to the Banda’s stopping along the way to dive. In the Banda’s, we explored the reefs around the harbor entrance, the area around the foot of the steaming volcano Gunung Api and several of the stonefish, nudibranchs and a myriad of other fishes. We were entertained by a huge Black Spotted Moray who posed for us as though he had done it many times before.

The nearby islands of Ai and Banda Besar also proved to be loaded with unusual sea life. The dive on Ai Island, started out calm and easy, but suddenly became one of those experiences in raging current you are not quick to forget. Before we were blown totally off the reef, the dive guide and I found a rock to hide behind; once we settled down we discovered we were not alone, six giant groupers were hunkered down with us. What a sight….two divers and six groupers!!!

Night diving in the harbor was a treasure chest of the uncommon. Under the hotel pier, in among the rocks, at dusk, the Mandarinfish put on quite a show. The big males were usually first to appear and then the smaller females came up from their liars to find one, two, three or more suitable males to mate with. These fish are not shy!! One evening we spotted a tiny Pinnate Spadefish…no bigger than a quarter; it was seen on the successive dives as well. Schools of Razorfish danced in and around us as we explored the rocks and pier pilings looking for other suitable candidates for our cameras. We were not disappointed.

All too soon our stay in the Banda Islands was over. Next stop, on our way back north to Sorong: the islands of Misool. The islands are sharp limestone outcroppings that form large craggy “islands” surrounded by smaller “rock islands” (same as seen in Palau). As we sailed through the islands we spotted several pods of Sei whales. No matter where we stopped to dive we found an abundance of critters to look at.