One of Indonesia’s best kept secrets is the Banda Sea, which is part of the (Pacific) Ring of Fire – a massive horseshoe-shaped, seismically active area that stretches all the way from South America to New Zealand and measures about 40,000 kilometres. The South East Asian section of the Ring of Fire includes a chain of volcanic islands from the north of Pulau Seram to the tip of Pulau Wetar in the Banda Sea.
Known for its incredible biodiversity, healthy reefs, and, of course, unpredictable conditions, this remote part of the Ring of Fire is only reachable via liveaboard and – needless to say – offers spectacular diving. Need more convincing to get you all the way out there? Here are six reasons for you to chew on.
Also read: 10 liveaboard destinations in Asia Pacific
#1 You’ll get to see schools of hammerhead sharks. This would undoubtedly be the main highlight of your Ring of Fire dive trip. Hammerhead sightings are common around the Banda Sea, particularly in the waters off Pulai Ai, Gunung Api, Nil Desperandum, and Manuk. The sharks can usually be found between 15 to 35 metres, but smaller schools and lone hammerheads can be seen at much shallower depths, around three to five metres. Expect to see a few hundreds and at times even thousands of them cruising near the walls, out in the blue, and even on top of the reef, and whatever you do, do not swim after them. They don’t seem bothered by the presence of divers so keep it that way by remaining calm and approaching them slowly.
#2 Two words: sea snakes. If you dig these cool animals, there are a two well-known locations in the region where you can dive with countless of sea snakes: the volcanic islands of Gunung Api and Manuk. The sea snakes (aka banded sea kraits) range from one to three metres in length and will swim right up to divers, swirling around their fins and up to their arms. Curious and not at all aggressive, they tend to swim away after a minute or so.
#3 Whales galore! The Banda Sea is a migratory route for several species of whale, from humpback and blue to minke, sperm, and melon-headed whales. It may not be possible to get in the water with the whales as they are often seen unexpectedly in the open sea. Nevertheless, due to their size, these gentle giants are visible from a distance and will surely leave everyone in awe.
#4 Virtually untouched reefs (and uncrowded waters). It’s no surprise that the reefs in this far-flung part of the world are quite intact and very pristine. And they’re all supersized too, from the big barrel sponges to the larger-than-life sea fans and the endless beds of over 300 documented species of hard coral.
#5 The reefscape and topography of the dive sites are off the charts. Submerged pinnacles, gorgeous reefs, steep slopes, vertical walls, majestic drop-offs – there’s no end to what you can see here. Keep in mind that these places are packed with huge numbers of fusiliers, emperor fish, rainbow runners, surgeonfish, Napoleons, red-toothed triggerfish, butterflyfish, giant trevallies, dogtooth tunas, barracuda, and jacks. And oh, aside from the hammerheads, silkies, oceanic white tips, and even whale sharks can be spotted in and around the Banda Sea.
#6 Terrific visibility. Or as we’d say, #goodvis (hey, an opportunity presented itself and we couldn’t help it). Thirty metres is a norm here, with even better vis during the months of March and April (up to 50 metres). Note that the chances of encountering hammerheads during these two months are much lower, probably due to waters becoming warmer, but, based on local knowledge, March and April is the perfect time to see juvenile hammerheads in the shallows. From September to November, the visibility can vary anywhere from five to 30 metres. Waters may be much colder, but this is the best season to dive with the hammerheads.
Dive the Ring of Fire with Blue Manta
The Blue Manta is a spacious 45-metre, BKI-class steel dive vessel that’s designed for long journeys, which makes her one of the most ideal and safest boats for Banda Sea crossing trips. Features include 14 beautifully furnished en-suite cabins, alfresco and indoor dining areas, a camera room, and satellite WiFi.
There are 20 crew members onboard to serve and take care of up to 22 divers. The chef whips up a variety of Indonesian and Western dishes, so you’ll be spoiled for choice.
Note: Depending on the season, boat schedules, and trip durations, the vessel can either leave from Labuan Bajo, Saumlaki, Maumere, or Ambon. The Ring of Fire region is typically part of a crossing trip that is combined with a trip from/to Ambon or Alor in the Flores Sea. The diving season is short due to the monsoon, which is from March to April and September to November. Outside these months, the sea can be very rough.
Trips to the Ring of Fire/Banda Sea are getting increasingly popular, so getting a space on a liveaboard may only be possible with bookings done one year in advance.
For more info, visit the official website of White Manta Diving.