journal . stories . life

10 ~ November 2023

Common Clownfish (Amphiprion ocellaris) Bunaken Island, Indonesia

My first boat trip out to a coral reef was in 2012. I was awestruck at the color and diversity and beauty beneath the surface of the ocean. And I was hooked. Since that first trip I took the Yankee Freedom catamaran out to the Dry Tortugas three times, 90 miles west of Key West, where you can snorkel from shore. I camped there beneath the star filled skies where the milky way was visible. I kayaked the three miles over to Loggerhead Key several times, which only took a half hour with the prevailing wave direction, and endured the exhausting paddle back against the current. From there I began visiting Bonaire in the southern Caribbean, and eventually spent five weeks on the island, again snorkeling from shore. After I retired I flew to Auckland, New Zealand, and then back 1000 miles to Niue Island in the South Pacific, where the sea water was so clear it was like floating in air. Everyday I snorkeled among the Katuali, sea snakes whose venom is among the most toxic on earth. (fortunately they are very calm and rarely bite a person). On the flight from Auckland to Niue the woman sitting next to me asked if I was a fisherman, and we got into a conversation about coral reefs. She showed me photos on her phone from Bunaken Island, Indonesia. I was so impressed that I asked her to write down the name to make sure I got it right, and would remember it.

All of which is what led me to complete my third trip to Bunaken Island, in late August and early September this year. The diversity of coral and tropical fish is breathtaking. Along with most of Indonesia, which is in the Coral Triangle, it is the best place to dive and snorkel on earth. Bunaken is within 2 degrees latitude of the equator, where reef destroying hurricanes and cyclones never hit. And coral reefs close to the equator like at Bunaken seem to be more resilient against bleaching from warmer sea water due to climate change. At the Happy Gecko resort on Bunaken, I have my own cottage up on a hill, with a walk out deck that has a view of the ocean. I am always invited out mornings with the dive boat, for a nominal cost ($5), and am the first one in the water while the divers get ready, and usually the last one back to the boat. After a midday nap I swim out to the reef and drift with the current southward to a rocky point until the sun sets at 5:30pm, then exit the ocean and walk the beach back up to the Happy Gecko, where dinner will be waiting.

It is paradise, and compares to my mountain treks with the dogs for an ultimate deep experience with the marvels of this earth. I prepare each summer for the Bunaken trip by hiking at 11,000 feet and above with Beau, Hayley, and now Jess. Hiking at high altitudes provides me with more oxygen-saturated blood and consequently more energy when I am down at sea level.

On this year’s Bunaken trip I had an esim for my phone, which gave me very fast cellular access in my hillside cottage. After dinner I would write down the day’s experience and include photos and videos with the daily post. Below are excerpts from the posts. Click on the 'more' to see the rest on a separate page, with more photos and videos.

I already have my flight tickets for another trip to Bunaken in 2024. It is nice to have something like that to look forward to, and is motivation to stay in shape and healthy. One of these years I will age out of being able to make the journey through Singapore and Jakarta to Manado and Bunaken Island, but I am hoping that is a few years off.

I am storytelling again this year for Spellbinders (volunteer work). At the end of a few stories about the sea that I will tell to the 20+ classrooms I visit each month, I will show the kids and the teachers some of these same photos and videos. Thanks for looking.

August 23rd: My flight from Tokyo Jakarta had a tailwind and we got to the CGK airport a half hour early at 11pm Jakarta time. My connecting flight to Manado was not until 9am the next morning. Besides having nowhere to sleep after I went through immigration and got my luggage, I wasn’t tired at all, since this middle of the night Indonesia time was middle of the day Colorado time, and I had been sleeping plenty on the 18 hours of flights there. . . . More . .

Tuberculate Sea Star (Nardoatuberculata) Bunaken Island, Indonesia

August 24th: I am already adjusted to the flip of day to night here in Bunaken, Indonesia. I learned last year that when you feel like you have to take a nap, set an alarm for no more than an hour, so you don’t end up sleeping until dark and missing the gorgeous tropical day here near the equator. . . . More . .

Schultz's Pipefish, Corythoichthys schultzi; Bunaken Island, Indonesia

August 25th: It rained for about 15 minutes tonight and hopefully there wasn’t enough runoff from land that the reef will be cloudy in the morning. I will go out with the dive boat again and hope for the best.

The seawater is definitely warmer this year, and unfortunately there are signs of bleaching on a few of the corals, but probably less than 5 percent. Like a lot of things in today’s world, witnessing the joy and beauty is accompanied by the bittersweet, a sense of fear of what the future brings.. . . More . .

above: underside of sea surface during full moon low tide

(click on photosbelow for larger image . . . - Esc or clicking outside of image will close it)

above: Blue Sea Star - Linckia laevigata; Bunaken Island, Indonesia

above: Green Sea Turtle - Chelonia mydas; Bunaken Island, Indonesia

August 26th: Yesterday's photos below; Am about to get ready for going out with the dive boat again this morning; then lunch and a nap and this afternoon will swim out to the reef solo with my cameras and my yellow buoy. Days like this makes me very happy. My first night here I had many intense dreams, all of them involving swimming in coral reefs. . . . More . .

August 27th: When I was walking to my entry point for the afternoon to evening snorkel, I went near a set of 6 or 7 boats who had brought day tourists to Bunaken. Many of the visitors are Chinese, but most are Indonesian. So far I haven't come across any other Americans on Bunaken this trip, although the Europeans I have encountered often can speak English. . . . More . .

August 30th: I am down to just five days left here in Bunaken Island ( = paradise). I have managed to stay healthy in spite of swimming / free diving five or more hours a day, and despite some close calls, all my cameras are still intact and in my possession. (knock on wood). I only snorkel and free dive once a year, so it does take a few days to settle in and get comfortable with it again. The first couple of days I was reminded that you don’t need to tighten the straps on your underwater mask very tight to get a good seal. I also learned that whenever you are in the sea with your cameras, use twistable rubber ties to attach your buoy to yourself, and each camera to the buoy, so that in case of a mishap and the buoy turns over, it is not a problem. I started using a large rubber tie connected to the buoy rope and wrapped around my wrist, which I tighten by twisting clockwise. When I am getting out of the sea or picked up by the dive boat I twist the rubber tie back counter clockwise and slip it off my wrist. . . . More . .

August 31st:I heard a couple of good dog stories from others during dinner down in the dining room area on this trip. The first is from Willeke, the owner of the Happy Gecko along with her husband Jerry, who grew up on Bunaken island. . . . More . .

September 1st: my longest day in the sea yet; over 7 hours, from 8 to 4; broken up by sone boat rides and a quick lunch. I never took my wet suit off all day. While swimming back over the lagoon this song came to mind. (Calypso by John Denver) Still miss the good heart of this guy. IMHO this was the best song he wrote. My ex wife and I saw him int concert at Mcnichols Arena in Denver I think in 1976.. . . More . .

September 3rd: I have one more drift snorkel with boat captain Yan on the other side of the island before I start packing up for the trip home. This will be a repeat of the one I did two days ago, which was the highlight of this year's time on Bunaken so far.. I scheduled it to begin the drift right at the peak of the maximum full moon low tide, around 1pm. (today it will be at 2:30 pm). The current allowed to cruise along with minimal kicking just beyond and below the exposed coral. Multitudes of colorful reef fish seemed barely an arm’s length away as I traversed the entire length of Timur beach. It was exhilarating and inspiring, and I hope to have the same experience again today.. . . More . .

above: Schools of Red Anthias fish; Bunaken Island, Indonesia

above: Bluegreen Chromis (Chromis viridis); Bunaken Island, Indonesia

“Wherever you go, go with all your heart"