Sun, 03 Sep 2000

Exploring the wealth of the sea beneth Bunaken

TONGKAINA, Molas, North Sulawesi (JP): It was early in the morning and the sun was bright. Members of our group thronged the Thalassa diving center at the Hotel Santika Manado before we set off for nearby Siladen and Bunaken islands.

Like shoes, flippers and snorkling equipment have different sizes and we took turns to pick the ones that matched our feet and faces.

The outboard motorboat was quite big and could carry more than a dozen passengers. The water was crystal clear and fish swimming in the shallow water were visible under the hotel's pier, which is surrounded by a mangrove forest.

No more than five minutes after we had left the pier, a group of dolphins gracefully crossed the path of our motorboat. We shouted with joy when the two skippers yelled to one another at the top of their voices above the roar of the motorboat and redirected the boat so that we would have the longest view possible of these lovely sea creatures.

"We are lucky," one of the skippers said, "we see them no more than once every two months."

The trip to Siladen took only 15 minutes. The sand is white and the island seems to be uninhabited, with no other people visible.

When we chose somewhere to sit we first had to clean up the rubbish scattered around. We found every kind of waste: plastic bags, empty mineral bottles, dry leaves, tree branches and seaweed.

"This is indeed a big problem, everywhere I go in Indonesia, including Banda islands, there is always so much rubbish," Martin Westlake, a professional photographer from the United Kingdom, said in irritation.

Westlake, who has worked in Indonesia for more than 12 years, said rubbish spoiled the environment and a way should be found to get deal with the problem.

A well-traveled Dutch tourist said the problem exists in other countries as well.

"I remember when I was holidaying in Egypt, we had the same problem," said Marleen van Hilten.

Once we got rid of the rubbish, we found the clear water in Siladen too tempting to refuse. We hastily brought to land our equipment for swimming, canoeing and boat-gliding.

Van Hilten said she felt delighted every time she returned.

"It is so peaceful here," she said as she fixed her eyes on the skyline of Manado in the distance, "there are no high-rise buildings and so much beautiful scenery. Europeans look for these kinds of things. They don't always have it."

She said she comes back every one or two years because of three things: the people's hospitality, the splendid Manado food and the tropical climate.

At midday we set off for Bunaken. The boat trip to both Siladen and Bunaken took only about 15 minutes each as they are very close to the hotel.

We had a lunch of grilled fish and soup in Bunaken before we went snorkeling. The scenes beneath the clear water are spectacular. As you snorkel through the clear water above the beautiful coral it seems as though you are looking at a moving sea aquarium.

Bunaken is one of a group of islands just offshore from Manado, the capital of North Sulawesi. The other islands include Menado Tua, Siladen, Mantehage and Nain.

The protected marine park has about 2,000 tropical fish species and invertebrates, which amounts to 90 percent of the total number of species in the world. It has more than 150 coral species which remain undisturbed in its waters.(hbk)