Photo Essay: Diving Ambon

Underwater photographer Bill Van Antwerp shares his photos from the Maluku archipelago

Text and Photos by Bill Van Antwerp

 

 
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In late September and early October, Nannette and I spent 10 days in Ambon at Maluku Divers. We were there to dive the famous muck sites in the Ambon harbor and look for the psychedelic frogfish that was first found there a couple of years ago and has never been seen anywhere else. We were diving with Graham Abbott of Diving 4 Images.  Graham is one of the best-known dive guides in the world with credits on many BBC productions. One goal of this trip was to count nudibranchs and before our first dive Graham estimated the group would find 125 different species. Our final tally was 132 different species--not bad for an area that is only a mile and a half long.

 

So, how was the diving? If you like muck diving it was remarkable, if a bit on the grungy side. Ambon is one of the largest cities in eastern Indonesia with a population of 300,000.  The harbor where we did most of our diving is across the bay from the city itself, but no stranger to the trash and plastic refuse from the city. Maybe that’s why the creatures are so unusual. Sightings included lots of nudibranchs, harlequin shrimps, boxer crabs, flamboyant cuttlefish, mototi octopus, wonderpus, bobbit worms, stargazers, a variety of frogfish, and rhinopias in both purple and deep red colors.

On our first checkout dive we saw several stargazers, ready for Halloween.

 

The Pictures

All of the following shots were taken with a Canon 7D in a Nauticam housing, using a Subal macro port.

 

Ambon Stargazer

Stargazer.  Canon 60mm macro lens with an Athena ringflash.

 

We saw lots of nudibranchs including:

Ambon toasted marshmellow nudibranch

Risbecia tryoni nudibranch.  Canon 60mm macro lens, the Canon 12mm extension tube, a 1.4x Tokina teleconverter, and a single S2000 flash.

 

Ambon Nembrotha nudibranch

Nembrotha nudibranch.  Canon 60mm macro lens, the Canon 12mm extension tube, a 1.4x Tokina teleconverter, and a single S2000 flash.

 

Ambon lumpy

Chromodoris geometrica nudibranch.  Canon 60mm macro lens, the Canon 12mm extension tube, a 1.4x Tokina teleconverter, and a single S2000 flash.

 

 

We saw lots of tiny boxfish and loads of shrimps and crabs.

Ambon Boxfish

Boxfish.  Canon 60mm macro lens, Athena ringflash, and an Inon S2000 flash.

 

Ambon Boxfish

Boxfish.  Canon 60mm macro lens, Athena ringflash, and an Inon S2000 flash.

 

Ambon porcelain crab

Porcelain Crab.  Canon 100mm macro lens, a SubSee +10 add-on lens, and 2 S2000 strobes.

 

Ambon emperor shrimp

Emperor Shrimp.  Canon 100mm macro lens and a Marumi +7 wet diopter.

 

Ambon emperor shrimp

Emperor Shrimp.  Canon 100mm macro lens and a Marumi +7 wet diopter.

 

Ambon Xeno crab

Butt Crab.  Canon 100mm macro lens, a SubSee +10 add-on lens, and 2 S2000 strobes.

 

Ambon fairy crab

Xeno Crab

 

Ambon butt crab

Fairy Crab.  Canon 100mm macro lens, +5 SubSee adapter and two Inon S2000 flashes

 

We also saw lots of interesting fish, cuttlefish and squid including this banded pipefish carrying his wife’s eggs around on his belly.

 

Ambon with eggs

Pipefish with eggs.  Canon 60mm macro lens with an Athena ringflash.

 

Ambon frogfish

Frogfish.  Canon 60mm macro lens and an Athena ringflash.

 

Ambon rhinopias

Rhinopias.  Canon 60mm macro lens, one S2000, and one Inon Z240 strobe.

 

 

Getting There

 

Getting to Ambon was not terribly difficult. We flew from LA to Bali via Taipei on the excellent EVA Airways. After an overnight in a hotel near the airport, we continued on to Ambon on Lion Air, with a 4-hour stop in Makassar.  The good news is that, at least for our trip, Lion Air allowed sporting equipment to fly for free, so no overweight charges!  Arriving in Ambon we were driven to the new home of Maluku divers on the shore of Ambon Bay. The resort accommodations were quite lovely. Each couple had their own cabin/bungalow with air-conditioning, bath and shower facilities and in our case, a very nice king-size bed. The air-conditioning in our cabin was not working for three days but fortunately with the breeze from the ceiling fan we were able to sleep fine.

 

Ambon Cabins

The Cabins

 

The Resort

The food at the resort was served family style and was acceptable if occasionally too spicy for my Western palate. Breakfast was ordered the night before and ranged from noodles to pancakes.  Lunch and dinner were always local Indonesian meals with chicken, beef or fish plus rice and vegetables. Desserts were either fruit or unremarkable cakes.  The dive area is spacious and well set up, with a large covered area to hang and rinse gear, a bank of freshwater showers and a row of large camera rinse tanks. They also have a very nice camera room with work table space and power outlets for each guest. The dive resort was set up for three boat dives per day, typically two before lunch and a night dive. The boats are roomy and have roofs for shade. Entry is via backroll after a crew member helps you on with your gear. Afternoon diving was from the shore and the local house reef was always a nice place to visit.  Nitrox is coming but not yet available and there is not yet an internet connection available or any large TV or display for folks to show their photos/videos.

Should you visit and would we go back?  It is still a relatively young resort and the dive operation sometimes felt a bit disorganized. Also, during our stay there was a lack of “Lembeh-quality” guides, though they say they are working to hire more and to better train the ones they have Maluku advertises “critters without the crowds” and if the quality of the guides improves, Maluku has the potential to be every bit THE muck destination as Lembeh. The resort should only get better as they add Nitrox facilities and continue to make other improvements. As for us, we can’t wait to go back--even though the psychedelic froggy was nowhere to be found on this trip.  Maybe next time we will be the ones to find him!

 

About the Author

Bill is the technical guru for the Underwater Photography Guide, and a frequent member of our weekly dive outings.

Bill shoots underwater as well as topside photos. He is currently shooting a Canon 7D in a Nauticam housing. He uses a variety of strobes with his favorite being the Athena ring flash for macro photography.

He lives in Southern California with his lovely wife who also dives regularly, and works as a Distinguished Scientist during his day job.

 

Further Reading

Comments

I had dive 3 times there and

I had dive 3 times there and read this essay I want to go back and dive in Laha again..... Great photos and thanks for sharing!

We've just stumbled across

We've just stumbled across this great article about Mr Bill's experience in Ambon. Most importantly, thanks very much to Mr Bill for his comments and positive reports on our resort and the dive experiene he enjoyed, also thanks for sharing images taken during the trip, some really great shots.

We're always grateful for feedback regarding the dive operation and have taken on board all of the areas that we could improve. As our resort grows, our team understands the importance of listening to the comments from experienced divers like Bill as well as others who visit, so that we can continue our quest to provide the best experience for everyone.

To update Mr Bill on a few of our improvements since his visit last year, we have been offering nitrox since October 2010. We have made several changes in the dive team and are happy that we now a very strong team of experienced guides at the resort. Several are from Lembeh, but we are also training local guides from Ambon as a way of giving back to the community around us.

A wifi connection was installed last year and though occasionally intermittent, it's complimentary and can be relied upon to keep in contact with home during a stay at Maluku Divers. We have also improved our chef team and have a new head chef, who's soups and meals are receiving commendations across the board.

Our 2010 - 2011 season was our most successful ever and one during which we took many great strides forward. We're continuing to work hard improve our facility and the services that we can offer in Ambon.

We look forward to hosting Mr Bill and his friends again in Ambon and hope that he'll be able to see first hand the improvements that have been made. With a bit of luck we'll also be able to show him the Maluku Frogfish, so that he can add photos of this rare species to his collection of excellent images.

Please don't hesitate to contact Maluku Divers if you are interested in trying our muck dive experience.