Photo Journey Through Southeast Sulawesi

Critters, Reefscapes & Diving on the Pelagian Yacht
By Brent Durand

Photo Journey through Southeast Sulawesi

Critters, Reefscapes & Diving on the Pelagian Yacht

Compiled by Brent Durand, photos by Various Contributors


Photo: Wayne MacWilliams


Join us on an underwater photo essay featuring 'out of this world' diving in the outer reefs and surrounding atolls of the Tukang Besi islands, Southeast Sulawesi, Indonesia.  This is the heart of the coral triangle of undersea biodiversity.  Please enjoy the following photos taken by guests of Wakatobi Dive Resort & the Pelagian Yacht.


Cover photo: Squid

When the sun goes down, Desert, a sited visited by the Pelagian Dive Yacht, turns into a proverbial Fun House as nocturnal beasts like these reef squid come out and put on the 'night moves.' Dancing in the dark on the edge of your dive light’s illumination, they flash iridescent hues looking as if an electrical current is running through their body (see above photo).


Frogfish In The Sand


Photo: Saskia van Wijk ( Canon 5D, Canon 100mm Macro, DS125 strobe. 1/60, F20, ISO 200.

Into mucking around? Pelagian is not without its collection of magical muck dives off the southeast peninsula of Sulawesi at Buton Island. If you are unfamiliar with the term muck diving, it is basically a treasure hunt for small and often highly cryptic critters hiding among the supporting columns of a pier or in debris - like this frogfish nestled, comfortably we assume, in the sandy bottom. Read all about Frogfish.


Blue-Ringed Octopus

Photo: Steve Rosenberg ( Nikon D300, 60mm lens

Located in front of a village known as Pasar Wajo, is a site called Cheeky Beach. Here Pelagian divers are often followed by local children watching from the surface with 'cheeky enthusiasm,' while they hunt for true treasures such as this amazing blue-ringed octopus.


Coleman Shrimp

Photo: Saskia van Wijk ( Canon 5D, Canon 100mm Macro, DS125 strobe. 1/60, F25, ISO 200.

Located in front of a village known as Pasar Wajo, is a site called Cheeky Beach. The beauty of Cheeky Beach, and for that matter most muck sites, is that it can be dived repetitively rendering unique and different finds every time. And when it comes to 'finds' what's even more special about Cheeky Beach is that it is also a shrimp breeding ground for several of the more exotic species found in the Wakatobi region, like this Coleman shrimp.



Photo: Steve Rosenberg ( Nikon D300, 60mm lens

Vatican is a site aptly named for its abundance of cardinalfish. The site is filled with thousands of these colorful beauties, looking as if they are attending conclave. Belonging to the family Apogonidae, cardinalfish are typically nocturnal; they stay in the shadows by day and come out at night to feed. Also unique is that they are mouth brooders meaning they carry and incubate their eggs in the mouth.



Photo: Wayne MacWilliams

If the Mandarinfish is high on your list of must sees, Magic Pier, a Pelagian signature dive, is definitely in order. The pier is a concrete jetty built upon a shallow coral plateau on a slope starting at 5m to 8m and gently dropping down to 25m. The pier is home to an abundance of flamboyantly colored Mandarinfish, which are scarcely two inches long.


Mandarinfish Ménage-A-Trois

Photo: Richard Smith ( Nikon D2X, Nikon 105mm, Subal housing, dual Inon strobes.

It is at dusk that Mandarinfish become their most frisky, performing a beautiful courting dance, which ends with the release of sperm and eggs as they spawn in the water column above the bottom.

"The Wakatobi region has some of the most spectacular and biodiverse reefs in Asia. Visiting them aboard Pelagian ensures that you see them in style. The service, yacht and diving were all excellent."  - Richard Smith


Eel With Cleaner Shrimp

Photo: Wayne MacWilliams

Magic Pier does not begin and end with Mandarinfish. One of the many captivating sights you will find are subjects like this eel, which is having some dental hygiene done by a scarlet lady shrimp, identified by a vibrant red stripe intersected by a white line down its back.



Photo: Richard Smith ( Nikon D2X, 10.5mm fisheye lens, Subal housing, dual Inon strobes.

There are hundreds of miles of reefs to visit within the Pelagian's crusing range. These include the smaller eastern and southern islands of Moromaho and Runuma, the big reefs of Karang Kaledupa, and the fascinating critter haven of Buton island.

Southeast of Wangi Wangi is a stunning reef plateau called Metropolis featuring a great variety of hard and soft corals, bommies and endless stretches of hilly formations of staghorn corals. Frequently swept by currents, large schools of surgeonfish, barracudas, and triggerfish roam overhead.


Broadclub Cuttlefish with Photographer

Photo: Walt Stearns ( Canon 7D, Tokina 10-17, dual YS-250 strobes. 1/200, F/9.

Muck diving isn’t all there is to Pelagian’s itinerary; the reefs are not without their share of fascinating and interesting creatures, like this broadclub cuttlefish.

"Wakatobi delivers on every front. For photographers the reefs are highly productive. Rarely do I find reefs so healthy and dense with coral coverage as those at Wakatobi, evidence of their strong conservation initiatives. While there is just about every weird and wonderful critter imaginable for macro photography, I spent most of my time shooting wide angle, it's that beautiful. And when it comes to services and accommodations, Wakatobi excels - from the exquisite villas and bungalows to the incredible food to never having to lift a finger once you arrive in Bali - Team Wakatobi attends to every detail. Wakatobi truly should be a must go for every diver, it's an experience you simply won't ever forget."  - Walt Stearns


Schooling Batfish

Photo: Walt Stearns ( Canon 7D, Tokina 10-17mm fisheye,  dual YS-250 strobes. 1/160, F/6.3.

Running into a school of batfish always livens up a stunning reefscape. In addition to their beauty, a recent study suggests this comely fish may actually play a more critical role in reef ecology by eating seaweed that other herbivorous fish such as parrotfish and surgeonfish do not touch.


Pygmy Sea Horse

Photo: Mark Snyder (

No mention of Wakatobi or the Pelagian Dive Yacht would be complete without pygmy seahorses. Pelagian cruises the heart of a region that is host to three of the prominent species – from the familiar Bargibant (shown here) to the Denise and Pontoh.


Pontoh Pygmy Seahorse

Photo: Richard Smith ( Nikon D2X, Nikon 105mm, Subal housing, dual Inon strobes.

One of the specialties of the Pelagian’s crew is finding the tiny, white Pontoh seahorse in their favorite habitat among the Halimeda algae. “Nowhere else are they [Pontoh species] so reliably encountered as here,” says marine biologist Richard Smith.


Chromodoris Leopardus Nudibranch

Photo: Richard Smith ( Nikon D2X, Nikon 105mm, Subal housing, dual Inon strobes.

The term ‘sea slug’ just doesn't do them justice. Nudibranchs in brilliant colors are a trademark of the Indo-pacific. Pelagian‘s eagle-eyed guides have no problem finding species like this Chromodoris leopardus nudibranch flaring its oral veil as it crawls about the bottom. Read more about photographing nudibranchs.


Pelagian Dive Yacht and Tender Boats

Photo: Shawn Levin

Diving from the Pelagian is conducted from tender boats each with its own dive guide. The daily routine comfortably fits in four 70-minute plus dives per day, including night dives.

With a full-time crew of 12, Pelagian offers truly personal attention that includes a dedicated cruise director and dive experience managers. Guests are able to choose between fully guided diving experiences or any appropriate level of support and advice to enhance an autonomous dive plan.


Southeast Sulawesi

Indonesia Map

Map: Google Maps


Pelagian’s Route


While seasons and weather conditions may dictate some itineraries, one thing is certain, each cruise will be a unique and special experience.

Diving on Pelagian has never been easier with frequent direct charter flights from Bali and a variety of itineraries from which to choose. Why not combine a cruise on Pelagian with a visit to Wakatobi Dive Resort for the best of both worlds?

To find out more about Pelagian’s cruise itineraries visit


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