Dive in Style author Tim Simond is diving his way round the most remote parts of Indonesia. This is the second in a series of blogs on his trip written on board the Seven Seas boat in the Banda Sea. Read part 1.
Today the Banda Islands never trouble a journalist's pen, but their past is very different. In the 16th and 17th century, these islands were the epicentre of a fierce battle for control of the spice trade, specifically nutmeg and mace. Nutmeg was hyped as the cure for many ills, chief amongst them the plague, let alone for its preservative properties and general use as a spice, and the demand from Europe was insatiable, its value rising well over 1000% on the crossing to Europe.
The principle antagonists were the Dutch and the English, the Dutch finally wrestling control after terrible scenes of torture and massacre, complete with sword wielding Japanese mercenaries. Yet somehow, all fascinatingly explained in the book Nathaniel's Nutmeg, the battle for these twenty square miles were to create earth moving events half way round the world, resulting in New York being New York and not New Amsterdam, a Dutch colony. A must read either before or preferably during your journey. But back to the diving.
Banda Islands Dive Sites
The main event here is the coral which is astonishing. One of the best examples is Lava Flow which as the name suggests was initiated after Gunung Api, the haunting volcanic presence that looms over these island dive sites, blew some twenty five years ago and wiped the slate clean where it flowed into the bay. From this, much against marine biologists expectations, extraordinary coral growth has carpeted this lava flow in acres and acres of pristine coral; stag horn, cabbage and the largest plate corals I have ever seen, some even toppled by their own weight and immense size. This is populated by a mass of fish life and when lit with morning sun is a sight to behold. How this all could have happened in such a short time span is amazing but heartening.
The best Banda Islands dive site, as agreed by all, and certainly to be considered world-class, was Batu Kapal or Ship Rock, three submerged pinnacles around which life swarms as it is swept by current. Visibility the first time we dived was close to 200 feet; exceptional, and vast clouds of Pyramid Butterfly fish, mingled with swarms of blue tangs whilst turtles, giant trevallies, napoleon wrasse and bumphead parrotfish abound.
The coral is home to all manner of life, including the inquisitive but non-aggressive banded sea krait, many varieties of moray (regretfully never the white one from Dead Dog Bay which seemed to prefer its cardboard house to unsullied reefs), schools of snapper, eagle rays (also seen on many other dives) and much, much more.
Noticeable by their absence are sharks, although we saw a few, this was a general comment on nearly all our dives as the Chinese demand seems certain to ensure that these will become confined to aquariums for our inquisitive grandchildren. Now their attention is worryingly switching to mantas and whale sharks as their insatiable greed for meaningless potions becomes even more desperate as their wealth continues to explode and the market expands. A terrible portent for our sea life but it is difficult to blame the locals when their catch can net them a comparative fortune, as they respond to demand.
The final instalment looks at some of the incredible marine life Tim encountered on the trip.