Dear English-speaking readers, this page is an automatic translation of an article originally written in French. I apologise for any strange sentences and funny mistakes that may have resulted. If you read French, click on the French flag below to access the original, correct text:
It's not all about multicolored backgroundsin the Derawan archipelago (Borneo, Indonesia). Once famous, the islands of Sangalaki and Maratua are no longer, in 2013, the fabulous diving spots they were.
The encounter with these graceful giants, at that time, was almost certain, both in snorkeling (fins-mask-tuba) and in bottle diving. I can attest to this, at least for the period of July, when I was there. In 2009, manta rays were present in the waters around the island.
Other travelers had made me dream and had decided to undertake the journey: → Dreams of mantas
Alas, in 2013, there is nothing to see anymore. The mantas of Sangalaki have disappeared.
I already had some fears, while preparing this new 2013 trip to the Derawan archipelago...
I had come across various divers' reports on the Internet saying that Sangalaki was not interesting anymore. The lucky ones who recently encountered a manta ray there are rather rare.
On this July 2013 trip, I only made one trip to Sangalaki. But even if I had done ten, I don't think I would have encountered any manta rays. Our guides from Derawan Dive Lodge were not too eager to take us there, knowing that we would be disappointed...
We indeed wandered for almost an hour over the sand, the small coral spuds and the dead coral debris, in vain.
So I just "walked" my 7D underwater, for not much. And because of the lack of mantas, I was used as a model by another sub-photographer - Bambang, a very nice Indonesian, who came to spend a few days of vacation in the area, with his wife and friends.
What has happened in four years? Why are there no more manta rays?
Our dive-guides were evasive at first, claiming that we could still see manta rays, when there was plankton... (Except that the last time they had seen one was almost a month ago and it was from the deck of the boat). Anyway, they finally agreed that the mantas in the area had probably all been caught, or almost.
In fact, manta rays (or mobulas) are victims of the recent Chinese market craze for their gills, which are now considered a delicacy - supposedly beneficial to health - in the same way as shark fins...
It is one thing to read articles about the ongoing extinction of manta rays. It is another thing to experience it, on my modest scale as a tourist-diver, on the Sangalaki site...
Disappointment also at the Maratua Channel
Not far from Sangalaki Island, the Maratua archipelago is really beautiful.
I only took a few pictures from far away, from the boat. Traditional villages with houses on stilts, small fishing boats coming and going on the azure waters... Life seems quite peaceful here.
But I was disappointed by the underwater world of Maratua. There is a lot of dead coral and not much life - with the notable exception of the well-named Turtle Point, where one can meet for sure and in great numbers turtlessometimes very big.
The famous Maratua channel, with its strong current (which is supposed to provide abundant underwater life and schools of wriggling fish) no longer deserves its nickname of "Big Fish Country".
The reason is dynamite fishing - still practiced today. Several times, during our dives on the nearby island of Kakaban, we heard explosions underwater...
During this 2013 stay, I made six dives in Maratua, very uneven and never exceptional...
Among the beautiful encounters: in addition to the turtlesa tiny bench of yellow-tailed barracudas of which I managed to take some pictures (below); a school of barracudas a little bigger but seen from too far away, in the blue; and an imposing school of humpback parrotsI captured their progress on video, in a fog of sand and debris raised by their raid on the reef (I won't put it here, the quality is really rotten).
But during our dives, no sharks, no schools of jacks, no swirls of fish - nothing exceptional about "big".
In short, a big disappointment - including for our guides, who seemed to hope for better. Spectacular encounters may still be possible in Maratua, but one should probably be luckier than I was...
I copy below what I noted in my logbook, during my last immersion in the Maratua Channel: "Disappointing. Nothing. We stayed a long time waiting in the cold current, with our hooks, to see something... Nothing. Just a turtle at the end of the dive."
But to divers looking for thrills and great shows, I would say that in 2013 Sangalaki and Maratua are probably no longer worth the effort to accomplish such a long journey. Dynamite fishing and overfishing have already caused great damage in this area. And it is not likely to get better in the years to come...
(But as I mention above in my updates, in 2017 it seems like it has still improved. Check out the forums with people who have been there recently...)