Back to Island Retreat. (Togian Islands, Sulawesi, Indonesia, July 2008.)
Back to Island Retreat. (Togian Islands, Sulawesi, Indonesia, July 2008.)

Earthquake under water

  Indonesia: Sulawesi - July 2007

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: 

This is one of the strangest dives I have ever done. To feel the earth shaking... underwater, it's really a funny thing. It was in Indonesia, in Sulawesi, in July 2007. In the Togian Islands, exactly.

Togian, a little paradise far from everything

I spent a whole week thereOn a tiny beach on the island of Batu Daka, near the village of Bomba, far from everything. Enjoying the pleasure of doing nothing. Contemplating the sea, walking, diving.

The bungalows of the Island Retreat Resort, in the Togian Islands. (Sulawesi, Indonesia, July 2008.)
The bungalows of the Island Retreat Resort, in the Togian Islands. (Sulawesi, Indonesia, July 2008.)

It's an incredible place, a miniature tropical paradise, beautiful. I stay at Island RetreatA handful of simple wooden bungalows facing the azure water.

That morning, Uwe, the German instructor who organizes the dives, takes us to a site not too far away, Bulu Tuko. My Dutch friends Suzanna and Johan dive with me. Their children accompany us, but will stay on the boat to snorkel. Fabian and Stefanie, a young German couple, who have been snorkeling on the island for two weeks, complete the group.

For the crossing, the diving equipment is piled up between us, in the middle of the boat ... (Sulawesi, Indonesia, July 2008.)
For the crossing, the diving equipment is piled up between us, in the middle of the boat ... (Sulawesi, Indonesia, July 2008.)

We happily pile onto the boat. Not really designed for diving, it is also used for shopping and long crossings to Ampana, on Sulawesi. The weather is good, the sea is not too rough, we arrive quickly at the site. No other boat on the horizon.


It is a beautiful drop-off. The coral has suffered a bit, it is obvious (the warming of the water, the dynamite), but it is in the process of reforming. Some beautiful tubular sponges can be seen here and there. There are many caves and niches, not too deep, in the 12-14 meters, to explore.

We are moving slowly. Uwe is ahead with Suzanna and Johan, Fabian and Stefanie are behind me. The usual tropical fauna is there. Nice processions of angelfish and butterflies, many small yellow and purple two-tone fishes, royal dottybacks in English, nudibranchs, anemone shrimps, clams... I make some pictures.


And then, halfway through the dive (we have been in the water for almost 30 minutes), a dull roar invades everything. The sound is impressive, a bit scary. It lasts a few seconds.

Underwater, you can never know from which direction a sound is coming. Waves don't spread out like they do in the air. This roar seems to come from nowhere. We raise our heads towards the surface, we turn around, we look at each other, widening our eyes in astonishment behind our masks. It looks like the engine of a boat which would have just started above our heads.

But there is nothing. Our boat stayed on the mooring. There is no other one around. Everything seems normal. Uwe shrugs, checks our air consumption, and we finish the dive quietly.

Back to Island Retreat

On the return to the surface, we remain perplexed. The guys of the boat and the children did not notice anything particular.

Back to Island Retreat. (Togian Islands, Sulawesi, Indonesia, July 2008.)
Back to Island Retreat. (Togian Islands, Sulawesi, Indonesia, July 2008.)

It is only when we return to the island that we will have the explanation. The earth shook. A small tremor, as it happens regularly, here.

A few days earlier, on the beach of Poso Lake, I had woken up in the middle of the night with the strange feeling that my bungalow, although it was made of concrete, had vibrated. The next day, our guide Ynus confirmed that I had not been dreaming. He too perceived this slight earthquake at night.

AT Island RetreatOther clients confirm the time. It corresponds to the moment when we were under water. Everyone felt the ground shaking, some say that even the pillars and roofs of the bungalows moved a little.

The Indonesian archipelago is on the "belt of fire" of the Pacific. The island of Batu Daka is only about thirty kilometers from the island of Una-Una and its volcano, still active, Gunung Colo. The land is alive in Togian.

That day, it was only a slight tremor, without consequence. But I never imagined I would feel the breath of the earth under the water!


  Indonesia: Sulawesi - July 2007

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  1. Your story is pretty scary.
    It's always different to feel weather disturbances underwater.
    I have a beautiful experience with a thunderstorm and lightning, it was a magnificent dive.
    An earthquake is different.

  2. In fact, the most frightening thing was just being unable to determine the cause of this strange noise, while feeling her little heart suddenly start to pound hard and fast...

    But we weren't too deep and nobody panicked. So we carried on wondering, but not worrying too much. This didn't affect the diving conditions at all, which were peaceful and easy, and remained so. After all, yes, it could have been a boat we didn't see.

    Looking back, we're both relieved to have a rational explanation and a little frightened by it.

    I've never dived under lightning. It must be a strange experience. Sure, it's beautiful, but it's even scarier, isn't it?

  3. I think in such a case, I would have wondered if I did not make an narcosis!
    Finally, the power of the elements is always scary!

  4. @ Marie-Net:
    We were already back in the 18-meter zone, so the possibility of narcosis was highly unlikely, fortunately. One thing's for sure, we're no match for nature, be it earthquakes or storms...

    @ Helen:
    And you'd be forgiven for thinking that, among divers, we've been re-telling each other all the stories that have been circulating! But let's not compare this curious, inconsequential event with the murderous wave of so sad a memory.

  5. It's true that since the tsunami, the "panic" button is easier to press... I once experienced an earthquake in the tunnel leading to a subway station in Taipei. It was a really strange feeling, as if the ground was turning into... waves! Fortunately, it was quite brief.

  6. Hello Titbulle,

    It's a good thing nobody was pulling the pin out of a few distant grenades in that area! As sound travels 5 times faster than air, the fishermen would have been off with their stunned fish by now... Because, to tell the truth, they would have left the divers stunned on their stomachs.

    That said, hearing the effects of an earthquake is an unforgettable experience, rather like the silent flight of a squadron of manta rays.

    Hell, I didn't dive in June/July 2008. The last one was in December 2007 in... Sulawesi. I'll be reading more of your travels in the future, so I can get drunk on a little piece of paradise in Southeast Asia, above and below the water.

  7. Yes, for a while we also thought about dynamite fishing. Except that, in principle, dynamite fishing is no longer practised around here... Well, I think I would have preferred to watch the silent flight of manta rays.

    As far as I'm concerned, my next dives will normally be at the end of February - beginning of March. I'll be indulging in the luxury of a return to Thailand, and most certainly a new foray into the Similan area. It was there, at Richelieu Rock, that I saw mantas for the first time in my life (it was in 2006)... Then I plan to head even further south, to Koh Tarutao. But I'll be back to talk about that.

  8. I don't know Thailand yet 😥 and I can't put a picture of Nike, Bali's manta ray squadron leader on this post for you 🙁

    But I'm waiting for your articles (soon?) on your next trip, which might give me ideas for a (definitive?) escape 8)

    • Added October 5, by Corinne •
    "I'm adding to your comment the photo of Nike the manta, which you sent me. Superb, thank you orion56!"

    Nike, the manta ray - by Orion56

  9. @ orion56:

    Email me a photo of your chief manta and I'll add it to your comment:

    As for Thailand, I've been there many times on vacation. Of all the countries in Asia where I've dragged my flip-flops, I think it's my favorite. I always enjoy going back.

    As for "permanent" escapes, I think it's becoming difficult for foreigners to settle there, as Thailand has tightened its immigration laws. Beyond 90 days, special permits and a work contract are now required. Gone are the "run visas" of yesteryear. But a new "frequent traveller" card has just been introduced: