10.12.2008 - 14.12.2008
View Asia 2008 on Wardsan's travel map.
Well, the funeral is over and the job interviews are completed, so I am free to try to have some more fun again. I definitely have a job to go to, I just don't know where yet, and this means that my expenditure is rising in response to the increase in expected net wealth. Arguably, having the prospect of a job without in fact doing any work is as good as it gets.
It is not often that Ambon is in the news, but a new species of frogfish has recently been discovered there. It has white stripes on a caramel background. It is shaped like other frogfish – round, with hand-shaped pectoral fins – but it bounces around the bottom of the sea like a rubber ball. There is a video here.
Of Ambon, Alfred Russel Wallace wrote
Passing up the harbour, in appearance like a fine river, the clearness of the water afforded me one of the most astonishing and beautiful sights I have ever beheld. The bottom was absolutely hidden by a continuous series of corals, sponges, actinic, and other marine productions of magnificent dimensions, varied forms, and brilliant colours. The depth varied from about twenty to fifty feet, and the bottom was very uneven, rocks and chasms and little hills and valleys, offering a variety of stations for the growth of these animal forests. In and out among them, moved numbers of blue and red and yellow fishes, spotted and banded and striped in the most striking manner, while great orange or rosy transparent medusa floated along near the surface. It was a sight to gaze at for hours, and no description can do justice to its surpassing beauty and interest. For once, the reality exceeded the most glowing accounts I had ever read of the wonders of a coral sea. There is perhaps no spot in the world richer in marine productions, corals, shells and fishes, than the harbour of Amboyna.
Sadly, this is no longer true of Ambon Bay. It is a filthy, rubbish-strewn environment, full of plastic. On the Pelni ferry from Banda we had watched from the café at the stern as tons of refuse were thrown over the side during the twelve-hour journey. Put your rubbish in a bin and the bin is thrown over the side. Much of the rubbish floats. Ambon Bay is a narrow, dactylic inlet, and the refuse accumulates. So the coral has mostly gone. But it is a very good muck dive spot.
As I mentioned before, it was Pieter Bleeker who collected nearly 800 species of fish from the bay, and Wallace met him. (He refers to him as Dr Blecker.)
I went on Sunday, by invitation, to see a collection of shells and fish made by a gentleman of Amboyna. The fishes are perhaps unrivalled for variety and beauty by those of any one spot on the earth. The celebrated Dutch ichthyologist, Dr. Blecker, has given a catalogue of seven hundred and eighty species found at Amboyna, a number almost equal to those of all the seas and rivers of Europe. A large proportion of them are of the most brilliant colours, being marked with bands and spots of the purest yellows, reds, and blues; while their forms present all that strange and endless variety so characteristic of the inhabitants of the ocean. The shells are also very numerous, and comprise a number of the finest species in the world. The Mactras and Ostreas in particular struck me by the variety and beauty of their colours. Shells have long been an object of traffic in Amboyna; many of the natives get their living by collecting and cleaning them, and almost every visitor takes away a small collection. The result is that many of the commoner-sorts have lost all value in the eyes of the amateur, numbers of the handsome but very common cones, cowries, and olives sold in the streets of London for a penny each, being natives of the distant isle of Amboyna, where they cannot be bought so cheaply. The fishes in the collection were all well preserved in clear spirit in hundreds of glass jars, and the shells were arranged in large shallow pith boxes lined with paper, every specimen being fastened down with thread. I roughly estimated that there were nearly a thousand different kinds of shells, and perhaps ten thousand specimens, while the collection of Amboyna fishes was nearly perfect.
The problem with preserving fish - or any animal - in spirits is that the colours are largely lost. The reef fish in spirit bottles on display at the Cambridge Museum of Zoology are unrecognisable from colour alone, and the same is true of the snakes on display at the Snake Museum in Bangkok.
Wallace found the extraordinary, iridescent blue Papilio ulysses to be “absolutely common” in Ambon. No longer, although you do see this butterfly pinned and mounted everywhere in SE Asia. It, the Priam birdwing, Ornithoptera priamus, and the Atlas moth are the centrepieces of many of these mosaics.
Wallace also picked up specimens of the crimson lory, Eos rubra, and of “the fine racquet-tailed kingfisher of Amboyna, Tanysiptera nais, one of the most singular and beautiful of that beautiful family.” The latter was a new species.
The main town of the island, Kota Ambon, is a rather ugly place and I never learned to like it.
Apparently it used to be much cleaner and friendlier place, but the internecine violence at the turn of the millennium scarred the fabric and the psyche.
I was happy to get out of town and head a few kilometres south to Maluku Divers. There is good reef diving and muck diving in Ambon. As for the reef diving, it is worth paying an extra $20 to dive at Pulau Tiga, where there are some thrilling dives with significant currents, more interesting diving than the reefs on the south coast. And the muck diving in Ambon Bay is absolutely excellent. Great detail follows.
Hukurila Cave. This would have been a very nice dive if the dive guide had taken his time in the cave. But I was not very happy with my equipment – couldn’t keep the regulator in my mouth and was overweighted – and we went deeper than I am comfortable with, particularly without a dive computer – to 35 metres. Saw a big green turtle and some snapper, a couple of nudibranchs, lots of filefish and tobies, some two-tone dartfish, juvenile red-finned rainbow wrasse, and big spiny lobster, but fish not really present in the vast quantities of Manado or the Bandas.
Tanjung Hukurila. A small lionfish, lots of small shrimp (mainly banded), several nudis including a pair of Phyllidia ocellata and a tiny black and green Nembrotha. Quite a lot of red-tooth triggerfish sleeping in niches. A hawksbill, resting, up close. Very big for a hawksbill. Some very big anemonefish. Nce colourful coral. Visibility ordinary. Two-tone dartfish and fire dartfish. A big scorpionfish.
Hata Ala, Pulau Tiga. A thrilling dive. Down to the depths (34 m) with a strong current, hold on and watch. Lots of pelagics: mainly dogtooth tuna, wahoo, and a big Napoleon up close. Lots of emperor angelfish. They also see reef sharks and barracuda here, but not today. Visibility adequate. Swimming, against and across the current, into the shallows: saw a very small yellow moray with orange nostrils, a purple scorpionfish, millions of red-tooth triggerfish (the lunate tails are crossed, and they stick out of the holes in which they sleep).
Pulai Lain. Headed down to a cliff edge at 30m and held on against the current. Another great spot. Watched big fish playing like birds in the current. Two Napoleons, one clown triggerfish, lots of black surgeonfish and silver unicornfish. A big scorpionfish and a couple of cowries right behind the spot where I hung on. One of the Napoleons seemed to be sheepdogging a school of surgeonfish. Lots of great soft coral in the shallows, and blue and gold angelfish.
Rhino City, Ambon Bay. An amazing dive, to 25 m, some currents. Right at the beginning, a kind of silvery-coloured lacy scorpionfish, Rhinopias aphanes, with eyes like mirrors. A fingered dragonet, Dactylopus dactylopus. Blue-lined tang. Big black stonefish. Purple scorpionfish. Yellow/orange leaf scorpionfish. A school of ten squid, changing colours. A little seamoth, probably Eurypegasus draconis. Lots of hinge-beak shrimp and banded boxer shrimp. Two ribbon eels, one in the middle of changing sex (they change from male to female). A huge, probably a pregnant map pufferfish, just sitting there. Lots of little pufferfish and burrfish. A juvenile angelfish, possibly blue-ringed. Juvenile dragonet, tiny, less than 1 cm, white with a red patch. Several tiny yellow boxfish, about 1 cm across. A very long black pipefish. A giant frogfish, black, with a tiny white lure. Thornyback cowfish. A big solar-powered nudibranch. Two Jorunna rubescens nudis, one chasing the other, its mating organs already out. A long dark red nudi, Ceratosoma gracillinum. A Nembrotha rutilans, white with brown patches. And two other types of nudi.
Laha, Ambon Bay. Current, poor visibility at 15 m or so. A sea horse, dark brown, unresponsive. Three lionfish, of two different kinds, one a black version of common lionfish, the other smaller, possibly zebra lionfish. 1 small purple scorpionfish. An urchin crab, Zebrida adamsii, living on a fire urchin. Lots of fire urchins, which are very attractive. Two ribbon eels. A small moray, apparently guarded by a flutemouth. An octopus in a niche. A flounder. Three big fish, perhaps Spanish mackerel. A school of razorfish with a cornetfish in the middle. A thorny-back cowfish with a cornetfish swimming permanently above it. Lots of burrfish. Squat shrimp. And seven species of nudibranch: possibly scrolled Hypselodoris, H. infucata, Flabellina bicolor, Favorinus pacificus, Phyllodesmium longicirrum, Ceratosoma miamiranum, and Mexicilromis.