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Bali through my Lens!

Bali through my lens!

Written by Roy Kittrell 29 September 2023.

The USS Liberty – History frozen in time!

One hot and sunny afternoon, our group arrived in Bali and boarded our bus for the eastern coast of Bali, bound for a place called Tulamben. This is a world-renowned diving area, famous for not only the USS Liberty Wreck, but for the amazing variety of macro animals that inhabit the area. We planned to spend two of our dive days around Tulamben, and one down south in Nusa Penida where we would be able to see large pelagic creatures such as reef mantas, and, if we were really lucky, the mighty Mola-Mola Fish.

It’s not often that you can see WWII wrecks in areas that are reachable through conventional diving, but the USS Liberty is one such wreck. It was a cargo ship damaged beyond repair by a torpedo attack in 1941. She was carefully maneuvered just offshore in Bali to be broken down for salvage, until 1963 when the eruption of Mt. Agung moved it off the beach to its final resting place in Tulamben. It was utterly unique being able to dive around the USS liberty during the day, and then even more amazing going through it’s now coral-covered surfaces at night.

Nusa Penida: Mantas & Mola Molas

Our group took a day trip to Nusa Penida, waking up at 4am to drive down from Tulamben and dive in some of the coldest and deepest water I have been in yet, a chilling 17°C at a very deep 40m depth!

It was totally worth it though. Once our dive guide spotted the first Mola-Mola we descended down to get a closer look, and they are indeed much bigger in real life than I had ever imagined. 

Mola-Molas are part of the order Tetradontiformes, meaning that interestingly their closest relatives are pufferfish, porcupinefish, and filefish. Their main method of locomotion is through their large pectoral fins, their caudal or tail fin is stunted, and just grows back in on itself over and over giving them their distinctive silhouette. Despite this they were clearly immensely powerful swimmers, not clumsy and uncoordinated as I had expected them to be. I was taken aback by the sheer size of this fish, the largest bony fish in the world weighing between 247 and 1,000 kg (545 and 2,205 lb). It had come to the bay to get cleaned by the smaller reef fish.

After the Mola Mola fish we were rewarded on our next dive with a spectacular Reef Manta (Mobile alfredi) fly-by; zooming past our group to feed on the planktonic life that filled the cold water around us. Truly a spectacular day out!

Tulamben – Macro Haven!

Tulamben is one of the world’s most popular dive sites for macro life, meaning animals and life that is perhaps 5cm and smaller, especially for those interested in underwater photography. This is my area of special interest, and I am so grateful to have found a dive centre that caters to my needs!

There were many animals that I wanted to see here; and perhaps top of that list was the amazing Pom-Pom crab; a small 3-4cm sized crab that holds tiny anemones in its claws, for self-defense and for eating. This is a very unique example of two animals living and working together, which is amazing when you consider they’re not even in the same phylum. We were fortunate to find one at the very end of one of our dives, with two anemones in its claws and I managed to get some pictures of it.

Next on my list was a creature I had been looking forward to seeing for a very, very long time, and had up until this point eluded me: the Harlequin Shrimp (Hymenocera picta). This is a really interesting and unique shrimp, not just for its utterly astonishing coloration and pattern but because it feeds almost entirely on Starfish… and from what I have read it is an utterly voracious predator. These two facts are actually linked; it’s thought that it’s diet of starfish makes them poisonous or very unpalatable to predators, and it’s remarkable patterning is an aposematic warning display. They also do a little dance to make themselves even more noticeable when a predator or curious diver gets too close and makes them feel threatened.

We were lucky to find not only a Harlequin shrimp, but a breeding pair, as these shrimp will pair for life. The male of this pair was standing triumphantly over a large green starfish that they had already started tearing apart for consumption.

On another one of the macro dives, we saw one of the stars of the macro show; a very highly prized nudibranch by the name of Doto greenamyeri, also known as the Donut Nudi for it’s resemblance to the pastry. This was my first time seeing it, in one of the best places for finding it.All in all, this trip has only increased my hunger as a diver and underwater photographer to get back and find more of the amazing and diverse critters that Tulamben has to offer, see you on the next trip! Flow will be releasing its 2024 dive trip soon! So be sure to keep your eyes peeled and who knows! We may be on the same trip together!

-Roy Kittrell is an avid naturalist and underwater photographer, his work can be found on instagram @roythedivebro

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