What we don’t think about when planning a dive trip
by Janice Nigro
A lot of information sometimes goes into choosing a dive trip. What season is it? Is it good for whale sharks, humpback whales, grouper mating, coral spawning? What is the weather going to be like? rain? typhoon? Water temperature? (OK, I am a scientist-I am trained to do research.) And sometimes you ignore all of these possibilities just because the offer on a liveaboard is too good to pass up.
Dive trip planning is extreme travel planning. You have to plan the trip in the right season in the right place. Probably spend a lot of money…Once that is done you have to think about assembling a lot of equipment with a lot parts, especially if you are a photographer. Anything left behind can make it extra stressful or maybe a little disappointing if for example you have to dive without your camera.
The problem is we always think we will only go somewhere once. Although this is probably also true for any land based travel to famous locations. I think I have finally gotten over that idea because I now have logged over 600 dives, and some in places that I thought I would never go to even once. I have been to Indonesia more times than I can remember and so many times that I can brag about having a small network of friends there. The dive community is amazingly connected in Indonesia-so much so that the last time I went (June 2016), a handwritten note from some friends from a previous trip was left on the liveaboard for me all the way out in Raja Ampat.
I probably wasn’t even supposed to be there. The high season for diving Raja Ampat is December through April. Calmer seas and less wind are the contributing factors. It’s a rainforest so it will rain just about anytime you are there. It’s nonsense then to plan a trip around the so-called rainy season. I have been there in October and it rained more than in Bergen, Norway the summer before, which is saying a lot. It can rain any time but that never changes the diving which is spectacular. And if you are wondering about how visibility might be affected, remember, Raja Amat is famous for low visibility because of the nutrient rich waters. Forget the big blue dives because not so many exist, but the nutrient rich water is why the diving is so great here.
Liveaboards and small boats do not go down to one of the four major islands, Misool, because of the rough seas in the area during this time period. Misool is a special spot, so maybe divers and boats prefer not to go then in order to hit all of the main islands on one trip.
As I said, when the opportunity came (in the form of a 50% discount) to dive Raja Ampat in the low season, I dialed up (I think this is a word that must be out of date) a couple of people on Facebook who had been or were dive guides there. One told me to just go. Her comment was that Komodo starts to get good in June so most boats leave for the south for several months. My dive travel agent had me worried that I would be stranded by a typhoon, but they don’t actually get those there. Or that maybe there would be too much rain. This can happen anywhere as I was once sitting in a plane in Bali for a couple of hours before we were able to take off because of the rain.
I am glad I took my friends’ advice. For one thing, it is a rainforest there so it’s going to rain any time. Maybe less in some seasons but it is probably a sure thing that if you are in Raja Ampat it will rain. The underwater life is as it is. There is no bad time to take a look. It might be seasonal for some animals, but there is so much to see that if you happen to be in the so-called wrong season for some creatures there is sure to be something else hot. And overall the corals are simply unbeatable so that alone is a reason to go to Raja Ampat any time of the year.
Oh, yes, there were no other dive boats.
Choosing the right season to go is one thing, but I have also been acutely conscious of whether I should be diving an area or not. It’s easy to travel to just about anywhere today because it is simply getting easier. Planes fly everywhere, and well if we can read about it on the Internet, we can go there, right? But is diving Raja Ampat really for everyone? I have to wonder sometimes whether any of us should be diving there for the simple reason that we might be invaders to a pristine environment.
The argument has been made however that because the dive boats are there the fishing boats are not. That’s a strong argument in our favor as divers, but we cannot take our position as divers irresponsibly. We should try to be environmentally aware and that means a few things. The main thing is to be aware of where your body is. Try not touch anything. Follow the rules that the guides give you. And no touching or chasing after animals. One famous site in Raja Ampat, Manta Sandy, now has a police line (boulders) constructed so that one side is for mantas and the other side is for humans. It may not always be the right day for seeing the mantas, but if we want them to continue to be there, maybe we have to make the space for them.
Since it is so easy to travel there now-it’s a big fancy airport-two runways, two stories and a moving belt in the baggage claim-, more divers can get there. Many might be in the wrong place for their diving skills, but if we pay for it, we can go.
I spent many years working on my diving skills in other less frontier diving spots (a quarry outside of Nashville) in the world before I ever went to Komodo or Raja Ampat. I know I was prepared because for the two times on dives in those areas that I was scared out of my wits, I calmly did the correct thing. Diving such destinations is not just about reaching the bucket list-you have to be reasonable about your diving skills. It also helps to choose the right dive company to be with in the first place. It is also a really good idea to have your own dive equipment. It fits and you know it.
I still have to wonder sometimes whether we belong there at all. We go there and eat fish after all…But I am happy perhaps to pretend that I have an important message to communicate as a diver, traveler, and underwater photographer to my friends back home. It’s impossible not to proudly display my photographs. The real message though is “Look at this!” It’s a veritable evolutionary freak show underwater even in the first 20 meters, and yet a local swimmer from the beach has no idea what kind of creatures might lurk immediately below. I loved discovering more than one rather large seahorse playing hide and seek in just a few meters of water on a shore dive once in Tasmania.
It is with a different perspective that I view fish on ice in the supermarket now. Hopefully we all go home to our respective countries after our dive adventures with a new perspective on what should go into our oceans as well as what should come out of them.
©2016 Janice Marie Nigro/janikiInk.com