We’ve been hearing for a while about the impressive underwater life in the Wakatobi region (cruiser types, this is probably spelled Wakatohi on your charts, a strange error since it’s the acronym built from the first two letters of the names of the four islands that make up the group). It seems to be talked about in nearly the same tone as Raja Ampat. It’s promising.
We anchor on the south side of Hoga island, a speck off Pulau Kaledupa. We’d heard there were moorings here and are keen to use them if possible so we can lower the possibility of damaging the reef below. Our first few passes on the buoys suggest they are completely inadequate- more like small vessel tie-ups for dive sites, which is exactly what they prove to be.
It’s the “off” season, so once again we are the only cruising boat in the area. It’s a beautiful big anchorage area, however, and easy to see how the fleet of rally boats will fit here in August. Hyo and I swim to the reef, eager to get our heads underwater and begin communing with the fish. It’s pretty, but we have poor vis- probably mostly because it’s late in the day. Mostly, what disappoints us is the trash. For the duration of our swim, there is at least one piece of garbage always in sight, and a constant flow of plastic bags and foil packaging pushes past us in the water.
Totem is visited by a few local boats. One of the first to stop by is helmed by Pondang. He is helpful and interesting to talk to, and we learn a lot; Jamie makes plans to go spearfishing with him in the morning. Pondang’s brother is a dive master on Hoga, so we also arrange to go dive, and get closer to the beautiful reef we’ve been hearing about.
Hyo gifts us with the dive, and it is out of this world. Niall is able to come with us- the girls still need more experience and confidence in the water. But it is an amazing thing, to be able to experience this incredible world underwater as a family.
The reef really is stunning, although I still give the “wow” award to Raja Ampat. There is a stunning variety of life, from the half-dozen species of nudibranch to the lobsters hiding in crevices, the waving gorgonian fans, the turtle that stops by to visit, more varieties of anenomes- and anenomefish- than I’ve seen in such a short span, and of course the schools of fish (a large group of barracuda are resident near the channel marker). Breathtaking!
It’s hard not to let all the garbage in the water get in the way of really enjoying it as much as we could. Each piece adds to the sad commentary, an in-your-face smack of how the world’s oceans are being trashed. There’s more on the beach, of the same plastic bottle and bag variety we see everywhere in Indonesia. Truly, everywhere. This is a country with mass access to cheap consumer plastic goods, no functional systsem for managing garbage, and a culture that things it’s perfectly fine to toss your empty water bottle into the drink. Depressing. The amount of change needed is massive.
Cruisers have raved about how Wakatobi is a place of hope in Indonesia where there was a functional, active system for waste management. Gondang, the dive master, tells me that during the tourist season, resorts on the island hire people to keep it picked up and pristine. It’s not the high season, so all the trash that is chucked on the ground stays. The pretty beaches they saw during the high season were just a temporary whitewash that covers up the real problem, the systemic problem underneath.
It’s still spectacular, and still among one of the more beautiful underwater realms we’ve visited.