Bunaken: Extreme Diversity in North Sulawesi

By Sarah Wormald

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Indonesia is regarded by many as being the best country in the world when it comes to dive sites, and the diving around Bunaken does everything to uphold Indonesia’s prestigious reputation.

Bunaken is a small island in North Sulawesi and it is one of 5 islands, which make up the Bunaken Marine Park, which was one of the first marine protected areas declared in Indonesia. The move by the Indonesian government to protect the area in 1991 was made due to the extreme marine bio-diversity the area supports. The islands of Bunaken, Manado Tua, Siladen, Montehage and Nain are home to numerous rare and endangered marine creatures which include coelacanths, dugongs, whales, turtles and dolphins but it’s not just these “special” species that make Bunaken a phenomenal diving destination.

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Diving in Bunaken is everything that you can imagine and more. The water is the bluest of blues, the walls are adorned with corals, the shallows are occupied by clouds of reef fish, huge turtles laze on ledges and upon closer inspection the corals harbour all manner of macro critters.

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Image by gotmuck.com

Diversity is the word of the day. In Bunaken you won’t just find giant clams, you’ll find 7 out of the 8 species of giant clams that exist worldwide. Butterfly fish are found at every dive site and there are over 33 species. The walls are encrusted with over 70 genera and sub-genera of coral and over 70% of all fish species that exist in the Indo-Western Pacific Ocean can be found in the park. Needless to say, you will always have something to look at.

The unique bathymetry of the marine park is an attraction in itself. The absence of a continental shelf in the northern part of North Sulawesi means that the walls around Bunaken and its neighbouring islands literally drop down to the sea floor. When you hear divers talking about “giant walls” in Bunaken, it’s not an exaggeration; in places the walls extend down to over 1,800 meters. Bunaken also boasts sea grass beds which are favoured by dugongs, mangroves, sloping reefs, and stunning shallow reef tops which are awash with colour and bursting with life.

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Image by gotmuck.com

The geology of the area is a major contributing factor to the diversity of marine life that is found here. The deep waters and lunar driven currents combined with the shape and positioning of the islands create plankton-rich upwellings, which are then essentially trapped between the land masses.

The extreme underwater geology of the Bunaken Marine Park is mirrored on land due to its explosive volcanic origins which date back to between 1.5 and 5 million years ago. Manado Tua is an inactive volcano with a classic cone like shape which peaks at 600 meters; despite being low-lying, Bunaken was also formed in the volcanic period from significant amounts of uplifted fossil coral. Nain Island is also a dome-shaped island, 139m in height and Mantehage Island is relatively flat and seems to be sinking into the sea, which is a relatively common attribute of volcanic islands. It’s interesting knowing this history before you dive in Bunaken because you can see the evidence of it all around you – both underwater when studying the walls and on land where the watery horizon is dominated by the peak of Manado Tua.

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Image by gotmuck.com

If you’re thinking about where to dive next in Indonesia, Bunaken Marine Park must be on your list. Murex Dive Resorts (www.murexdive.com) are the pioneers of diving in the area and have almost 30 years of experience. They are based on the mainland, which means that as well as your daily dive trips around Bunaken you’ll be able to explore the relatively newly discovered sites of Manado Bay that the island operators less frequently visit. If you are keen to take in as much as possible while you’re there, Murex also offers a “Passport to Paradise” which will take you around the three main diving areas of North Sulawesi: Bunaken, Bangka and Lembeh. Transfers from resort to resort are by boat and you dive along the way to maximize dive time and eliminate wasted travel time. Imagine walls, reefs and the world’s best muck diving in one trip with over 150 dive sites to choose from and more than 1,500 species of fish – it’s the dive holiday of a lifetime.

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Image by gotmuck.com

To book your Bunaken diving holiday or your “Passport to Paradise”, contact the pioneers of North Sulawesi diving now at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Ocean Geographic Explorer (OGX) is a diving adventure resource with a special focus on marine photography and ocean conservation. Our content is divided up into six primary categories: Travel, Sea Science,  Equipment, Photography &Video, Conservation, and Lifestyle. We endeavor be a portal for people with all levels of interest in the marine environment  to learn about and become part of a community of like-minded ocean lovers who enjoy sharing their knowledge of and experiences in our fascinating ocean world.

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