When diving in North Sulawesi, you can encounter a diverse range of marine species. The waters around Gangga Island, the Lembeh Strait, Bangka Island, and Bunaken Marine Park, are full of healthy coral reefs with plenty of biodiversity. While it’s difficult to narrow it down to just 10, here are some of the top species you might want to see.
1. Mandarin Fish
These colorful fish are small and mesmerizing to watch during their mating rituals. Every evening just before sundown, the fish start to come out of their hiding places to find potential mates. The males swim back and forth, erecting their first dorsal fin and flashing their bright colours. When the female chooses her mate she attaches herself to him and they slowly rise about 1 metre above the reef where they release sperm and a cloud of eggs and then instantly part ways.
2. Pygmy Seahorses
North Sulawesi is known for its variety of pygmy seahorses, which are tiny and beautifully camouflaged. It takes a sharp eye to spot them but with practice and some help from your dive guides you will find these unique creatures at many of North Sulawesi’s dive sites.
3. Bumphead Parrotfish
These impressive but very strange looking fish have a distinctive bump on their forehead and are often seen in large schools. Keep an eye out for this and their other unique feature – their exposed teeth plates that give them a buck toothed appearance.
4. Hawksbill Sea Turtles
If you’ve ever seen sea turtles in the wild, you will know what a charming experience it is to swim or dive with them. North Sulawesi’s waters are home to a number of sea turtle species, including the critically endangered sea hawksbill. This species is known for their beautiful shell patterns.
5. Ornate Ghost Pipefish
There are a number of species of ghost pipefish to be found in the waters of North Sulawesi, but the ornate variety is a favorite of divers. These peculiar-looking fish are masters of disguise, resembling pieces of drifting seaweed. They are quite easy to find around Bangka, Lembeh, Gangga and Manado as long as you have your eyes peeled for them. They grow up to around 12cm and are often found in pairs so keep an eye out for them!
6. Coconut Octopus
This incredibly intelligent cephalopod is on most divers’ checklists of species to see around Manado. It is known for its unique behavior, often seen using discarded coconut shells as shelter and then carrying them around to hide under when necessary. They also display amazing dexterity and smarts, using tools like sticks and pieces of debris to protect themselves against predators.
7. Whitetip Reef Sharks
These small requiem sharks are commonly found resting on the sandy bottoms of dive sites in North Sulawesi. They are generally non-aggressive and as they are nocturnal divers can observe them peacefully resting during the day.
8. Ribbon Eels
These elongated eels with vibrant colors are fascinating to observe as they gracefully swim through the water. One interesting thing about ribbon eels is that they are hermaphrodites, changing their sex from male to female, also changing colour in the process. Juveniles and young adults are jet black with a yellow dorsal fin while adult males then become blue with a yellow dorsal fin. Adult females are either entirely yellow or yellow with some blue towards the posterior.
9. Harlequin Shrimp
The weird and wonderful harlequin shrimp is an absolute delight to see during a dive. This eye-catching shrimp species is recognized by its bold and striking colors. They are often found in pairs, and as diminutive as they may seem, they are actually fierce predators.
10. Pinnate Batfish
These unique-looking fish have elongated fins and are commonly spotted in the region, often in large schools. The juveniles of this species are much more beautiful than the adults, with a mainly black body and median fins outlined in bright orange. The elongated dorsal and anal fins give it the look of a bat, hence the name.
Remember, the marine environment is dynamic, and encounters with specific species cannot be guaranteed. However, North Sulawesi is renowned for its rich biodiversity, and diving in its waters offers excellent opportunities to witness an array of fascinating marine life.
Have you encountered any of these species in North Sulawesi or elsewhere? Take a minute to tell us about your experience in the comments box below.