Diving in Tulamben – I Macro

Mar 22, 2020

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Tulamben as a dive destination:

Tulamben is a small village, located in the Northeast coast of Bali (Indonesia), 95 km away from the airport. Your hotel or resort will, most likely, provide transportation, which takes in between 2.5 to 3.5 hours, depending on traffic. If not, you can call David who’s my personal friend, totally reliable and offers the cheapest prices.

The village became famous, due to the Liberty, a US Army transport vessel, torpedoed by the Japanese in 1942, which docked at the beach. On 1963-64, the eruption of the nearby Agung Volcano (and the associated earthquakes) had Liberty sliding back to the sea, where it still is, in between 6 to 28m deep. By then, all that held some value was already removed, leaving it clean and perfect for a shipwreck dive site. 

It is now the most popular one in Bali island, and, probably in the whole Indonesia, with hundreds of divers coming per day, on the high season.

Pikachu nudibranchs (Thecacera sp. 8) mating.

With so many divers around, other points of interested started to be found, namely a whole variety of tiny little critters – small fish, shrimps, crabs, nudibranchs. People start coming, not only for the shipwreck, but to see and shoot these ones, among the muck and dark sand surrounding beaches.

Favorinus nudibranch feeding inside an egg mass. The yellow spots are eggs, far less than 1 mm in size.

Now, Tulamben stands as one of the top word macro destinations, with many photography oriented dive centers and international competitions taking place. Conditions are good enough for diving and shooting almost every single day of the year – water temperature is usually around 27ºC, though it can vary from 24 – 32. Currents are usually mild and swells seldom reach 1 metre. 

Rainy season (December / March) is the worst for diving – murky fresh water from the rivers reduces visibility, lowers the water temperature and creates thermoclines and currents, washing away some critters. That doesn’t happen every day, nor the whole day, and there will be still plenty of opportunities to shoot.

The best months to dive and shoot are from April to June and from September to November, as the visibility is usually better (around 20 mts, on most days, reaching over 40 on some), there are not so many crowds, nor rain,

High season (July, August) is very good, but crowded.

Tulamben is also one of the cheapest places to dive, as mostly are made from shore. Porters and a marine park fee must be payed for every dive and diver , on the dive site and prices differ but are usually around (or slightly over) 2 USD (guides and instructors still pay, but a bit less).

Tulamben as an underwater macro destination:

Despite many divers coming for macro shooting, the area is still, pretty much, under-explored and new critters keep on being found every year. In 2020, one Melibe colemani (ghost nudibranch) was discovered in Sidem, and there are probably more around. Also, there is a colony of mandarin fish (Synchiropus splendidus) in Amed area. There are also some sort of bobbit worms (Eunice aphroditois) in there, around 30 metres in deep, and though I’ve seen them, I haven’t yet had the chance of snapping a shot.

Mandarin fish, male, during a fight.

Apart from these, there are different species of frogfish, including the hairy one (usually yellowish), two species of pigmy seahorses (Denise and Bargibanti) many different skeleton shrimps, 4 or 5 different “Shaun-the-Sheep” (Costasiella) sea slugs, tiger-shrimps, harlequin-shrimps, pom-pom crabs, and hundreds of nudibranch species, including the beautiful donut (Doto greenamyeri).

Blue ring octopus, posing, in Amed

Here you can find, Mimic, Wonderpus and (less often) Mototi, Hairy and Blue Ring octopus (among many others), Ghost and Robust pipefishes, Amphipods (ladybugs) in different colours.

Divesites can be relatively deep, with many critters in between 24 to 30 metres, so Nitrox is recommended, specially if you’re doing 3 dives a day, which most people do.  It isn’t overly expensive, though.

In Tulamben, the critter density is less than Lembeh, so don’t expect to find 20 rare species on one dive. You will probably find them, but it takes a a bit of time and, most likely, an experienced guide. I totally recommend the guys from Noble Dive centre and their tanks. Though it may be slightly more expensive than others, filters are regularly changed and there won’t be funny smells or tastes.

Shaun-the-sheep sea slug (Costasiella sp.), from Amed. This critter was maybe 3 mm long.

As for gear, assuming you’re doing photography, you will benefit if you have a strong wet lens (Nauticam SMC-2, AOI UCL-900 pro, or equivalent). There are plenty of critters around 5 mm in size or even less, namely, the aforementioned Shaun-the-Sheep, ladybugs, skeleton shrimps, and many nudibranchs. A medium magnification wet lens (Nauticam CMC / SMC-1, AOI UCL-09, or equivalent) is nearly mandatory, as the majority of subjects will fit that size range.

Sticks, pointers and tripods are allowed, but please be conscious on where you’re laying or what you’re stepping into. On total, there aren’t so many macro dive sites (I’m counting maybe  12 in Tulamben and 4 in Amed). So far, there is no restriction on number of divers per site, so places like Melasti (Tulamben) or Jemeluk (Amed) can get pretty crowded in high season.

Despite that, if you carefully choose your dive site (and the time for diving), you’ll most likely have a good shooting experience.

Below, some highlights of my macro shots in Tulamben.

If  you’re into video, have a look at some critters, and behaviours , and get inspired for your own shots:

Going extreme can be a bit harder, but still fun to watch these ladybugs:

 


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