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Dropping in on Alor

1 cover photo copy alor indonesiaPauline Gast

 

First to wake on our liveaboard anchored in the channel off Kalabahi in the Indonesian archipelago of Alor, a beautiful scene greeted me. The only sound was from the birds on the neighbouring island. The waters are serene, glowing in a morning pink halo. A few dolphins silently cruise past the ship. As the sun rises slowly on the horizon line, the divers are emerging from their rooms to prepare for their first dive.

Located just to the north of Timor in the Flores sea, the archipelago is mainly composed of Alor and Pantar with multiple inhabited smaller islands. There are around 60 dive sites in the area. Unfortunately, we only had time for two dives before carrying on with our route. Anchored in the channel just outside Kalabahi town, the capital of the archipelago, we decide to go to Clown Valley for our first dive.

The dive site, located next to Pura island, is supposed to be full of small creatures and of course the anemones that give the site its name. We drop down in a strong current. To be able to find more treasures, our divemaster decided not to drift with the current, but to swim from rock to rock hiding from the current. After a few minutes, we find our first jewels: two tiny dwarf cuttlefish.

Alor 1 blue ribbon eel pipefish alor indonesiaLeft, blue ribbon eel; right, pipefish / Pauline Gast

The floor is covered with anemones and soft corals moving with the waves and current. A few meters away, our guide finds a velvet ghost pipefish standing upside down, hiding in pink sponges. Master of disguise, they float with currents in the ocean until reaching adult age before settling down on a reef somewhere.


Next a huge barrel sponge, full of tiny hairy squat lobster and a blue ribbon eel proudly whipping its head from side to side out of its hole.

3 sqaut lobster hairy alor indonesiaHairy squat lobster / Pauline Gast

While drifting in the current for the safety stop, a pleasant surprise was waiting for us. Two pairs of wooden goggles are staring down at us from the surface. Besides a wooden boat made out of a tree trunk, a local father and son wave at the divers passing below. Staying still in the current, one hand on the boat, the other paddling slowly, the dad looks amazed to see us breathing under the surface. We all look at each other flabbergasted by the surprise.

4 local with goggles diving alor indonesiaLocal with goggles /Pauline Gast

The second dive of the day, at Pertamina Pier, is just as exciting. We dive along the coast of Pantar island, a black sandy slope covered with big dark pebbles. The current is strong, and we are drifting very fast along the dive site but as soon as we start paying attention to what’s underneath us: stupefaction! All the feather stars crawling along the bottom are home to one or two robust ghost pipefish! They are everywhere! Black, yellow, white, juvenile, all sorts of colours and sizes.

A few metres down the current we come across a very peculiar fish. It looks like he is drunk. Trying to move from pebble to pebble but crashing every time he takes a step: a beautiful golden wasp fish. Just above him a minuscule cuttlefish is staring at us. There is just enough time to get one shot before it disappears into the seaweeds.

5 Wasp fish alor indonesiaWasp fish / Pauline Gast


While we take some more photos, we hear an insistent banging. Our divemaster has drifted further down the reef. Happy with our find, we keep shooting some nearby nudibranch when someone comes and grabs my shoulder.

Excitement in his eyes, he is looking at me mimicking a few dive signals in a hurry. I don’t understand. A thrilling sensation comes over me, what has he found? A few kicks into the current and he stops us in front of a can in two metres of water. We first look at each other a little dazed and confused, then realise. Inside the can is something we have never witnessed before, something small with an amazing pattern. An octopus. Sorry, not just an octopus, an octopus with blue rings, just two blue rings on each side of its body!

 

6 blueringed octopus cephalopod alor indonesiaBlueringed octopus / Jean-Charles Strubi

The blueringed octopus is a rare find in these parts, and in diving in general. But this specific one had the divemaster very excited. In his 15 years of guiding in these waters he had only seen one like it before. It was rare because it only had two blue circles; normally they are covered with the distinctive and famous blue rings.

Surfacing everybody is stunned, all smiling from ear to ear. A few locals on a wooden boat are nearby waving at us.

7 Locals in boat alor indonesiaLocals in a boat / Pauline Gast

A quick chat with them about our treasure hunt and unfortunately it's time to sail away.

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