The diving centre at the end of the universe

Eric Vohr takes a private plane to explore Indonesiaas Eden- Wakatobi

Photo Courtesy: Wakatobi

Sometimes, you have to travel to the end of the world to determine spectacular diving; Wakatobi Dive Resort is one of those places.A

The name Wakatobi is a portmanteau of the four main Tukangbesi Islands in the southeastern corner of Sulawesi, Indonesia: Wangi-Wangi, Kaledupa, Tomia, and Binongko. Approximately 10 miles( 16 km) off the east coast of Borneo in the Indian Ocean, it takes two-and-one-half-hours to get here on a private chartered flight from Bali. This might seem like a bit of a carry, but itas actually brief, in comparison with the three days it took founder Lorenz MA $? der to get here by barge in the late 1990 s.

The excitement constructs as you fly on a special charter airplane with the rest of Wakatobias guests over the remote islands and pristine reefs that make up this part of the world. Truly in the middle of nowhere, Wakatobi Dive Resort lies on the white-sand shores of a tiny island in southeast Sulawesi called Pulau Tolandona, adjacent to its better-known and bigger brother, Tomia.A

As you climb down from the plane onto the tarmac of the tiny airstrip on Tomia, the gentle tropical breeze welcomes you to a land that time forgot. Imagine what Bali looked like a hundred years ago, and you get the idea: small angling villages, crystal cerulean water, and miles and miles of empty topical beaches fringed with swaying palm trees. A short boat takes you across a narrow channel to the resort, which blends naturally and seamlessly with the unspoiled natural beauty here.

Photo: Walt Stearns

ReefA biodiversity

For divers, however, this is much more than simply a tropical paradise. Eighty-five percentage of the worldas coral reef are located in the Indo-Pacific aCoral Trianglea, and Wakatobi Dive Resort is in the very epicenter of this coral reef biodiversity. As such, the water around the resort boasting more than 400 species of coral and 700 species of fish.A

One of the factors that add significantly to the abundance of sea life here is the lack of injury run-off from big rivers or urban centers, which can destroy reefs via siltation and pollution. The region also has a perfect temperature for coral growth( 77 -8 4AdegF/ 25 -2 9AdegC ), and an optimal average depth of 66 feet( 20 m ).( Shallow waters have too much temperature fluctuation and disruptive wave/ surge action and deep waters decrease the lighting, which lessens diversity .)

Wakatobias reefs are some of the few worldwide that are actually growing…recently designated as a reserve

In addition to perfect natural conditions for healthy marine life, MA $? der and his team have gone to great lengths to preserve the waters and reefs around the resort. As any guest to Asia knows, over-fishing is an ever-present threat here. On a recent sail journey to a remote archipelago in Myanmar, we encountered an army of squid boats illuminating the night horizon in all directions with their powerful lights.A

To help protect the flora and fauna at Wakatobi, MA $? der made a deal with the local fishermen. In return for providing running water, energy, job opportunities, and community financial support, locals have agreed to curtail injury fishing practices and safeguard the reefs. This preservation attempt has been such a great success, Wakatobias reefs are some of the few worldwide that effectively growing; in fact, UNESCO recently designated the region as a Marine Biosphere Reserve.A

Photo: Walt Stearns

AbundantA life

Wakatobi Dive Resortas staff take guests to more than fifty mapped and named dive sites, all within a short distance of the dive center. Of course, this represents merely a fraction of the wealth of great dive places here.A

Many of these dive sites include shallow reefs that are easily accessible for snorkeling, so those who are not avid divers can also join in the fun. The resort also provides extensive courses for guests who want to learn how to dive or expand their existing knowledge and skills.

Wakatobias extensive biodiversity means youall consider a lot of critters of all shapes and sizes, including my favourite, nudibranchs. These other-worldly, space-ship-like critters never fail to amaze me with their insane shapes and colourings. I counted at least twenty different species over my five days of diving here. In addition, I assured multitudes of flatworms, tiny shrimps, and pipefish.

Wakatobi is known for its abundance of another special little animal, pigmy ocean horses. Youall need one of the resortas expert guides to help you find these little guys, as they are super well-camouflaged. You generally dive with the same guide during your entire stay at Wakatobi, so he or she knows what you want to achieve with your dives and thus can help you have the best possible experience underwater. Our guide was a local man named Muji who had an eagle eye for pigmy seahorses and nudibranchs. Not merely did he help us situate these hard-to-find critters, but he also took the time post-dive to help us properly identify each one for our dive log a an often-daunting task.A

Photo: Michaela Urban

FlouroA experience

An especially unique experience we encountered on this trip-up was fluo diving( a.k.a. fluorescent diving, fluoro diving, UV diving or glow diving ). Wakatobi Dive Resort is the first diving operator Iave encountered who offers this alternative way to enjoy the undersea world a in fact, it was the first Iad ever heard of it.A

For those who have not yet experienced this special type of diving, itas basically night diving use a UV light and a special yellow filter on your mask, which together unveil amazing and unexpected fluorescent colours that are otherwise invisible. Fluorescence happens because some marine animals and coral assimilate high-energy UV light and instantly re-emit it as colourful low-energy illumination. This is different from phosphorescence, where animals store light and re-emit it over period, glowing long after the original light source is gone.

Interestingly enough, divers did not discover fluorescence in marine life until very recently. Even more puzzling , nobody knows why some animals glow, why they give off a specific colouring and why some donat glow at all( even different members of the same species donat always glow the same route ). A

Safety at Wakatobi Dive Resort is always paramount, so before our fluo diving, our guide gave us a detailed and informative training conference. For additional safety, they chose a site we had already dived during the day, so we would have a rough idea of the underwater geography. This turned out to be a very good notion, as UV torches offer less light than normal night-diving torches, making it even more difficult to navigate.

My first fluo encounter was the amazing yellow-green of a commonly dull brain coral. Next to the brain coral was a bright orange glowing whip coral are covered under blue and yellow sponges at its base, and tiny( usually invisible) sea louse glittering in an electric orange that seemed to screaming, aLook what I can do! a I also watched shocking pink glowing soft coral and small, rainbow-coloured anemones. Even bearing lizardfish, which are the same colour as sand during the day, abruptly sparkled in a bright green under my fluorescent light.

SomethingA forA everyone

The resort offer three boat dives per day and unlimited house reef dives. It maintains a high guide-to-guest ratio, so there are never more than four divers per guidebook. That mean we always felt safe, got all the personal attention and guidance we needed and never felt rushed or guilty for lingering at one spot to gaze at something especially fascinating.A

In spite of all the great diving, I highly recommend taking at least one morning or afternoon off to enjoy the resort on land. Thereas a quaint traditional fishing village you can visit, or you are able to view some of the unique bird life on the islandas many peaceful nature trails.

We always felt safe, got all the personal attention and guidance we needed and never felt hurried

If youare looking for more adventure, Wakatobi also offers kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, and kite surfing. It turns out that in addition to top-notch diving, this region also has near-perfect conditions and topography for kite surfing. The resort has already hosted some pro kite surfers who all seem to agree that its aripsa here.

If youare looking for some down period, thereas nothing better than simply lounging in your beach chair under swaying palm trees on the white sand beach in front of your private bungalow, while being serenaded by the small ripplings of the resortas gentle bay.A

Those who enjoy abundant and diverse marine life and unspoiled natural beauty and want to really get away from it all will love Wakatobi Dive Resort. The water here provide a level of sheer diving pleasure that rivals any dive site Iave visited to date, and Wakatobi Dive Resort not only has the perfect define to enjoy and explore this amazing dive Mecca, but the eco-minded owners are working hard to preserve and protect this magical place so generations of divers can enjoy it for years to come.A

To visit the last place youall ever want to be, check out: A www.wakatobi.com

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