Pearl Of The Sea In The Far North

Posted on March 15th, 2010 at 1:34 pm by Akhyari


Natuna – Pearl of the Sea in the Far North

This regency comprises a number of large and small islands, the largest of which is Natuna (also known as Bunguran), where the main town, Ranai, is located.

You can get to Ranai by plane from Batam or Bintan, or by boat from Bintan to Natuna. If you take the plane to Natuna, you’ll be treated to a view of tiny islands ringed with white sand beaches and surrounded by sparkling clear blue seas.

According to the legend related to us by local historian Wan Tarhusin, the first inhabitant of Natuna Besar was a child from Siam (now Thailand) who was swept away on a log. The child was then marooned on an island, an immediately grew large and hairy. He was then known as Demang Megat. One day, he met a princess from the kingdom of Johor named Engku Fatimah.

They met beneath a large tree called Bungur. Demang Megat took Engku Fatimah as his wife, and they lived together on the island. They island where they lived became known as Pulau Bunguran, taking its name from the tree where Demang Megat and Engku Fatimah first met.

Landing at Ranai, you will be greeted by people in Air Force uniforms, as the airport is actually an Air Force base that is also used for civilian flights.

Diving at Natuna is very different from diving at Bunaken, Bali or Raja Ampat. Natuna lacks advanced facilities and infrastructure for diving. Fortunately, we came to Natuna on the invitation of Coremap (Coral Reef Rehabilitation and Management Program) II under the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries. This program is aimed at preserving, rehabilitating and sustainably utilizing coral reef ecosystems.

Despite being located at the remote northernmost tip of Indonesia, Ranai is quite lively, with traditional markets and a large supermarket. The medical facilities are quite advanced, and there are several banks in the center of town. In mid May 2008, Natuna was host to the Riau Archipelago provincial-level Qur’an Reading Contest (Musabaqoh Tilawatil Qur’an, MTQ).

Natuna also has extensive accommodation facilities, including the Hotel Natuna, Hotel Kaisar, and the Ajo Besamo inn.

Soon after we arrived at our lodgings, we met up with Bang Jurianto, who helped us organize our diving facilities. We were invited to meet Ibu Zuriati and Bang Hendri, the COREMAP coordinators for Natuna. Through Bang Henri, we got everything we needed for diving – tanks, compressor, weights, and even a boat to the dive site.

The dive site we headed to first was Pulau Senua. After a 20-minute drive north from Ranai, we arrived at Sepempang village, on the shore directly opposite Senua, an island shaped like a pregnant woman lying on her back. Our boat left the Sepempang dock straight away.

As it turned out, the boat did not stop at Pulau Senua, but instead headed to the east of the island. The water below us suddenly changed color to light blue, indicating that we were coming into fairly shallow waters. We had arrived at the intended dive site. The site doesn’t have a formal name yet; we just called it the “gosong timur” point, because it’s a submerged reef (gosong) located on the east (timur) side of the island.

As soon as we hit the water, I immediately ducked my head under to see what was below the surface. Quite surprising: I could see the seabed, just ten meters down. The visibility was quite good – clear vertical visibility over ten meters, and horizontally also at least ten meters. These conditions enabled us to clearly see the contour of the seabed – hills and valleys with rocky structures, on which both hard and soft coral were growing.

The coral coverage was fairly good, around 30% to 40%. As well as the fine corals, there were also many fish – damselfish, butterfly, angelfish, and reef fish such as groupers.

According to research done by CRITC, LIPI and COREMAP II in 2004, 171 species of reef fish living in the waters of Natuna have been identified.

After diving for around 30 minutes, we were surprised to encounter an undersea structure that forms a steep wall. The base of this wall was around 40 meters down, and as we were about to return to the surface, a school of barracuda swam by – an underwater attraction that people often seek.

Our second dive was also on the eastern side of Pulau Senua. The seabed conditions there were much the same, dominated by rocks with small cavities and caves, but with fewer coral than at the first dive site. We also felt a quite noticeable surge – a reversing current from the pounding waves that then sweep back out to sea.

On our way home, we learned from the captain of the boat we had rented that there is an underwater location where fishermen often find old bottles; the site itself seems to be in the shape of a sunken ship. We decided to check it out.

This shipwreck site turned out to be south of Pulau Senua. The local people refer to this submerged reef as karang kapal, or “ship reef”. Diving here was not easy; we were faced with swift currents, and the water was starting to get dark, as the sun was slipping into the west. We observed that the coral was indeed in the shape of a ship. The coral was growing very well here, entirely covering the surface of the wreck. We made out a copper plate reading “..steam sailor & distilling apparatus London”, apparently part of the sunken ship.

Overall, we were very impressed with the conditions of the waters and the coral reefs we explored. Although we encountered remnants of damaged coral at some places, generally we also found “recruits” (newly growing corals).

This area can be considered the equal of many of the other, better-known diving locations in western Indonesia, such as Kepulauan Seribu (the Thousand Islands), Padang, or Ujung Kulon. It’s a great place to visit; just be careful if you go between November and February, as the northerly wind can make things quite difficult.

Source: Garuda Indonesia in-flight magazine

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