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Chasing hammerhead sharks in the Ring of Fire

Jerry Adiguna
Jerry Adiguna

The Jakarta Post

Banda, Maluku  /  Thu, October 31, 2019  /  05:48 pm
Chasing hammerhead sharks in the Ring of Fire

Majestic: Divers enjoy the scenery of the reef in Serua Island waters near Maluku. (JP/Jerry Adiguna)

Being an archipelagic nation, Indonesia has seas that hold many mysteries and among them is the recent emergence of scalloped hammerhead sharks in the mystical waters of Banda, Maluku.

Divers usually find schools of hammerhead sharks near Malpelo Island in Colombia, the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador, Cocos Island off Costa Rica, near Molokai in Hawaii and off southern and eastern Africa.

However, in recent years hammerhead sharks have been showing up in the mystical Banda Sea, also known as part of the Ring of Fire.

Recent findings also show that the hammerhead shark population in Indonesian waters has been increasing, although it is still endangered by illegal finning activities, mostly done in the waters near Lombok and Java islands. 

My journey to witness the grace of the hammerhead sharks in the Banda Sea started at Tulehu Harbor, Maluku.

In the harbor, a new 35-meter phinisi (traditional ship), the Amaya Explorer, awaited me after it had finished a long journey from the Marina Harbor in Jakarta, where it went through a full-scale interior renovation. 

Off we go: The Amaya Explorer sails through the waters of the Banda Sea near Maluku.Off we go: The Amaya Explorer sails through the waters of the Banda Sea near Maluku. (JP/Jerry Adiguna)

The ship had become a luxurious one that could hold 20 guests, equipped with full diving facilities along with two speed boats.

The ship's crew members always welcome new guests with fresh juice. Other than me, one of the guests was Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) certified dive instructor Nello. Both of us chatted about how excited we were over the journey ahead and to dive along with the hammerhead sharks.

After all the passengers went on board, our journey began with a check dive near Tulehu, a dive spot known as Batu Lompa.

The area is rich with healthy tropical coral and clear pristine water. Here, the crew dive masters and dive guides monitored the participants’ diving abilities and readiness.

After the check dive, we enjoyed dinner and listened to trip coordinator Pablo give explanations on the itinerary for our journey ahead. Pablo explained that for the journey, we were going to sail to a dive location known as Batu Suanggi before we continued to the historic island of spices, Banda Neira. 

Batu Suanggi is a small remote volcanic island full of birds. Along its reefs is a rich, beautiful and healthy coral garden with an awe-inspiring drop-off that descends more than 50 meters.

The marine life around Batu Suanggi is also rich and healthy. We saw a big hawkbill turtle, dozens of pelagic fish, white tip reef sharks and, of course, a school of hammerhead sharks during our dive there.

In accordance with the itinerary, the ship then sailed to Banda Neira.

We arrived in Banda Neira's harbor at night for a good sleep.

In the morning, right after breakfast, we got off the ship for a while to experience a tour on land around Banda Naira, a small island that was so influential to the history of Indonesia and even the world as a whole because of its importance during Spice Wars from 1601 to 1663.

We walked along the old houses where Indonesia's first vice president, Mohammad Hatta, aka Bung Hatta, was exiled by the Dutch colonial authorities.

Our path also took us to admire the magnificent old Fort of Belgica located on the high point of the island. The view from this fort could take visitors back to the colonial era, when the Dutch and the Portuguese battled for Banda Neira to take control of the spices, especially the buah Pala (nutmeg).

Relics of war: The Banda Strait as seen from the Fort of Belgica on Banda Neira Island, Maluku.Relics of war: The Banda Strait as seen from the Fort of Belgica on Banda Neira Island, Maluku. (JP/Jerry Adiguna)

After enjoying the stroll around Banda Neira, we headed back to the ship to have lunch, which was prepared by the head chef, Gusti. Now that we had been energized, we were ready to go to our next dive spot in Karang Hatta.

The waters of Karang Hatta were also very pristine and healthy. There were beautiful coral reefs with scores of tropical fishes swimming around them. We also saw a graceful barracuda pass by us as if it was guarding the reefs from any potential disruptions.

The next morning, the ship arrived at the remote island of Serua, which people sometimes call the Forgotten Island. There is an active volcano on this island and it is inhabited only by a few hundred people living in four negeri (small villages).

After our breakfast in Serua, we went for another dive. Our guides briefed us about the island and its dive spots. According to them, schools of hammerhead sharks are usually found between 20 and 30 meters deep in the waters around Serua. 

As we descend deeper into the waters, the richness of the marine life once again mesmerized us.

Suddenly, my dive guide, Thadeus, a man from Batanta Island, Raja Ampat, West Papua, took my hand as he guided me in the direction of some hammerhead sharks near us.

Bonding: Hammerhead sharks swim in groups in the waters around Serua Island, Maluku.Bonding: Hammerhead sharks swim in groups in the waters around Serua Island, Maluku. (JP/Jerry Adiguna)

I pointed my underwater camera toward dozens of hammerhead sharks lining up in front of my eyes. Some were large, some small, but all swam gracefully in a group, enjoying the cool water currents. After the dive we went back on board the ship, where the crew welcomed us with warm towels and hot sweet chocolate drinks. 

We ended our adventure at Tulehu's harbor, the same spot where we started. The memories of the Forgotten Island, the Ring of Fire and, of course, the sharks have enriched our life stories as we lift our bags and reach land.

Diving with hammerhead sharks is not an adventure for the faint of heart, but it does not mean you cannot enjoy it in style.

With all the hospitality service, a trip on a luxury ship like the Amaya Explorer is truly a memorable experience. 

The ship was originally built in Tana Beru, Bulukumba, South Sulawesi, by Haji Ully, a well known crafter of phinisi, Indonesia’s own traditional ship.

Crystal clear: A bird's-eye view of the Amaya Explorer and a man snorkeling to enjoy the scenery of the reef in Serua Island waters.Crystal clear: A bird's-eye view of the Amaya Explorer and a man snorkeling to enjoy the scenery of the reef in Serua Island waters. (JP/Jerry Adiguna)

The building of it took more than two years and after the main construction was completed, the Amaya Expoler sailed to Jakarta to get its final interior finishing touches and electronics. 

The ship, which is owned by Bobby Weliyanto and Ratria Perwitasari Budiendra, offers eight luxury sleeping cabins – each with a private hot shower – a full galley, a mess and, finally, a jacuzzi on its deck that can hold up to six people.

To enjoy an adventure trip with the Amaya Explorer, the cost can vary between US$400 and $500 per night or between $4,000 and $5,000 for 10 days of diving adventures around the seas of Indonesia. The routes constantly change in accordance with the currents and seasonal wind conditions. 

The hammerhead shark experience is usually available from the middle of September to the middle of November. After the hammerhead season, the ship continues its journeys to other destinations, such as Raja Ampat, which start from the end of December to early April each year.


Editor's note: The Amaya Explorer invited The Jakarta Post for this trip that lasted from Oct. 13 to 19.