The Banda Sea - Best Explored by Dive Liveaboard
Nutmeg farms, Active Volcanos and Abundant Marine Life
Bordered by the Maluku Islands as well as the Halmahera and Ceram Seas, the Banda Sea spans 600 miles east to west and 300 miles north to south. The Banda Sea went undiscovered by the Western world until the 16th century at which time explorers discovered the rich natural resources in this region. For centuries this region changed hands between the Portuguese, Dutch and English control all fighting over spices such as nutmeg, mace & clove. The wealth found in the Banda Islands drew so many Dutch merchants competing against one another they ended up forming the Dutch East India Company. This region has been aptly named the Spice Islands and is also referred to as the Forgotten Islands or the Ring of Fire.
The best conditions in the Banda Sea can be found in April, May & August-October. This brings the drier season and calmer seas. Selecting the appropriate vessel for this region is also of utmost importance. The traditional pinisi style liveaboards were designed for long-haul transport of timber, groceries and other goods to difficult to access ports. They have since been modified into motor sailing yachts, like All Star Aurora, to serve as home to divers ready to explore these remote locations.
Some of the newer liveaboards have opted for an aluminum or steel monohull design which is can provide both added stability and increased speed. All Star Velocean will be the newest addition to the All Star fleet. At 171 ft. with 2 Cummins 1875HP engines it will be one of the fastest dive liveaboards in the world. The cruising speed (20 knots) will be nearly double that of your standard liveaboard. This will allow the Velocean Liveaboard to offer unique itineraries and maximize guests bottom time and topside relaxation.
Once divers visit the Banda Sea they are already trying to plan their return. With such a large area to cover and so many islands to explore it could take a lifetime to see it all.
Banda Neira, Banda Api & Banda Besar
Banda Neira is the capital of the Banda Islands and home to Fort Belgica, one of the few still intact Dutch Forts in this region. Guests can head into town to view Dutch architecture and the influence their occupation had on the Bandanese. Additional excursions opportunities include a visit to a nutmeg farm & the local maritime museum.
In 1988 a volcanic eruption destroyed most of the coral surrounding this site. One site, aptly named Lava Flow sits on a black volcanic backdrop and has blossomed with staghorn, plate and table corals. This site is also one of the best locations in the world to spot the famous Mandarin Fish which come out to perform their mating ritual at night.
Manuk aka ‘Snake Island’
Manuk is a volcanic island that takes its name from the abundance of seabirds. Bird enthusiasts can spot Frigates, White-Bellied Sea Eagles and Red Footed Boobies to name a few. The surrounding waters will delight divers with coral covered walls and geothermal vents. The drop-offs here are amazing and sharks, mackerels, tunas and barracudas are often observed. Manuk is often referred to as ‘Snake Island’ as well as you are sure to see a lot of them! The Banded Sea Snakes or Kraits are said to be attracted to the geothermal vents.
The Forgotten Islands
Nils Desperandum, Serua and Nila
Nils Desperandum, meaning “Don’t Despair”, refers to the name of a ship that was stranded on the reef centuries ago. This atoll along with Mount Serua and Mount Nila make up the region often referred to as the “Forgotten Islands”. The steep drop-offs here are your best chance to spot schooling hammerheads.
Nusa Laut & Molana
Located east of the bigger island of Ambon, these picturesque islands of Maluku are popular dive destinations due to their diversity from ghost pipefish, frogfish, ribbon eels and sometimes dugongs. Diver tip: Glance out to blue water every so often as divers are occasionally graced with schooling hammerheads or cetaceans like sperm or pilot whales.
A highly active volcano with eruptions occurring every 20-30 minutes. Topography surrounding Komba varies from rocky bottom, sloping walls to black sand bottom with nudibranchs and other macrolife.
One of the typical ports of call when visiting the Banda Sea. Bordered by the Banda Sea to the south and the larger island of Seram to the north, Ambon is the capital of the Maluku province. Ambon is the muck diving capital of the world and for the macro photographer this is the pinnacle! For those not familiar with muck diving, this is the diving of volcanic sandy bottom dive sites searching for marine life that is often not bigger than your finger nail. Critters may change seasonally but you will often spot rhinopias, ghost pipefish, rare nudibranch and frogfish.