Soft coral spectaculars and creature curiosities

Season: Year-round diving

Visibility: 12-30m/40-100ft

Water Temperature: 27-30°C/81-86°F

Bat Fish (Martin Edge)

Diving: Walls, coral gardens, critter diving, shore diving, boat diving, pinnacles, sea mounts

Snorkeling opportunities


Can be combined with: Twin centre stays with resorts in the Manado area and Gangga Island are very popular, or why not compliment your liveaboard cruise with an extra week on shore?


Just off the northeastern tip of the starfish-shaped island of Sulawesi is the Bangka Archipelago. The largest of the islands are Bangka, Talisei and Gangga, of which Bangka is the biggest and justly famed for its luxuriant soft corals. In this marine-life-rich area one can see varieties of fish species and invertebrates that have rarely been encountered before – the local dive guides frequently spot new species for the area or even sometimes undescribed species. Schooling species and colourful reef fish are all to be found in abundance, and with luck you will encounter a pod of Short-finned Pilot Whales or dolphins whilst travelling to the dive sites.

The Bangka Archipelago dive sites are most easily visited by liveaboard boat or by staying at the dive resort on delightful Gangga Island. There are over 25 dive sites in the area with fringing reefs, sharp coral pinnacles covered in especially beautiful soft corals and some truly magnificent soft coral gardens. It is easy to overlook the hard coral in this area, but it would be a shame to miss out on searching under frilly hard corals for groups of sweetlips or lurking frogfish. Bangka Island has sandy bays and rich tangles of tropical vegetation which frequently give way to mangrove areas and then to the ocean itself. Sahaung Island has most extensive soft coral gardens of a type rarely seen in this area. Descend to about 20 metres and look up at the glowing ‘flowers’ of orange, yellow, white, pink and blue corals festooning the low walls. To add to this enchanting technicolor display one may also witness black coral polyps feeding, along with the gorgeous citrus yellow polyps of the Tubastrea corals. Lihaga Island, close to Bangka Island, is the place to enjoy mandarinfish. The dive drops to 25 metres at its deepest and it is within the acropora coral gardens that these jewel coloured little fish can be found. Settle down in a comfortable spot and as the sun sinks below the horizon it seems as if little mice are scampering through the coral, but look harder and you will see that the ‘mice’ are actually mandarinfish. Suddenly you may see two fish rise together and display their brilliant colours of red, flashing shades of blue and green as they unite in a mating dance before each falls back and goes its separate way. The Gangga Island House Reef is a gently sloping volcanic reef with lovely soft corals and super sponges. Search for the gorgeous Ornate Ghost Pipefish or the amazing, ‘hairy’ Roughsnout Ghost Pipefish or the very elusive and cryptic Glittering Pipefish, amongst a host of other creatures that make their homes in and on the reef. A night dive here (for those staying at the resort) will reward the diver with sparkling shrimp eyes, pulsating cuttlefish and some big octopuses.

Further to the north, and only accessible by liveaboard, lies a chain of volcanic islands called the Sangihe-Talaud Archipelago: dozens of islands, some of which are over 1500 meters high and densely covered by coconut palms and forest. This area has some of the deepest and clearest water on the planet and offers the chance of encounters with large pelagics or even whales. In this area semi-active underwater volcanoes are still releasing gas bubbles into the sea, forming ‘shower curtains’ of tiny silver  bubbles.

Siau Island is home to one of Indonesia’s most active volcanoes, Karangetang Volcano, and at night it is possible to see the peak of the volcano glowing red in the darkness. At Eddy Point, off Siau Island, it does not take more than a few seconds to realize that this is a dive site close to an active volcano: black porous rubble is everywhere, but the real surprise may come later when you may hear a series of rumblings: the volcano is grumbling away! Batu Lehi, south of Eddy Point, is a dramatic wall dive with masses of Tubastraea coral and some beautiful colonial anemones. A popular spot for a night dive, the area is full of lobsters and crustaceans of many kinds. Decorator crabs are common and it is possible to see cuttlefish and Blue-spotted Stingrays. Surface to find the volcano glowing red above you, then swim over to one of the volcanic hot springs to warm up and relax after the dive.

Close to Mahengetang Island is Banua Wuhu submarine volcano which rises more than 400 metres from the sea floor to form a shoal just less than 5 metres below sea level. With a whiff of sulphur in the air and an area of surge over the spiky top of the volcano, it is obvious you are at the right dive site! Unspoilt reefs hold amazing coral formations: cabbage corals making beautiful swirling patterns and soft corals in many shades of pink, orange and yellow. Some of the barrel sponges in this area are over a metre and a half in height!. Leaving this fabulous reef behind, the scenery changes as yellow sulphurous deposits cover the area like a thick coating of dust as one approaches the extraordinary feature of this dive site: huge boulders and volcanic rubble which release hot gas and sulphur. The bubbles form an almost transparent curtain through which reef fish dart and play.

COMBINATIONS: If you are staying shore-based, why not combine an exploration of the Bangka Archipelago with a stay in the Manado region or a stay at the fabulous Lembeh Strait, world famous for its unusual creatures and especially its ‘macro life’. Or even take in all three? Alternatively, it is straightforward to combine a visit to Gangga with a visit to another of Indonesia’s fantastic dive destinations. Talk to us about the possibilities.

Anemone Fish (Martyn Guess)


Soft corals and diver (Carine Kunz Jacques)

Fan coral (Carine Kunz Jacques)

Lion Fish (Carine Kunz Jacques)

Soft coral scenery (Carine Kunz Jacques)

Hawksbill turtle (Carine Kunz Jacques)

Weedy scorpionfish (Carine Kunz Jacques)

Pink anemonefish (Sam Bean)

Lionfish (Sam Bean)

Ornate ghost pipefish (Sam Bean)

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