Why Wakatobi: A Dozen Reasons You Should Visit Today

[See image gallery at scubadiverlife.com] Wakatobi Dive Resort consistently ranks as one of the world’s top-rated diving and snorkeling destinations. But what exactly does that mean? Certainly, the quality of the underwater experience is important, but so too are factors such as the setting, amenities, guest comfort and conveniences. This combination earns Wakatobi top marks with its guests. But don’t take my word for it. Here are a dozen reasons the resort remains near the top of so many divers’ bucket lists.

Protection Pays Off

In an era when even the most remote diving destinations are subject to the effects of human activity, a policy of managed and enforced protection is the only way to assure the underwater ecosystem’s health. Wakatobi Resort sits within a marine reserve created and operated by the resort’s founders. Covering more than 12 miles (20 km) of reef line, the Wakatobi Collaborative Reef Conservation Program creates a no-take zone that encompasses some of the region’s most spectacular and biologically-rich underwater landscapes. And it works. Since the establishment of the reserve in the mid 1990s, all destructive forms of fishing have ceased. Permanent moorings protect dive sites and there is a strict no-touch policy in place for all diving guests. Because of these efforts, fish populations have increased and corals have returned to near-pristine status.

High Critter Counts

Wakatobi Resort sits within the Coral Triangle, which nurtures the planet’s highest levels of marine biodiversity. On the reefs surrounding the resort, divers and snorkelers can tally more than 500 varieties of hard and soft corals. There are 2,000-plus species of fish life and many thousands more invertebrates. Keen-eyed divers can spend hours searching out tiny treasures, such as pygmy seahorses, or scanning the shallows for burrowers. Healthy reefs attract swarms of colorful tropicals. Schooling fish patrol the edges of walls and the tops of underwater seamounts.

Be Part of the Solution

Wakatobi’s Collaborative Reef Conservation Program doesn’t just put a halt to destructive fishing practices and reef degradation, it creates a sustainable alternative by making healthy reefs a source of revenue for the local community. The resort uses a portion of all guest revenue to make direct lease payments to area villages. Revenues also sustain other community initiatives for education, clean water and electrification. By giving the surrounding community a stake in preserving the reefs, Wakatobi has transformed local attitudes and encouraged a sense of stewardship. And by placing many reefs into a status that creates fish-breeding sanctuaries, Wakatobi’s programs have helped local fishermen increase their catch within designated fishing zones.

Cruising in Comfort

Wakatobi Resort operates a fleet of custom-built dive boats. These spacious 69-foot (21 m) vessels offer shaded decks and extra-spacious benches. Dedicated gear storage bins and a separate camera table are out of the way of other divers and snorkelers. Bathrooms are located at the rear of the boat, and at deck level. Water entry is from the middle of the boat, which keeps divers well away from engine exhaust when entering and exiting the water. Underway, the boat’s efficient single-engine design keeps motor noise to a low burble. Boat crews are dedicated to delivering personal service both aboard and in the water. Thorough briefings are provided before each dive, and each guest is given the appropriate level of attention to ensure both safety and maximum diving freedom.

Underwater Diversity

The dive sites surrounding Wakatobi Resort offer a diverse range of underwater scenery. Many begin as shallow reefs that rise to within a few feet of the surface then transition dramatically to steep slopes or walls. Some sites are set in protected bays, while others take in open-water seamounts and pinnacles. At many sites, the reef topographies are ideally suited to multi-level profiles. It is quite common for divers to log bottom times of up to 70 minutes while remaining within a no-stop dive profile. By working with tidal currents, divers can also make extended drift dives at certain locations. Night dives showcase a different cast of marine characters, and the dive center offers the unique program of fluro-diving, which reveals the fluorescing abilities of corals and other marine life.

A Shore with More

Guests don’t have to board a boat to discover some of the best diving and snorkeling in all of Indonesia. Directly in front of the resort is the House Reef, which consistently ranks as one of the world’s top shore dives. Exploring this vast area is as easy as wading in from the beach or entering from the ladder at the end of the resort’s jetty. The outer edge of the reef runs parallel to the shore in a series of steep slopes, walls and undercut ledges. Divers have been known to spend entire days working along small areas of this formation, discovering a wealth of interesting subjects at every turn.

Just inshore of the reef, a seagrass meadow shelters a menagerie of juveniles, invertebrates and sand-dwellers. There is always shore supervision, and to enhance access to the House Reef, the dive staff operates small taxi boats that ferry divers and snorkelers to more-distant areas up current so they can leisurely meander back.

Snorkelers Welcome

Though it’s called a dive resort, Wakatobi is also a great place for snorkelers. In addition to the shallow formations of the House Reef, dozens more sites feature corals rising close to the surface. Snorkelers are always welcome to join the divers at these sites, and get the same personal attention with snorkel guides while on the boats and in the water. The ability to mix diving and snorkeling groups allows diver/snorkeler couples and families with younger children to better share the experience.

After the Dive

Some guests spend every possible moment of their Wakatobi experience in or under the water. Those who don’t have plenty of additional options. Beach time can include a range of water sports such as kayaking, standup paddleboarding and wakeboarding. Between May and September, light seasonal winds turn Wakatobi into an ideal destination for kite surfing. The resort now has a dedicated kiting center, and can accommodate everyone from beginners to experts. Those who would rather stay dry can indulge in a spa visit or wander the island’s nature trail. Guests can tour a local village or sign up for an Indonesian cooking or culture class. The library and lounge in the Longhouse are always open for reading and games. The resort’s photo pro also presents frequent slide shows and marine-life presentations.

Barefoot Luxury

It’s a phrase that has become a bit cliché. But how else would you describe a setting where spa services, fine dining, attentive personal service and million-dollar ocean views mix with charming beachfront bungalows set in a palm grove, and private villas perched on the shoreline? Attentive staff serve each of these oases of personal relaxation, reached by winding sand pathways that encourage you to shed both your shoes and any residual stress. Meals are a highlight for many guests. The resort’s team of internationally-trained chefs showcase their talents with a diverse range of international favorites and Indonesian specialties. They can accommodate a wide range of dietary requirements and special requests as well.

Warm Welcomes

Most of Wakatobi’s staff come from the local community where hospitality is a deeply ingrained cultural trait. Guests are welcomed with the same genuine warmth as if they were invited into a private home. When staff members smile and greet you by name, it’s not a gimmick, but rather a genuine expression of welcome. The staff also takes pride in delivering the details of personal service while respecting everyone’s privacy. This combination is guaranteed to put you at ease and spoil you for a return to the outside world.

The Big Boat Option

In addition to its land-based facilities, Wakatobi Resort operates Pelagian. This 115-foot (35 m) luxury dive yacht conducts one-week liveaboard cruises to more remote areas of the Wakatobi archipelago and the southern coast of Buton Island. Carrying a maximum of 10 guests and offering roomy hotel-like cabins, Pelagian combines five-star service and fine dining with unique access to a range of dive sites. These include seldom-visited reefs, offshore seamounts, and some of the region’s best muck-diving venues. Many guests will combine a stay at the resort with a Pelagian cruise.

Remote Yet Accessible

Wakatobi is located on a small island hundreds of miles from city lights. But getting there is easy, thanks to private direct charter flights from Bali. These arrive at the resort’s own airstrip in just 2.5 hours. To ease the transition, Wakatobi also maintains an airport concierge staff in Bali. Guests also have access to a VIP airport lounge. The concierge team greets arriving passengers and assists with all transfer details. Staff can also arrange hotels, transportation and activities for those wishing to make a Bali layover. Once at the resort, guests can tune out the world but enjoy full connectivity through a combination of Internet, cellular and satellite links.

There are so many reasons that a stay at Wakatobi Resort is truly a world-class experience. But to discover all this idyllic destination offers, you’ll need to experience it for yourself.

By Walt Stearns

The post Why Wakatobi: A Dozen Reasons You Should Visit Today appeared first on Scuba Diver Life.

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Basic Caribbean Coral Identification Part 1: Hard Corals

A thriving ocean depends on a healthy reef because as corals grow, they build complex habitats with lots of nooks and crannies for juvenile fish. But diving on a Caribbean reef can be overwhelming, with so much to see. Knowing some basic Caribbean coral identification means you’ll enrich your experience, so you’ll see beyond the bustling reef fish on each dive.

A hard, calcium-carbonate skeleton is the definitive feature of hard corals. As the coral polyps grow, they create a structure called a corallite, which is the polyps’ home. Below are 11 common species of hard coral that you can find while scuba diving in the Caribbean, as well as some tips on how to identify them.

Acropora cervicornis

Acropora cervicornis

Staghorn Coral

The Caribbean staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis) is an important reef-building species because the long, pointed branches intersect as they grow upward towards the sun. This creates a three-dimensional lattice, perfect for juvenile habitat. The branches of this coral are particularly vulnerable to errant fin kicks, so be careful when swimming around these corals. Acropora cervicornis is the only staghorn coral in the Caribbean, but any Acropora species around the world that forms long, thick branches is considered a staghorn coral.


Acropora palmata

Acropora palmata

Elkhorn Coral

The Caribbean elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata) is a robust species that forms large colonies that can grow to be bigger than a human. As the branches grow, they fuse together to form broad branches, which break apart into flat blades near the edges of the colony. As this coral grows and completes its life cycle, dead elkhorn skeletons add rock and mass to the reef. Therefore, we consider them a reef-building coral. Caribbean elkhorn coral is endangered, with coral-restoration projects in the region focusing mainly on restoring elkhorn and staghorn acropora species.


Lettuce coral

Lettuce coral

Lettuce Coral

This type of coral is common in the Caribbean and several species form plates and blades with intricate corallites. The scientific name for lettuce coral is (Agaricia). This coral can be gray, yellow, or brown, and some have bright green polyps. This coral grows anywhere from caves to the brightest shallow reefs.


Montastrea cavernosa

Montastrea cavernosa

Great Star Coral

As the name implies, this coral grows into large colonies. In the shallows, great star coral (Montastraea cavernosa) forms large domes or wide columns, but in deeper, darker water, this coral tends to spread out wide to catch more of the available light. Montastraea grows in a range of colors. Keep your eyes peeled for bright orange or pink colonies.


Orbicella faveolata

Orbicella faveolata

Mountainous Star Coral

The corallites of this coral (Orbicella faveolata) are much smaller than those of the great star coral. They have several uniform lines running from the top of the corallite, giving it a star like appearance. The mountainous star coral forms large sprawling colonies with peaked ridges running down the side of the colony, which is why we call it “mountainous.” Orbicella is common in the Caribbean and grows in mostly blue, gray, yellow, and brown.


Dendrogyra cylindricus

Dendrogyra cylindricus

Pillar coral

Pillar coral (Dendrogyra cylindrus) is one of the Caribbean’s most unique corals. The polyps of this coral extend during the day giving it a fuzzy appearance. When the polyps are retracted, the skeleton has corallites that twist and turn throughout the colony, giving it a maze-like appearance. Pillar coral is rare on most Caribbean reefs. It’s listed as vulnerable because recruitment and survival rates of juveniles is low.


Porites asteroides

Porites asteroides

Mustard Hill Coral

This coral (Porites astreoides) is named for its vibrant yellow color. As the coral grows, it forms lumps and bumps all over the surface of the colony. Porites astreoides also grows in blue and gray colonies throughout the Caribbean. You’ll find this common coral on all parts of the reef, from the shallowest to the deepest.


Diploria labyrinthiformis

Diploria labyrinthiformis

Grooved Brain Coral

The scientific name for grooved brain coral is Diploria labyrinthiformis. This coral forms wide, brain-like ridges, with a noticeable groove in the center of each ridge. The colonies can build large domes or more encrusting forms along the sea floor. Search for the wide, grooved ridges to identify this coral. Colonies can be several feet across and you’ll find them in all habitats.


Eusmilia fastigiata

Eusmilia fastigiata

Smooth Flower Coral

During the day, you might wonder how this coral (Eusmilia fastigiata) got its name. But on a night dive, you’ll see a large, fleshy, flower-like polyp emerge from the skeleton to catch a passing meal. Eusmilia grows into trumpet-like corallites around one inch long. Corallites are connected at the base, and colonies can grow quite large with hundreds of polyps. More commonly, you’ll see small colonies with a dozen or more corallites. The color is always creamy white or yellow.


Scolymia

Scolymia

Solitary Disk Coral

Solitary disk corals, (Scolymia sp.) are the diamond in the rough. Scolymia are the most colorful coral in the Caribbean, appearing in bright red, pinks, greens, gray, purple and brown. There is no telling what color a Scolymia will be, which is what makes searching for this coral so much fun. There are two species of Scolymia; S. cubensis and S. wellsi


Mycetophyllia ferox

Mycetophyllia ferox

Rough Cactus Coral

This coral forms large plates that spread along the sea floor or on the sides of rocky reefs, but the first things that will catch your eye with rough cactus coral (Mycetophyllia ferox) are the bright pink corallites. Although Mycetophyllia have a soft, fleshy appearance they are hard corals, sporting a hard skeleton underneath.


By guest author Nicole Helgason

The post Basic Caribbean Coral Identification Part 1: Hard Corals appeared first on Scuba Diver Life.

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