Diving the Hidden Treasures of Indonesia

North Maluku. Some people may have heard of it, most people don’t know it even exists. Still off the main tourism radar, it is slowly becoming a destination choice for people wanting to experience a different side of Indonesia. With friendly and welcoming smiles it is easy to feel comfortable among the locals as they can’t keep their excitement hidden about seeing a “bule” or foreigner. With never more than a few tourists in the North Maluku region at one time, it is easy to find a quiet beach with pure white sand or start a conversation with another traveler as you both find yourselves sitting in the same “warung” or family restaurant. This is only where the adventure begins. The diving here is untouched in many areas.

With a small population and small villages dotted around the coasts, it has left some beautiful wall dives, shore dives, sea mounts, and even an underwater volcano to be discovered. As with all of Indonesia, dynamite fishing has had negative affects in some areas, but some of the villages have realised that it is a short sighted practice and are trying different techniques for fishing. As tourism begins growing, the fishermen will be happy to turn to sustainable tourism as their income, but for now, they need to still do some subsistence fishing as well as the odd island hopping tour.

The main town of North Maluku is Tobelo and while it is not anything spectacular on its own, it is a city for supplies and helps the few small hotels in the area. The flights that arrive three times per week, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday fly direct from Manado, North Sulawesi for 45 minutes and arrive in Kao about a 45 minute drive from Tobelo. The drive north to Tobelo is fantastic as you go from jungle to beach and back through more jungle, crossing many small creeks and rivers along the way. Pure nature!

Recently an Australian and Canadian family with two young children have started to invest in the areas first dive resort. Up until now, the local government through the tourism office has provided diving, but there is still no one to take the leap and really promote the area for diving. However, with an abundance of marine life, a diversity of marine life unlike anywhere else on the planet, and over 50 dive sites mapped out so far, there is no reason to turn back now. This is the heart of the Coral Triangle. This is the part of the marine world that feeds the rest of the corals around the Pacific.

It is a slow process in Indonesia, however this family is working diligently to create a sustainable dive resort and pave the way for future investment from other foreigners into the area. Committed to not being corrupt, the process has been a bit slower, but the couple believes it would only make it harder for other investors in the future. If they can create an entire business without paying off an official, it would let the Indonesian government know that foreigners do not believe in a corrupt government and that the officials must do their appointed job to better the community.

The diving here has been better than they could have asked for. Having seen pilot whales, manta rays, sharks, and a great variety of marine life, each dive is an adventure in itself. With the help of a few coordinates already known, they had a base to work from, but continue to expand that base to include new dive sites. By the end of their discovery, they believe they will have over 100 dive sites from 5 minutes from their resort property to just under 2 hours.

The name of the dive resort is Karianga Dive Centre Community and has 5 hectares of land on the beach about 40 minutes south of Tobelo. With a small bay, a fringing reef about 40 metres out, followed by a second reef around 120 metres out, there is plenty to see right there. Juveniles congregate in the shallows and are easy to see just walking through the sand and sea grasses.

The resort is being built with the environment in mind. Some of the buildings will be “earthbag” structures which takes a mixture of clay, sand, and earth and pounds it into an empty rice bag, creating natural “bricks” that harden over time. This keeps the amount of wood used at a minimum as the entire structure is domed and continues from one row to the next of these earthen bricks. They do plan on building a few rooms over the calm, clear waters where they have some beautiful rocky beach and are learning how to make geodesic domes using bamboo for some luxury rooms. They have a desire to create spaces for many levels of income with some camping accommodations to higher end rooms along the waterfront.

The question they raise is whether tourism actually is sustainable or not. Will it truly improve the local peoples standard of living and what do they lose if anything. With this in mind, they want to hold the culture of the local people to the highest standard. The stories, traditions, and beliefs are what make their story unique. As tourism grows, this family wants to see the importance of these traditions given reverence and shared with tourists. The quality of life should only be improved and the local people should not lose their traditional diets or methods in exchange for a more “western” life. It is important to increase health standards through tourism as well as protect the environment for the future generations and create conservation areas that help increase diversity, abundance, and sacred areas that can be cherished by all. Profit is not the only bottom line. The well being of the inhabitants of the area is just as important, if not more important. These people must be acknowledged and listened to as they have their lives adjusted because of a new industry such as tourism. At first the idea of more money in the area seems appealing to many locals, but is there a cost. This is the fine line that the Aussie and Canuck are treading as they create their sacred space and talk with the locals and new friends about how to promote tourism in the area.

Through tourism, they hope to create marine parks and find this elusive manta ray congregating area that fishermen have spoken about. So far, they have only seen random sightings of manta rays, but with time, they’re sure to find a true hidden treasure.

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