Wreck, reef and muck in tulamben - bali



For many years Bali has enjoyed a reputation as an exotic and romantic destination for a beach holiday and a taste of far eastern culture. The island has also been the departure point for live aboard trips to the more remote areas of the Indonesian archipelago, but Bali’s own attractions as a stand alone diving destination has remained somewhat hidden in the constant search for the next ‘untouched’ area. However, discerning photographers should not only be enticed by the promise of virgin reefs as Bali itself offers some excellent diving, many rare and unusual photographic subjects and some very comfortable and reasonably priced resorts and dive centres.

 The majority of the diving in Bali is on the east coast and Tulamben Bay is perhaps the best known diving location in Bali due to the wreck of the USS Liberty which lies just off the beach. We have selected Tauch Terminal to host the workshop as it is right on the water in the centre of the bay, has good facilities for the photographer and you are only a short stroll away from the centre of Tulamben ‘village’ with its selection of restaurants and small shops. You can even pamper yourself here in the spa and aromatherapy suite or take a relaxing massage on the water front.

What makes Tulamben so attractive is that within a few metres walk you have a truly world class wreck dive, muck diving, shallow reef diving and a wall dive. There is a stunning variety of marine life and different habitats to keep your camera busy for a week or more. The beach is a product of the active volcanic history of this island and comprises pebbles and boulders of various sizes – to make your life easy the local villagers have established a co-operative whose sole activity is carrying the scuba sets from the dive centres to the point of entry, which makes diving here so easy as all you need to carry are your fins, mask and camera. When you finish your dive you just shed your tank on the beach and it will be collected and returned to the dive centre – bliss!

In addition to the spectacular wreck site and beach dives the workshop will include excursions to local dive sites using the local ‘jukung’ outrigger fishing boats which is great fun - these will include “Seraya Secrets” (now well know as a prime muck dive site) and Kubu reef. We will also visit Amed a short drive down the coast which is home to another coral encrusted wreck – ‘The Japanese wreck” – and a rich fringing reef both perfect for wide angle and macro photography.

 For the historians, a little background on the Tulamben wreck - the USS Liberty was built as a freighter by the Federal Ship Building Company of Kearny New Jersey in 1918 and after an uneventful life was commandeered for service at the outbreak of war and armed with a bow and stern gun. On 11 January 1942 she was part of a convoy steaming across the Lombok Strait carrying rubber and railroad parts from Australia to the Philippines. At 04:15 the ship was hit by a torpedo from the Japanese submarine I-166. Although crippled the ship was not in immediate danger of sinking and so two destroyers (US Paul Jones and the Dutch registered Van Ghent) who were escorting the convoy made fast to the Liberty and began towing her to Singarraja for repairs. Unfortunately, before long the Liberty began to take on water and sink and so was beached at Tulamben where she was abandoned in the face of the Japanese advance. Over the next twenty one years the ship became part of the scenery and anything of value was slowly salvaged by the local villagers. This could have been the end of the story but for the massive eruption of Mount Angung in March 1963, which caused widespread devastation and more than 2000 deaths. The massive earth tremors also resulted in the wreck of the Liberty slowly slipping from the beach and down the reef slope to where she lies today.

 The wreck is now broken into several large sections and is a spectacular dive. At nearly 400ft (120m) in length and a 55ft (17m) beam this is a big ship and every square inch of her is now covered in colourful corals and marine life. The dive starts at the stern which in early morning is the rendezvous point for a school of large bumphead parrot fish who settle on the grey sand to be cleaned before departing for the day’s feeding on the reef. It took me a while to realise that the trails of white sand that contrasted so well with the dark seabed were in fact produced by these Neanderthal looking fish – I will leave you to imagine how!

 The rudder and stern section are mostly intact and now covered in sea whips, sea fans, soft corals, sponges and all manner of invertebrates. This colonisation is a common theme all the way to the bow section, which is the deepest point of the wreck at 27-30m. Here there is a sea fan with resident pigmy sea horses, but they are difficult to spot without a guide and you don’t get long to photograph them at this depth. Fish life on the wreck is as varied as any reef and there are numerous exotic finds for sharp eyed divers. Frog fish, leaf scorpion fish, ghost pipe fish, cuttle fish, octopus and many species of nudibranch and crustacean are found regularly and with the help of one of the local dive guides you are almost guaranteed success. There is also a spectacular resident school of several hundred jacks that move between the wreck and the wall dive at the other end of the bay and show no concern at yet another close approach from a diver with a camera. For me the wreck is so good that I dive it again and again – wide angle in the early morning and macro in the afternoon when visibility is sometimes poorer.

 Between wreck dives there is the house reef (right in front of Tauch Terminal and called the Coral Garden by other centres) in the centre of the bay which has some wonderful macro subjects and good fish life and is a particularly good night dive – look out for numerous species of urchins, crinoids and sea pens which all have commensal crabs, shrimps, squat lobsters or tiny gobies living on them. During the day the shallows are filled with numerous juvenile fish including some tiny black tip sharks who scoot up and down the shoreline trying to look menacing!

 At the southern end of the bay is a headland featuring a wall dive which has some impressive sea fans and barrel sponges and offers the chance to see some larger pelagics – almost anything can pass by from large Mola mola (sun fish) to schools of dog tooth tuna and apparently even a whale sharks. One morning as we ate breakfast overlooking the bay we gazed in awe at several whales breaking the surface for air as the came around this headland and moved across the bay.

 Between these sites and the wreck itself are small reef outcrops and areas of dark volcanic sand and rubble. These patches are classic muck environments and harbour a surprising variety of exotic and unusual creatures – the area close to the entry for the wall dive is particularly good for nudibranchs. There are now also a couple of steel frame structures (one in the shape of an airplane) installed in the shallows to measure coral growth and these are already attracting residents including ghost pipe fish and schools of glass fish. As with most muck sites you need to move slowly and let your eyes adjust to reveal nudibranchs, snake eels, blue ribbon eels, exotic dragonets, Inimicus scorpion fish, stonefish, seahorses and a host of other well camouflaged species. Pick up any marine guide book to Indonesia and you will find numerous species which have been photographed at Tulamben and a high proportion are to be found in these ‘muck’ sites.

To the north is the small village of Kubu which has a very healthy reef with a dense carpet of miniature staghorn corals covering a submerged volcanic headland. Here you may encounter schools of bat fish and barracuda, swarms of glassy sweepers and pigmy seahorses on fans at 25-30m. You can make a second dive here on an adjacent spur which has numerous coral outcrops and bommies and seems to be a good place for frog fish – my guide found a mated pair of tiny clown frog fish, one yellow and one white who were perfectly camouflaged amongst the sponges and hydroids.

You can also go south from Tulamben to Batu Kelebit and the Alamanda and Emerald reefs where, strangely, the dark volcanic sand of Tulamben is replaced with the more familiar pale coral sand running between steeply sloping coral spurs and numerous coral heads and pinnacles. We spent several dives here looking for the numerous different species of shrimp to be found within anemones and on feather stars, starfish, urchins, sea cucumbers and even riding on the backs of gaudily coloured nudibranchs. At the end of one dive we came to a close stand off with two male giant cuttle fish who were determined to stay between us and their mate who was carefully depositing her eggs between the fold of a cabbage coral just a meter or so away.

 A little further to the south is ‘Seraya Secrets’ which is gaining a reputation as a classic muck dive site. The seabed topography here is gently sloping with raised ridges and is home to harlequin shrimps, boxer crabs and Coleman shrimps and zebra crabs on fire urchins amongst a host of other subjects. We found two pairs of harlequin shrimps here, one pair was considerately consuming their starfish on the base of a bright red gorgonian fan coral. In the shallows is a steel frame dome structure, again to monitor coral growths, which attracts all sorts of interesting species, including a pair of ornate ghost pipe fish and numerous dwarf lion fish.

 If you want to venture further a field then day trips can be arranged to sites at Amed, Pandangbai, Menjangan, and the island of Nusa Pendida which has some exhilarating wall and drift dives. My favourite is Amed which is the location of the ‘Japanese wreck”, which does not appear on any of the ‘must do’ sites at the dive centre but is perfect for photographers. This is a small wreck (perhaps 30m long) and lies in 6-10m of water a stones throw from the beach. It is smothered in coral growth and has all sorts of attractive residents – a small school of batfish, glassy sweepers in side the wreck, resident leaf scorpion fish, numerous scorpion fish, and countless reef fish to keep you busy. A short swim away to the north around the headland is a spectacular reef on a steep slope with just about every species you could hope for. This site is around 40 minutes by road from Tulamben and there is a small restaurant right on the beach where you can enjoy a cool drink or a snack whilst you prepare cameras and change lenses between dives and even a fresh water shower.

 Having traveled all this way you should not miss the opportunity of seeing what else this wonderful island has to offer. Away from the tourist hot spots of Kuta and Sanur the pace of life is totally relaxed and the scenery amongst the volcanic highlands, jungle, sculpted rice terraces and temples is simply stunning. If you are keen to experience a little culture then Ubud is worth a visit – this is the craft centre of Bali and has a fantastic market area as well as numerous shops. It is also the place to see the traditional Balinese dances and shadow puppet shows.

The Workshop:

As with previous workshops the emphasis will be on informality and everyone is free to ask questions throughout the day. During the workshop there will be some themed presentations suitable for users of both digital and film systems and Mark will be on hand to help and advise on the best techniques and solutions whatever equipment you choose to use.


 Cost of Workshop:


The cost of the Tulamben Workshop will be EU 900 or 1000 (dependant on room choice – based on two people sharing - single rooms are available at additional cost) – all payments to be made in Euros and includes the following:

  • 7 days half board and 6 days diving at the Tauch Terminal Resort including nitrox if you wish to use it.

  • Transfers from Denpasar airport to resort; resort to Denpasar airport at the end of the week.

  • Flights to Bali are not included.



For  Full booking details please contact Mark Webster by e-mail at markwebster@photec.co.uk


Visit the Tauch Terminal website for full details at http://www.tulamben.com/englidex.htm



Getting There: There are a number of routes to Denpaser in Bali via Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Jakarta. We flew with KLM and Garuda Indonesia via Jakarta – KLM offer a ‘scuba equipment’ rate of EU40 each way for 20kg (book before you fly) and Garuda allow 30kg free hold allowance.


Diving: The diving will suit all levels of experience, although less experienced divers should be cautious of sites with strong currents.


When To Go: Bali can be dived year round. Winter months are the ‘rainy’ season but this is normally limited to occasional short down pours between sunny spells with calm seas.


Air temperature: 27-30c and humid


Water temperature: 27-29c but can be 20-25c in the cold currents – 3-5mm wetsuit advised


Health: currently Bali is a low malarial risk – but you should consult your pharmacist or MASTA or the current situation and best prophylactic


Time: Bali is GMT +8 hours


Voltage: 220V with European style two pin plugs


Entry Requirements: you can purchase a 30 tourist visa on arrival ($25) and passport must be valid for at least 6 months with 4 blank pages.


Money: bring US Dollars to change locally into Rupiah. There are money changers everywhere but exchange rates are often best in the banks and you can withdraw cash from ATM’s


Cost: Flights will cost between £550-750, shop on the internet for best prices.





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