Jump to content

20 Leagues Under the Sea: A Snorkeling Expedition in the Coral Triangle


Recommended Posts

The Coral Triangle is a very large (over 5 million square kilometers), roughly triangular area encompassing parts of Indonesia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Malaysia, the Solomon Islands, and Timor-Leste. It is noted for its enormous biodiversity of hard and soft corals, fish, and marine invertebrates. While parts of it are very popular with scuba divers and snorkelers, other areas are largely unexplored.


The purpose of this trip was to travel from one well-known area, Raja Ampat, to another thoroughly explored region, Lembeh Strait, while visiting a little known area, Halmahera, along the way. Halmahera does not have the facilities to support and resupply dive boats and other ships, so the few liveaboard dive boats that go there have to travel through it to another destination or return to their original port. We traveled approximately 500 miles by ship, snorkeling 2-4 times per day for 11 days.




Reprinted with permission of Alex Lindbloom/SnorkelVenture


Edited by jeffb
Link to comment
Share on other sites

We learned about this trip from the website https://www.tropicalsnorkeling.com/, which is a very useful website for snorkelers. Besides a vast amount of information on snorkeling equipment, clothing, and destinations, they market snorkeling trips for the tour operator https://snorkelventure.com/. These trips are for snorkelers only, which is important because sites for scuba divers are often totally inappropriate for snorkelers. After our initial contact with tropicalsnorkeling, the actual booking and all communication was direct with SnorkelVenture. SnorkelVenture chartered the liveaboard dive boat Mermaid II for the trip.


The trip began and ended in Jakarta, starting with a midnight flight to Sorong and ending with a morning flight from Manado. Not wanting to miss our cruise, we chose to fly to Indonesia a few days early. Jakarta is not a particularly friendly city for tourists, so we decided to spend some time on Bali and then fly to Jakarta the day the tour began. I was determined to fly 1-stop to minimize the probability of a major delay due to a flight cancellation, airport strike, etc., which greatly limited our options. After several airline schedule changes necessitating some revisions to our plan, this was our final itinerary:

Feb. 19 Fly Qatar Airlines from Washington DC to Bali (9.5 hour layover in Doha) arriving Bali Feb. 21 at 5:30 p.m.

3 nights at Puri Santrian Hotel, Sanur beach, Bali. The hotel was very nice with wonderful pools to help us get used to the heat and humidity. And, with Bali 13 hours ahead of our home, a few days were great for getting over the jet lag.

Feb. 24 Fly Batik Airlines to Jakarta, check in to airport transit hotel. Meet group for dinner at hotel restaurant. Group check-in for flight to Sorong.

Feb. 25 Arrive in Sorong at 6:20 a.m. Met by Mermaid II crew, driven to harbor, taken by inflatable boat to Mermaid II. After safety briefing, shown to cabins, given breakfast, and then left harbor to the site marked as Day 1 on the above map.

March 8 Fly Batik Airlines from Manado to Jakarta. 6 hours later fly Qatar to Washington DC (10 hour layover in Doha).

March 9 Arrived Washington Dulles airport 3:30 p.m.


The long layovers in Doha were unfortunate, and not what we originally booked, but given the very long flights a break was welcome. We booked a room in the Oryx transit hotel in each direction, which was expensive but it was wonderful to stretch out and get a little sleep. And, traveling economy class, we booked exit row seats which I really needed for the legroom.  Remarkably enough, we actually met two people on our tour while flying from Doha to Bali. We struck up a conversation while stretching in the aisle and quickly realized we were on the same trip.


While we booked the international flights and the hotel in Bali, Bernita at SnorkelVenture booked our flight from Bali to Jakarta where the tour began, answered all our queries promptly, and was really a terrific person to deal with. The Jakarta transit hotel was booked by SnorkelVenture as part of the package, along with the flights from Jakarta to Sorong and from Manado to Jakarta. All of the travel arrangements worked perfectly. While the flight from Bali to Jakarta was over an hour delayed, I had been checking it before the trip, knew it was normally that late, and had asked Bernita to give us a sufficiently early flight to allow for a delay or even cancellation.



Link to comment
Share on other sites

Raja Ampat is truly an exotic destination for divers (and based on your post above, snorkelers) and one of the furthest to reach from the US - Jakarta to Sarong is a 6-7 hour flight? Almost NY- London. Few realize how large,  due to being spread out on islands in the ocean, Indonesia is. Looking forward to reading your report. Thanks for taking the time to do this. 

Edited by AKR1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

@AKR1Thanks for reading. Jakarta to Sorong is about 4.5 hours by air, but there's a 2 hour time zone differential. Indonesia is enormous in total area. Its also the 4th most populous country in the world, and the country with the largest Muslim population. Depending on daylight savings time and exactly where you go in Indonesia, its about 12 hours of time zone differential from the east coast of the US, so hard to travel much further.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I will give a little more information on the tour and logistics and then switch over to photos. I will not do a day-by-day, but instead just provide a little information and some pictures from each of the three regions we visited.


Our tour leader was Alex Lindbloom of SnorkelVenture. He was a great tour leader and guide, shepherding us through the airports, helping people with luggage if needed, providing briefings before each snorkel, helping with equipment problems, making sure we all saw the most interesting creatures. He is also a professional underwater photographer and videographer, and gave the group a lesson in underwater photography, gave me a private lesson on RAW processing, and provided everyone with photos and video after the trip was done. Alex has a great personality, outgoing, cheerful, and fun, which set the right tone for the trip. He also entertained us with a quiz game where the winner got naming rights to a previously unnamed reef.


The ship's crew was very friendly and extremely helpful. They have worked together for many years and functioned really well as a team. There were 3 dive guides who were in the water with us along with Alex, primarily for safety but also to point out things we might miss otherwise. When there was something of particular interest that was too deep for me to get a photo, they would take my camera down and photograph it for me. There were two inflatable dinghies which took us from the ship to each snorkel site, and they stayed nearby so that anyone who wanted to quit the snorkel early and go back to the ship before the rest of the group could do so.  The crew helped people on and off the dinghies, helped us with our equipment, rinsed off all our gear, etc., always with a smile. Food was good quality and abundant in quantity.


Our typical daily schedule:

Early breakfast - toast, rolls, coffee, tea - available beginning at 5:30 a.m.

Briefing for 1st snorkel at 7, snorkel at 7:30.

Breakfast - eggs, bacon, sausage, toast, rolls

Briefing and 2nd snorkel after breakfast

Lunch - varied from day to day - sometimes Asian and sometimes western food

Briefing and 3rd snorkel mid-afternoon

Afternoon snack - varied from day to day - fruit, popcorn, freshly baked cake, freshly fried donuts.

If there was a night snorkel that began around sunset and was followed by a late dinner.

If there wasn't a night snorkel dinner was earlier, and people would then sit and talk or study their fish identification books until bedtime.

Like lunch, dinner varied between Asian and western food, usually including both meat or poultry and seafood.


I did not take any pictures of the ship, but you can see photos and read about it here: https://www.mermaid-liveaboards.com/boat/mermaid-ii/


Edited by jeffb
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Raja Ampat is one of the centers of the dive industry in Indonesia, with a wide variety of dive boats, liveaboards, resorts, and homestays. The Dampier Strait cuts through the middle of Raja Ampat, carrying nutrients that feed large fields of coral and vast schools of fish. It has beautiful scenery above the water as well, and there are some rare endemic bird species.


Coral reefs grow right up to mangrove forests




And many different species of fish were seen.










Cuttlefish are considered a rare sighting, but the group saw several (picture taken by Alex using my camera)



We also saw manta rays. Note the scuba divers observing the mantas from the bottom while we watched from above.




Link to comment
Share on other sites

Amazing images!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Cutefish--in the eye of the beholder.  But what a find.  You had bright sun to shine through the water.  Thanks for this account and lovely underwater images.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thank you @wilddog. I used a waterproof compact camera, the Olympus TG-5, and almost all pictures were taken using the Olympus fisheye converter lens. This is a very simple setup, widely used by snorkelers, and relatively inexpensive given the astonishingly high cost of waterproof camera housings for bigger cameras.


Just a few more pictures from Raja Ampat.


My favorite fish of the trip, the regal angelfish



A colorful sweetlips



We did an early morning trip to a well-known lookout point, followed by a dinghy ride around the lagoon.














Link to comment
Share on other sites

@AtravelynnYes, the cuttlefish was not my favorite of the trip. But the guides and the more experienced snorkelers were overjoyed. Despite having snorkeled many times in the Caribbean, I sometimes felt like a novice, as pretty much everyone else on the trip had snorkeled Indonesia repeatedly, and most of them had done trips with SnorkelVenture before (some had done multiple trips just in 2022). Sort of like the first-time safari-goer who isn't interested in the serval sighting because he wants to see lions :)


A few days were cloudy, but mostly we had lots of bright sun. Water clarity varied, but of course plankton feed the fish so some turbidity needs to be tolerated. All in all, photographic conditions were great.

Edited by jeffb
Link to comment
Share on other sites

The manta shots despite being dark are my favorite- the landscapes of the otherworldly islands of Raja Ampat are magical. Agree the Angelfish is beautiful but I prefer mantas:P

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Unfortunately I was spoiled by my first experience snorkeling with mantas - perfectly clear water, French Polynesia, a very shallow lagoon so they were very close to us as they circled around. I've snorkeled twice more with them but the first time is always the most memorable :D

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Next up, Halmahera. Days 6-8 on the map. This was my favorite part of the trip. The strait between Halmahera and Bacan Island is 12 miles wide, but 4 islands block most of the strait at this point.  There are a few small dive resorts on the islands, but the area is largely untouristed. This area has enormous fields of shallow coral and vast schools of fish. The density of fish is higher than in Raja Ampat. The smaller, most colorful fish, such as anthias, chromis, and fusiliers, form clouds of fish rising from the coral.

















Edited by jeffb
Link to comment
Share on other sites

There were also lots of sightings of fish and creatures of particular interest.


Banded sea snake, or krait





Pipefish (taken by guide)





Nudibranch (taken by guide)








Yellow trumpetfish




Snowflake moray eel (taken by guide)




Tube worms




Flame sea urchin (taken by guide)




Squid eggs (taken by guide)










Edited by jeffb
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Lembeh Strait is famous for 'muck diving', where divers or snorkelers swim over black volcanic soil looking for strange creatures rarely seen elsewhere. Some people love this, some (like me) do not. However, Lembeh also has a rock wall called 'Nudi Falls' covered with colorful invertebrates, and three small islands surrounded by a stunning coral reef.









Pufferfish (taken by guide)







Anemonefish (taken by guide)



Porcupine fish (taken by guide)



Harlequin sweetlips













Nudi Falls



Nudi Falls







Link to comment
Share on other sites

The Banggai cardinalfish is endemic to the Banggai archipelago of Indonesia. The fish is an endangered species, partly because it is endemic to a small region and partly because too many fish were harvested for the aquarium trade. Happily it is now captive-bred for aquariums. Aquarium fish dealers apparently took some fish and put them in the Lembeh strait where they have bred, creating an additional population. Probably this is good for the cardinalfish but hopefully they don't become an invasive species problem. This was my wife's favorite fish of the trip.











Edited by jeffb
Link to comment
Share on other sites

After our last night on the ship, we were taken ashore by inflatable dinghy and transported by car to Manado Airport, less than an hour away. Like all other parts of the trip this was handled with great efficiency and careful organization. We flew as a group back to Jakarta, where Alex helped all of us find our way to the right terminal for check-in or the transit hotel. We then had another set of extremely long but uneventful flights home.


Indonesia is a long ways away, but for anyone with some snorkeling or diving experience, very much worth it. We have snorkeled the Caribbean and French Polynesia, and will gladly go back, but the Coral Triangle is just a whole different thing.


And a last few pictures that I didn't fit in elsewhere. Thanks for reading!









Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks for posting about the underwater world. The colours of the marine plants and creatures are amazing. The diversity of sightings such as the krait, snowflake eel and a host of colourful fish make this an enjoyable and different trip report. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The underwater colors are so brilliant and the combinations are surprising.  It's nice to know this can be accessed with a snorkel, no scuba gear needed. Wow!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I have to admit, I've never considered a snorkeling holiday, but maybe I should! Thanks for sharing, I'm wondering how impacted, if at all, the coral in this area is by bleaching? 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

@AtravelynnThanks! You can see an awful lot snorkeling at the right sites, and of course the colors are best with shallow reefs.

@Zubbie15I saw no obvious coral bleaching. Indonesia has had some coral bleaching events in the past, but nothing like the Great Barrier Reef.

Link to comment
Share on other sites


Thanks for a fascinating marine trip report- I don’t think I have ever seen a snorkeling ( as opposed to diving) report with such depth, pardon the pun😉


For those that don’t want a liveboard experience yet want to snorkel as opposed to what the vast majority of travelers in the area do- dive, in Indonesia, specifically the Four Kings (Raja Ampat) region, the Misool resort apparently caters to both divers and snorkelers where snorkelers are treated same as divers and taken twice daily guided trips in the reserve. 

For anyone interested in easily accessible information on global marine adventure locations ( although primarily catering to divers provides very useful information for non divers as well) - new book by a couple-Carrie Miller & Chris Taylor called “A Divers Guide to the World” is with checking out. 

Finally staying with the underwater theme, an amazing Instagram post of a marble stingray from the Maldives. What a face😀


Edited by AKR1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks a lot for sharing this different TR!

It is great to read something different.


I am not an expert of the underwater world at all, but I spent a lot of time at the end of 2022 diving in Indonesia, with more than 30 dives in Asia with focus at Komodo (9 dives), Nusa Penida (2 dives), Koh Tao (Open Water course), Moyo (3 dives) and Raja Ampat (more than 10 dives) plus dozens of snorkeling at Komodo (+10 snorkel), Raja Ampat (+30 snorkel inclusing snorkeling with manta rays), Moyo (2 snorkel), Sumbawa Saleh Bay (snorkeling with whale sharks). The coral triangle is amazing. Rather than large concentration of sharks or fish balls, the place is spectacular for the abundance of fish species, high level of endemism and probably the best seascape landscapes on Earth (ahhhhh Raja Ampat!!!!).


Diving at Raja Ampat can be done in cheap simple but lovely homestays at Kri or Arborek (25 USD/pp including full board), diving at unbeatable costs for 35-40 USD per dive.

  • Arborek is far better than Nusa Penida for manta rays
  • Wayag is impressive for shark snorkeling
  • Kri is world class dive site (some people even say number 1 dive site), with extraordinary sightings of carpet sharks, and amazing little things such as nudibranch.
  • Snorkel at the Kri reef is the best I have ever done in Indonesia, with turtles and sharks everywhere just below your room.
  • Komodo has the largest turtles abundance and crazy pelagic concentration to the North.
  • Batu Borong is world class with an abundance of fish species difficult to meet elsewhere.
  • Moyo is a hidden gem, it was probably my best diving in Indonesia, and whale sharks are just next door at Saleh bay!
Edited by jeremie
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...

Important Information

Safaritalk uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By using Safaritalk you agree to our use of cookies. If you wish to refuse the setting of cookies you can change settings on your browser to clear and block cookies. However, by doing so, Safaritalk may not work properly and you may not be able to access all areas. If you are happy to accept cookies and haven't adjusted browser settings to refuse cookies, Safaritalk will issue cookies when you log on to our site. Please also take a moment to read the Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy: Terms of Use l Privacy Policy