AGODA

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Indonesia, Sulawesi - Life on the wild side

The Indonesia island of Sulawesi is not only a marine paradise, but also home to the critically endangered black crested macaque

THE CHUGGING of the converted fishing boat stops and the world is silent. The palm tree-lined coast of the Indonesian island is hundreds of metres away.

Although the reef edge is near, the water where we hover is 100m deep. The captain gestures to my family to jump off the boat. I wonder if this is right.

“What, here?” I ask. “Yes here, Turtle City,” he grins.



My trusting four-year-old daughter turns her wide eyes up to me. I flash her a smile and, together, we plunge into the bottomless blue.
Immediately, my sons, aged 11 and eight, are squealing through their snorkels.



 Right below us swims a 2m-long green turtle. Sunlight bounces off the ancient creature’s shell in every direction. The behemoth seems to fly as her front flippers haul her through the water. She is unafraid and, soon, we cannot keep pace and watch her glide into infinity.

The clarity of the water is breathtaking and I see several more turtles – to the left, right and far below.

The island of Sulawesi lies 600km north-east of Bali. I have flown from Singapore to Manado in Northern Sulawesi, intending to show my children the wild highlights of this zone.

Over the next nine days, we will be immersed in the underwater paradise of Bunaken Island and encounter monkeys in the Tangkoko Batuangus Nature Reserve.

Emerging from the airport, we take a 40-minute drive to Manado Port, the gateway to Bunaken and other islands.

I am eager for our adventure to begin but, at the port, I notice with great dismay that the water is bobbing with plastic. I find it astonishing that this polluted harbour is the gateway to a natural paradise.
 


The wooden boat we will take to Bunaken Island is filled with bags of rice, crates of vegetables, beer, crew and, lastly, my family. Once underway, the garbage of the port lessens and my eyes are soothed by mountainous, green views of the mainland.

We are in one of the most diverse coral reef ecosystems in the world, with approximately 2,000 species of tropical fish and 390 types of corals so far recorded from the area. There are still infringements of the fishing rules here, but on the whole, the reef is pristine.

On my first snorkel from the beach, I encounter a green turtle followed by a skittish whitetip reef shark. Reef fish of orange, blue and pink cloud my vision and it feels like I am in an aquarium dream.

I am inspired to dust off my dive certification and go out with a scuba tank.

The in-house divemaster is a local from Bunaken and a man of few words. However, under the water, he conducts my refresher course with confidence, then proudly leads me through his shimmering backyard.

Gently parting some rubbery soft coral, he shows me the tiny, delicate orangutan crab. No bigger than the nail on my pinky, its orange “fur” sways with the current.

A metallic “tap, tap” on the divemaster’s tank prompts me to look straight down.

About 15m below me, a 2m-long blue and green Napoleon wrasse darts upwards and flashes back down, followed by the sleek and silvery body of a shark.


The two dance aggressively and, as I watch, I am astonished to see a 1m-long giant trevally glide over to check out the action.

Dolphins accompany my boat as I bid farewell to Bunaken Island and, when they finally slide away into the glassy expanses, I turn my thoughts to the wild animals of the land.

Sulawesi and the neighbouring island of Borneo have been separated by deep water for more than 50 million years. An imaginary line was drawn between the two in 1859 by naturalist Alfred Wallace and is thus named the Wallace Line.

The animals on either side of the line are quite distinct, with only a few successfully crossing the line. Many native animals unique to Northern Sulawesi are still found in the forests and these are only a two-hour drive from Manado.

Emerging from my mosquito net at 4am the next morning, I hope it is worth the effort.
My torch lights the track as I follow our guide deep into the forest.

Shushing excited kids, I am surprised to hear leaves rustling and see shadowy figures up ahead.
A troupe of macaques is travelling in the same direction as us and, as the sunrise starts to penetrate the forest, they are suddenly, eerily, all around us.

The black crested macaque is one of 127 species of mammals found in Tangkoko Batuangus Nature Reserve. Still hunted for bush meat and threatened by deforestation, the monkey is critically endangered and lives only in Northern Sulawesi.

There are about 40 macaques in the group we are with, all with a distinctive black mohawk style.

Males squabble, chase and wrestle, showing off to females. Mothers piggy-back their babies and munch on bugs they pull from one another’s fur. Rowdy adolescents jump from branch to vine before scampering across the forest floor in play.

I return later that night for a second guided walk. This time, I am seeking the world’s smallest monkey – the tarsier.

Creeping through the dark jungle, I am quickly rewarded by our guides’ local knowledge.
The tiny furball is perched on a branch, having emerged from its daytime refuge.
It is impossibly cute, with enormous eyes, and I laugh as my daughter whispers: “Mum, can we get a tarsier?”

Source - TheNation

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