Main Menu
Join Undercurrent on Facebook

The Private, Exclusive Guide for Serious Divers Since 1975 | |
For Divers since 1975
The Private, Exclusive Guide for Serious Divers Since 1975
"Best of the Web: scuba tips no other
source dares to publish" -- Forbes
July 2019    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 45, No. 7   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
What's this?

Raja Ampat, Bonaire, Maldives, Cozumel . . .

and endless trash spilling into the water

from the July, 2019 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

From time to time, we select salient reports from readers to suggest great dive destinations for your consideration, as well as places not to go or things for which to watch out.

For this issue, we have in hand a full travel review about diving in the Dominican Republic, but given the mysterious deaths of tourists there recently (there is speculation that drinks from the minibar were the cause of some deaths), I don't think it would be useful to devote four pages to Dominican Republic diving, especially since it's not on the radar of serious divers.

On Land at Raja Ampat

One area that is on the radar for serious divers is Raja Ampat, on the far eastern end of Indonesia. While many divers join liveaboards -- once a bargain, now pricey -- there are several good land-based operations, and we'd like to point out a couple.

Misool Eco Resort consistently gets top-notch reviews, and Kay Schroer (Templestowe, Australia), who was there in April, says "Misool is a vast, patrolled, marine-protected area, and as a result, the walls and reefs are covered with healthy hard and soft corals, brilliantly colorful on top of the reef. Reefs are teaming with fish of every color and size, and we saw oceanic mantas on our last dive. The dive guides are experienced and great at spotting all the tiny pygmy seahorses and more. The resort, with its water cottages situated over the lagoon, is wonderful. From the deck or dining area, you can see turtles, sharks and other fish. The covered and outdoor dining areas are lovely and the food delicious, though don't expect fish -- Misool is a no-take zone." Amazing, isn't it, how divers love fresh fish dinners, then lament the paucity of decent-sized fish on the reefs? (

"Plastic bags were floating all over, and down on the bottom, hurting photography. On top, they looked like jellyfish, until you got close."

Another fine choice is Sorido Bay Resort, built and managed by Dutchman Max Ammer, who pioneered Raja Ampat diving in the '90s. Valera Saknenko (Richmond Hill, Ontario), there in December, says, "I could not imagine a better dive resort (Editor's note: They have also been to Misool Eco Resort). SBR is a very small resort, maximum 18 guests. All cottages are very spacious and located on a nice sandy beach, about 10 meters from water. Diving was fantastic. I was overwhelmed with the variety and number of fish and beauty of corals. At the site Manta Dropoff, mantas were on top of each other and on top of divers. There were many black-tip sharks, wobbegong sharks, crocodilefish, schools of bumphead parrotfish, huge schools of jacks, barracudas, sweetlips everywhere. Currents could be very strong, but guides were very careful to avoid any troubles. At Manta Dropoff, they actually secured a rope to accommodate a safety stop because the current was very strong." Saknenko noted that as vegans, she and her buddy had some difficulty with the Indonesian food. You can see videos from her trip at: (

Muck Junk

Solitude at Lembeh StraitsNot all is pristine in Indonesia, especially in the Lembeh Straits, where Terry Anderson (Bryan, TX) was appalled by the trash he saw on his January trip. "The large amount of plastic bags was distressing. My first visit was in 2012, when there were about 11 resorts; now there are about 17 in Lembeh Straits. The resorts will have to get together and stop the local people from throwing plastic bags into the Straits, and into the streams that unload into the Straits. They were floating all over, and down on the bottom, hurting photography. On top, they looked like jellyfish until you got close. Sure am glad that I have hundreds of pictures from my earlier trips, because I won't return. Really a shame." And sadly, it will take far more than the resorts to solve the problem, because the rivers of Asia are full of plastic, all pouring plastic daily into the sea, too much of which gets ingested by sea creatures. Only strong governmental action everywhere can resolve the problem, but these countries don't have the infrastructure to deal with it.

That said, Lembeh is still mecca for muck divers. Years ago, we wrote about Lembeh's Cassowary Lodge, now reborn as Solitude, as Diane Smith (Irvine CA) discovered when she tried to track down her old favorite. "The grounds are beautiful, with lush shrubbery, trees, and orchids. We managed to book the two best "rooms," Villas 1 and 2, which have large balconies overlooking the straits. They are spacious and comfortably furnished, with large bathrooms. The restaurant has a fairly varied, morethan- adequate menu with nice choices, like cashew chicken and egg drop soup. The dive operation has extremely personable and knowledgeable divemasters; they and the crew were friendly, welcoming, and found critters that would be completely impossible to spot without them. They even took requests for specific critters, and almost always delivered. Lembeh Straits is the gold standard for weird creature features. The Lembeh Rule is, 'If you think it's an animal, it's an animal. If you don't think it's an animal, it's an animal. If you are sure it's trash (and there is a lot of that -- it's not called muck diving for nothing), it's either covering up an animal, or it is an animal.' Our divemaster picked up what we thought was a large handful of trash, and slowly picked it apart, discarding wads of algae and miscellaneous things like limpets, barnacles, trash and weeds. After a few minutes of watching him gently pull off wads of yucky material, the trash moved its legs. It was a carrier crab that had gotten carried away with camouflage to the point it couldn't move and had become a hoarder crab. He cleaned the crab up, put it down, and it walked away, still looking like a pile of trash. There are aliens on earth, and at least some of them live in Lembeh . . . The dive sites are five to 15 minutes from the resort, and there is shore diving right off the resort." (

Select a Shop with Its Own Boats

Over the years, we've noted that one must be careful signing up with Cozumel dive operators that don't have their own dive boats and then put their divers on boats owned by others. Raymond Haddad (Candiac, Quebec) learned that in December when "I booked five days' diving with Maple Leaf Scuba. (What can I say ... I am Canadian!) I would be picked up by a taxi around 8:30 a.m. for the port, where things got messy. A lot of people getting to their boats, tanks being carried all over the place, looking for your group and guide. Not all boats are large and comfortable, with toilets. Maple Leaf Scuba charters different boats, depending on how many divers it has, and will hire freelance guides to help, so you're mixed with other groups on the same boat. By the time you leave the port, around one hour has passed ... a lot of waiting! The boats had little dry storage space, no tables for cameras, no rinse buckets for cameras -- just basic boats. For three days, I had a different guide every time. I was one of the only people diving nitrox, so interval times between dives were all more than 90 minutes. With having many groups on the same boat, we would have to wait, on average, 15 to 20 minutes on the surface for a pickup. Six hours just to do two dives!" There are plenty of good operators on Cozumel with their own boats (e.g., Living Underwater or Aldora), and the best place to find them is on the Undercurrent website, either in our past reviews or in reader reports.

Maybe Our Bonaire Review Missed the Mark

We carried a lukewarm review last summer of Dive Friends and the Courtyard by Marriott in Bonaire, crediting it mainly as a place where one could go burn off some Marriott Hotel Miles. But after reading the May trip report from longtime Undercurrent subscriber Neal Langerman (San Diego, CA), I think we were too kind. Yes, having someone steal your wife's brand-new Suunto computer from a table in the dive area out of range of the security camera is enough to upset you. But the overall operation didn't measure up. "Misinformation and confused communications marked the nine days we dove with them. The Dive Friends employee who checked us in exuded hostility. She seemed to have no idea of the plans we had made with other employees via email while setting up our package, and even less interest in hearing about them. She just handed us a piece of paper with our schedule for the next nine days and told us we had no choice -- this was what we were signed up for. We were expected to provide our own transportation via taxi to the three different shore dive sites set up for that first day, disregarding our request made two months prior for an afternoon boat dive . . . A few divemasters were exceptional and made up for the others, who were gruff, callous and apparently burned out by their jobs . . . We had reserved a morning two-tank dive every day from the Courtyard pier, and we were told, in writing, to show up at 8:30 a.m. But by the second day, we were being rushed to have our gear on board by 8:00 a.m. and departed by 8:05 a.m., because of divers who needed to be picked up at other locations. On Day Four, when we arrived at the dock, we were told we would be trucked to a different Dive Friends location because a group of 10 divers had arrived and took the entire boat. On the fifth day, we were to show up by 7:50 a.m. The hotel's breakfast service began at 7 a.m. Diving for two cost us just over $1,800 for a total of 44 dives over nine days. The Courtyard was a good business-class Courtyard, but not a dive resort. The rooms had zero accommodations for dive gear. The food-service schedule was good for those attending a conference, but not for divers trying to meet a boat schedule. And the location does not have a house reef." So, fellow subscribers, if you're headed to Bonaire, you're far better-off elsewhere -- unless you must rid yourself of the Marriott miles.

Yes, having someone steal your wife's brand new Suunto computer from a table in the dive area out of range of the security camera is enough to upset you.

And a note on air travel: While our Truk Lagoon reviewer flew to Chuuk on United, which requires a stop in Honolulu, then Guam, with maybe a layover, Tim Barden (Waltham, MA) points out that it might be wiser to take a one-stop flight to Tokyo, then a connector to Chuuk.

Two Liveaboards with Great Diving

Emperor SuperiorI'll tell you one reason why European divers are a lot smarter than American and Canadian divers: They dive the Red Sea, while North American divers remain skeptical of traveling there. But not Ed Noga, of Akron, OH, who went aboard the Emperor Superior in March, and says, "The Red Sea is an inexpensive diving destination, loaded with sea life of all sizes, healthy coral and interesting wrecks. The renowned Thistlegorm lived up to its billing. The reefs are in exceptional condition, full of fish, from huge Napoleon wrasses to nudibranchs and everything in between. The only thing lacking was sharks. The Emperor Superior is a solid ship with plenty of room, and the ship's crew and divemasters were friendly and highly professional. I was impressed by how the divemasters protect the reefs -- drift down to the coral and you'll get dragged off. On one occasion, some idiot from another boat was shooting pictures while kneeling in the sand with his fins smacking the coral behind him. The divemaster grabbed his fins and pulled him off. That seemed to irritate the diver -- but hey, this is a reason why those reefs are so healthy. We had a number of encounters with schools of dolphins at one site -- that alone was worth the price of admission. All of the other divers on this trip lived in Great Britain. Traveling in the Middle East isn't particularly risky if you avoid conflict areas, but don't worry about the Red Sea departures from Hurghada or Sharm el Sheikh. Heck, the week I was on the Emperor Superior, there were six shootings in my hometown." (

Some divers have spent big bucks to travel to the Maldives, southwest of Sri Lanka, only to be disappointed with the reef conditions. But under the guidance of an experienced captain on the right itinerary, it is some of the world's best diving, as Timothy Barden (Waltham, MA) found in April. "I can't give enough compliments about the Manthiri or its crew and dive staff. The berths are the largest I have seen on any liveaboard I've been on. The AC is quiet and complemented by an overhead fan. All the cabins are plumbed for a regular flush toilet, and showers aren't restricted because they make their own water. There's even a mini-fridge in the berth for water, soda and beer . . . I have no idea how the cooks can produce so much tasty food in such a small galley . . . The current ranged from mild to moderate, and we had to deploy our reef hooks a few times. The visibility rarely exceeded 60 feet and occasionally dropped to 40 feet. We were lucky to see two whale sharks. Manta rays showed up on many dives; once we watched six cavorting at a feeding station. Spotted eagle rays and other rays were aplenty, along with eels on every dive. We saw spotted morays, green morays, honeycombed morays, ribbon eels and garden eels, along with turtles that ignored us, even when treated to a strobe flash from a foot away. Large nurse sharks were often resting in nooks, and it was a rare dive without one or more white-tip, black-tip or reef sharks. Octopuses seemed to be everywhere, and we caught several instances of 'octopus sex' on camera. Notable critter finds were lettuce-leaf frogfish, various dartfish, a juvenile pipefish, shrimp, lobsters, nudibranchs, etc. I was impressed by the sheer multitude of fish. Some schools were fish I'd only seen singly or in pairs, never in schools. I saw no sign of coral bleaching at any sites. A visit to the Maldives should be on everyone's bucket list." (

That does it for this month. When researching a dive trip, be sure to review the hundreds of reports we receive annually and post on our website ( Our readers are experienced and truthfully report their findings. You'll find no better source of information to help you plan your next trip.

-- Ben Davison

I want to get all the stories! Tell me how I can become an Undercurrent Online Member and get online access to all the articles of Undercurrent as well as thousands of first hand reports on dive operations world-wide

Find in  

| Home | Online Members Area | My Account | Login | Join |
| Travel Index | Dive Resort & Liveaboard Reviews | Featured Reports | Recent Issues | Back Issues |
| Dive Gear Index | Health/Safety Index | Environment & Misc. Index | Seasonal Planner | Blogs | Free Articles | Book Picks | News |
| Special Offers | RSS | FAQ | About Us | Contact Us | Links |

Copyright © 1996-2024 Undercurrent (
3020 Bridgeway, Ste 102, Sausalito, Ca 94965
All rights reserved.