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Updated: Aug 13

In April 2022, we headed to Tulamben for a dive trip. COVID had disrupted such plans for a while, and it was with great anticipation that the trip took off. (We even had to take pre-departure PCRs back then, thankfully such restrictions have now lifted!).


Homecoming

Tulamben was a three hour drive away from Ngurah Rai and "main Bali". We watched as roads go narrower and cars reduce to a trickle along windy roads. Tulamben is really two rows of buildings separated by a road, facing the ocean.

While Tulamben used to be busy, with multiple competing dive sites, the Tulamben we saw was quiet, peaceful. Many dive shops, restaurants and resorts remained shuttered.

As the Singapore we know in our mind's eye become replaced with vistas of trees, hills, distant mountains and blue seas. For most of our stay, we were the only guests. Food is simple fare. The main meals were mostly either Mee Goreng or Nasi Goreng. And there was always papaya juice. For breakfast, we mostly had coffee/tea and banana pancakes with honey.


Though diving was the main agenda, we were convinced to make a trip to Mt Agung. At 12.30am we took an hour car ride to Begasih start point. We hit the summit at around 6am. Above the clouds at 2910metres, we could see the crater still steaming and the other smaller peaks of Agung. Our local guides made offerings to the spirits of the land. With cups of coffee in hand, we watched the sky slowly light up, right as waves of thick clouds billow in.

Agung was no walk in the park however. There were many talus – slopes formed by the accumulation of broken rock debris from a cliff over a very long period of time. It was exhilarating (in a challenging way) to gain footing going uphill and a pain to descend–almost too heavy on my wobbly knees coming down. It was a grounding experience: The soles of old shoes came off progressively and we literally could feel the earth as we walked. Overall, summiting Agung is one of those experiences worth doing at least once in your life.


Mount Agung Slope

Now to the main programme – Diving. We dived a total of 14 times, including one night dive. Mostly we went for muck diving, a term used to refer to environments sparsely populated with large corals or anemones, with calm waters. The "muck" in Tulamben consisted of fine, black sand that had been accumulated for years and years from the eruptions of Mt Agung. Muck diving involves looking for macro photography subjects. It's a test of neutral buoyancy to shoot these subjects before churning up the muck.


Shore Entry

First impression of Tulamben's dives – large feathery stars were aplenty, as were the lionfish. These were notable for their reputation of stinging spines on their fins and backs. Also known as "firefish" (Pterois volitans), their large, beautiful fins conceal highly venomous dorsal spines whose stabs can can be extremely painful, even fatal. The deeper the spines penetrate, the more venom enters the victim's body.



Mantis shrimps (Odontodactylus) and the gobies they buddied up with were always close by, ready to shoot back into the hole constructed by the shrimps to hide from danger, at the gobies' alert. In particular, Odontodactylus scyllarus were colourful, displaying all the colours of the rainbow.

Peacock Mantis Shrimp

Mostly they were shy, but sometimes they exit their hidey holes of rocky reefs and rubble sufficiently for me to catch a glimpse of their beautiful bodies.


The nudibranchs were definitely highlights of the trip. When I saw my first glossodoris cincta, I was besides myself. It was quite a large and thick nudibranch (at least by Singaporean standards) and the colours – yellow, blue, cream with dots, on a light pink base – looked amazing. I learnt that the colouring depends on where it is found. For example, those from the Red Sea have quite dark colouring while those from the Maldives to northern Australia are lighter around the skirt.

Glossodoris cincta


Nembrotha cristata

The famous nudibranch that looks like Pikachu
Thecacera picta

Doto greenamyeri, a lifer

And of course, how can I forget my favourite genus of nudibranch – the hypselodoris. I spent many minutes watching them move about in their natural environment, their frilly open gills twitching and turning in the slight waves.



When time came for my first ever night dive, I was pretty nervous. I worried – will I be cold? What if I panic underwater? What if there's nothing but the dark, black water? As I floated on my BCD to put on my fins underneath a majestic starry night (blurry because of my myopia), I felt a strange feeling of euphoria and that overtook the fear. I dissolved all the troubles into the sky and deflated my BCD.

Within something like five metres of descent, we spotted an octopus scuttling across the sand. Though small, it was unmistakable. I wanted to spend so much longer with it but this was Bali! Soon enough, a dumpling squid (also known as bobtail squid) floated by. This is a creature that's expert at burrowing into soft sandy silt to hide by day. Some distance away, Dennis was shooting a chonky glittering cuttlefish, unafraid and unbothered. Everything was so alive. It felt like the best pre-dawn intertidal back in Singapore, but on steroids. Best of all, the dive felt so safe and the waters were warmer than I expected. Surfacing, I laughed at how my worries were pretty unfounded. I had always enjoyed night-time and predawn intertidal walks, so being surrounded three dimensionally by potential finds was an electric experience.



A highlight definitely was the rhinopias, spotted at 30 metres. At that depth, the rhinopias's colour was washed out that it looked brown & dusty, thankfully with flash we can see its true colours — a bright, vibrant red.



The Hairy, Ornate and Robust ghost pipefish (Solenastomus sp.) deserve special mention. In Singapore, these fish which are cousins of seahorses blend in with seagrass as they look like twigs or exceptionally thin strands of seagrass. Here, they similarly avoid the limelight, being coloured and patterned to blend in with their specific environment. The robust ghost pipefish (Solenostomus cyanopterus) alters its appearance to match the grasses or algae of quiet bays, even changing texture and colour.


Ornate GPF

A main attraction of Tulamben diving was the "wreck dive". Surrounding the USAT Liberty Shipwreck were coral gardens. I had never been on such a large ship before and seeing the entire wreck plunged into water was a humbling experience. It was here that I encountered my first Napoleon wrasse, among the largest of the wrasse, a group of fish known to practice successive sexual selection, starting life first as a female, then becoming a male with slight changes in environmental and biological (genetic) conditions.

Divemaster Oly

It was a fruitful and storied trip, filled with many moments of falling in love with the ocean– moments I will reminisce and replay again and again in my mind. I enjoyed the minimalism of shore dives. No boat, no fuel, no big splash. Gearing up from the truck, trudging down from pebbles, stones & black sand – a reminder of Mt Agung just in the visible distance. When the day is hot, the waters are a welcome respite: a big blue blanket, calm and unassuming, yet thriving underneath.


With eagle eyed divemasters, calm waters, good food, & starry nights, five days and fourteen dives absolutely flew by.


Written by Cloud Want to join us on our next scuba adventure? Be sure to subscribe to our mailing list!

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On the 28th of February, we rallied intertidal and naturalist ‘alumni’ alike to join us, as we rolled up our sleeves for a beach clean-up cum mini-intertidal session. What better way to spend a Sunday evening doing a worthy cause!


Armed with tongs, gloves and an adventurous spirit, 30 odd members of the TUP community both young and old - cleared Pasir Ris Beach of 20 bag-loads of rubbish.



Pasir Ris Park Beach - popular with the public with its abundance of BBQ pits, is also home to a wide array of creatures and critters. The hidden mudflats and exposed seagrass meadows during low tide are a treasure trove for intertidal animals but there is a noticeable lack of shore explorers here compared to the other coasts on the North. You will soon find out why.


But fortune favours the explorers! We managed to find several interesting animals seldom seen on Changi Beach, such as Hairy Sea Hares chomping on seagrass, an adult plate-sized Haddon’s Carpet Anemone, plenty of Garlic Bread Sea Cucumbers and even a Semper Armina Nudibranch. These animals were vital in seeing our small effort across the line as we hustled, knowing that our efforts would go some way in ensuring the homes of these fragile creatures stay litter-free!


Trash frequently accumulates on this shoreline. Who is responsible you may ask? It is difficult to pinpoint an exact causation but we believe the trash originates from different sources; for example, park goers whose litter gets strewn around and picked up by the wind to the shore. Fish farms and kelongs may find it easier to dispose of trash by dumping them into the sea. Not forgetting Pulau Ubin and our neighbours Johor.

This beach clean-up was no walk in the park. Large pieces of trash were lodged further and deeper into the mudflats. The battle was against the element - both visible and invisible. The scorching evening sun was a deterrent for many but we pressed on!


Mudflats - The reason for the lack of shore explorers. As slippers were lost, egos broken and adults sinking knee-deep into the black silty sediment, laughter filled the air and we cheered each other on to extricate both slippers and ourselves.

Looking back at the shores - we were content that our efforts played a small part in removing a fraction of marine litter.


A great family-bonding activity and one that anyone can do. Everyone had loads of fun checking out the critters on the beach and we ended the day with a beautiful sunset. Tread carefully on the shores and be conscious of the impact when going about our daily lives. Till the next event!


- Cloud

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