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Saturday, 4 December 2010

Bunaken - Indonesia

General Information
The Bunaken National Marine Park was formally established in 1991 and is among the first of Indonesia's growing system of marine parks. The park covers a total surface area of 89,065 hectares, 97% of which is overlain by sparkling clear, warm tropical water. The remaining 3% of the park is terrestrial, including the five islands of Bunaken, Manado Tua, Mantehage, Nain and Siladen. Although each of these islands has a special character, it is the aquatic ecosystem that attracts most naturalists.

The waters of Bunaken National Marine Park are extremely deep (1566 m in Manado Bay), clear (up to 35-40 m visibility), refreshing in temperature (27-29 C) and harbor some of the highest levels of biodiversity in the world. Pick any of group of interest - corals, fish, echinoderms or sponges - and the number of families, genera or species is bound to be astonishingly high. For example, 7 of the 8 species of giant clams that occur in the world, occur in Bunaken. The park has around 70 genera of corals; compare this to a mere 10 in Hawaii. Although the exact number of fish species is unknown, it may be slightly higher than in the Philippines, where 2,500 species, or nearly 70% of all fish species known to the Indo-western Pacific, are found.

Oceanic currents may explain, in part, why Bunaken National Marine Park is such a treasure trove of biodiversity. Northeasternly currents generally sweep through the park but abundant counter currents and gyros related to lunar cycles are believed to be a trap for free swimming larvae. This is particularly true on the south side of the crescent-shaped Bunaken Island, lying in the heart of the park. A snorkler or diver in the vicinity of Lekuan or Fukui may spot over 33 species of butterfly fish and numerous types of groupers, damsels, wrasses and gobies. The gobies, smallish fish with bulging eyes and modified fins that allow them to attach to hard surfaces, are the most diverse but least known group of fish in the park.
Biologists believe that the abundance of hard corals is crucial in maintaining the high levels of diversity in the park. Hard corals are the architects of the reefs, without them, numerous marine organisms would be homeless and hungry. Many species of fish are closely associated with particular types of corals (folious, branching, massives, etc.) for shelter and egg-laying. Others, like the enormous Bumphead Parrotfish, Balbometopon muricatum, are "coralivores" and depend on hard corals for their sustenance. Bony mouth parts fused into an impressive "beak" allow these gregarious fish to crunch corals like roasted peanuts.
Some 20,000 people live on the natural resources of Bunaken National Marine Park. Although there are inevitable conflicts between resource protection and use by people, the Indonesian government is taking a fairly unusual and pragmatic approach to park management. The idea is to promote wise resource use while preventing overexploitation. Local communities, government officials, dive resort operators, local nature groups, tourists and scientists have played an active role in developing exclusive zones for diving, wood collection, fishing and other forms of utilization. If successful, Bunaken Marine Park will stand as an important example of how Sulawesi, and the rest of Indonesia, can work to protect its natural resources.

Accommodation and Transfer
On the island you have the choice amongst a number of homestays, with rates starting at around Rp. 80 000 per day and person incl. fullboard. If you only go for the cheapest option don't complain afterwards if the water in your mandi (bathroom) doesn't get filled up regularly, or food isn't quite as nice as you had hoped for. Life in North Sulawesi in general isn't as cheap as in other regions of Indonesia, and most things on Bunaken have to be brought in from Manado. Depending on the season even fish can be pretty expensive. Better think twice before you try to bargain down prices which are already cheap; for the locals it could mean the difference between being able to eat 3 or only 2 meals a day, or buying school books for the children or not.
Some of the dive operations on Bunaken are offering more upmarket accommodation, even hot showers (Living Colours, Cha Cha Nature Resort).

Some guesthouses ("homestays") on Bunaken:
Pangalisang Beach: Lorenso's Homestay
Liang Beach: Panorama, Nelson's, Papa Boa
There are a lot more...

Bunaken's much smaller neighbour Siladen only offers few accommodations. Most popular among budget travelers seems to be Martha's Homestay.
The most upmarket resort within the boundaries of the Bunaken National Park is Siladen Resort & Spa which started operations in 2003. The eco-friendly luxury boutique resort places high emphasis on the protection of the Marine Park and the environment.

! The public boats from Manado to Bunaken are leaving daily around 2 p.m (depending on tide), except Sundays, from Pasar Jengki near Manado harbour. Back from Bunaken to Manado usually early in the morning, around 7-8 a.m. Even on Sundays there might be boats, just go to the harbour and ask people there. To charter a boat is about Rp. 150,000 - 200,000 OW. If you want to go to Siladen it is better to inquire first at the harbour, but usually there are several boats as well. The fare to Siladen is also Rp. 15 000. 

A growing number of dive centers is operating from the mainland around Manado and directly from Bunaken Island. Generally spoken you should rather pay a few dollars more and go for safe and experienced operators than just choose the cheapest option. Tank fillings can be a problem, and headaches after each dive give you a clear sign that your dive operator saves money on filters; better go somewhere else if you experience this.

North Sulawesi Watersports Association In general diving standards in North Sulawesi are high, as is environmental awareness among the dive operators, especially the ones who have formed the North Sulawesi Watersports Association, NSWA. The NSWA has made significant strides in improving the management and conservation of Bunaken National Park and surrounding marine ecosystems and in conferring concrete benefits of tourism to the villagers living within the park. Many of its members have spent a lot of their money and time for various ecological and social achievements within the park. This has not gone unnoticed; the Bunaken National Park has received the "Tourism for Tomorrow Award" and the "UN Equator Prize" (more on www.divenorthsulawesi.com).
Unfortunately some stupid backpackers still think that they know everything better than these international organisations and refuse to pay the entrance fee to the National Park. If you are planning to do this, please stay away. You are not welcome - the National Park needs support, not ignorance!

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