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Published: June 13th 2016
I had always wanted to see Whale Sharks in the wild for a long time. When my friends told me she saw a few in Gorontalo a few weeks ago, I could not resist going. There was no guarantee that these Whale Sharks will continue to be in the area for a long time. Thankfully, my travel buddy, Nova, decided to come along. Off we went, leaving Jakarta to Gorontalo via Makassar. Given the time difference between Jakarta and Gorontalo and the transit in Makassar, it was late afternoon by the time we reached Go Scuba Dive Center. I had to miss the check dive that afternoon. In the evening, we were joined by a few other divers from Bali including our dive guide, Sammy. We were told that we should get ready at 6:30 am the next morning as by early June, the wind could be very strong in the afternoon (typical dive seasons is during November to April). A group of six divers could not wait to jump into the water to see the giant yet gentle animals.
This was my second time going scuba diving to Gorontalo. My first visit was in January, during which visibility could
reach 30 meters. This time, we barely saw anything beyond 10 meters. Approximately after a short wait, we saw a huge shadow slowly moving towards us, and we finally got to see the magnificent animal! The first one was a medium size Whale Shark which swam overhead circling closer towards the wooden boat above us where the fishermen started to feed them with the shrimp scales. Seeing such a gigantic animal for the first time underwater was overwhelming. I had my camera on my hand but somehow, I was too stunned to take a shot of it! Slowly, one by one appeared and started circling on top of us. Then the largest one appeared (it's probably 10 meters in length). Each took turned getting the food from the surface being fed by the fishermen. Initially, the Whale Sharks started to appear in the area about two years ago as there was a prawn processing factory nearby, and they used to feed themselves with the prawn scales. Only this year, did the divers find out about them, which made Gorontalo a popular destination for Whale Shark site. Sadly, since then, they had been fed by the fishermen from the wooden boats.
During weekend, both under and on top of water are equally busy, a sight which I disliked as it's affecting the eco system of these animals. Prior to this, if we were to see Whale Sharks in Indonesia, we had to go to Nabire, Sorong, Papua. Recent sighting of Whale Sharks was also found at Derawan, East Kalimantan, but in both locations, there were not as many as in Gorontalo.
While admiring these graceful animals, I was pleased to see another diver took a shot of me, without realising that she had wanted to take a Whale Shark right behind me. A few second after she pointed her fingers towards me, I turned around just to find a 3 meter Whale Shark nudging behind me. This baby Whale Shark was called Shirley, whose curiosity seemed to be quite high as she circled, turned around and headed towards me again, twice! She must have loved the bubbles. Later on, I found out that she was the most playful of all and had frequently approached divers.
We finished our first dive before 9 am, and after our surface interval, we went to the second dive site near Olele. Unfortunately, the
under water coral garden was not as colourful as I had recalled from my previous dive. This time, the coral garden had turned white. Sadly, the area had suffered from coral bleaching caused by increasing sea temperature associated with global warming. I passed the third dive near the marina, but was told that there was nothing much in this site either. No regrets.
A few more divers arrived from Jakarta in the evening. We had to take a bigger boat to accommodate the 13 divers. First dive was at the Whale Shark point, and this time, I decided to snorkel as I wanted to get good shots of them from the surface. It was Saturday, and the place had become too crowded, both under and above water. Somehow, the local authorities didn't limit the numbers of snorkelers that could visit the site.
For the second dive, we went to the famous Genie Cave, which was supposed to be spectacular if feasibility was good as there were plenty of huge Salvador Dali corals covering the colourful coral walls. Unfortunately, there were a lot of sediments in the sea, and that visibility was poor. The only thing I noticed from
below were a few snorkelers standing on the fragile corals, ruining them! My heart sank. How could the operator allowed them to do so?
Right after we finished the second dive, both I and my buddy decided to go back to the dive centre as we wanted to visit the famous Pulo Cinta or Love Island. It's about three hours drive from Gorontalo (or two hours drive from the airport). The car ride towards Boalemo, the Southern part of Gorontalo, was pleasant, but we had missed seeing the sunset when we arrived at the island.
The thought of having this eco resort in Gorontalo was a crazy idea, which was acknowledged by the owner, whom we met during dinner. It was not only crazy idea but it was an excellent idea as it's the only eco resort located in the atoll in Indonesia. We were pleasantly surprised by the lovely interior design of the villa. There were a total of 10 villas, some has two and three bedrooms. Electricity is from solar. Water had to be transported from land. All trash are being brought back to the land. No air-condition, and no TV, of course. Strictly for nature
Both I and my buddy immediately fell in love with the island and could not agree more with its name, Island of Love. When it was built, the sand island had the shape of a heart, based on which the villas were designed and built. We decided to extend our stay one more night, and after dinner, we spent our evening star gazing, enjoying the myriads of starts in the sky. It was not long before we saw a falling star and made a wish. In the evening, I slept like a log listening to the soft sound of splashing waves.
The next day, while my room mate, Nova, went scuba diving around the atoll, I spent my day enjoying the sight of turquoise blue water at our villa's door step and had a dip in the ocean. It's a Maldives-like dream island as there won't be a rough sea even during strong wind, thanks to the atoll. Half heartedly, we had to leave the island after breakfast, heading back to the airport and went back to the real world. All I could say was that a jewel had been found!
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