Written by Johno Wheeler, Cruise Director of MV Nautica
Dive site selection is both a headache and a chore for a Cruise Director. You have to give a safe dive site, a dive site to the divers current levels of training, and a dive site that has points of interest.
Dive site selection begins days before MV Nautica even leaves the marina at Punggol. Weather reports are read, tide charts are taken into account, as is the moon phase. The diver training level of the guests on-board are taken into account also (there is no point diving a 28m wreck with an open water certified diver in raging current), and then a draft of the dive sites that fit the criteria is made.
Of course, this can all go to pot when you get to your first dive site and the ocean has decided to give you a 3m swell, off shore breezes and a plague of jellyfish!
Photo courtesy of Mick Davis
Labbas is one of my favourite dive sites to dive at Pulau Tioman. Sailing out to the site leaving the main island behind, Labbas is shaded by the taller Sopoi Island which is located behind. Not till halfway of the crossing can you make out the rock outcrop that is Labbas. When you get closer you can see the palm trees, and then the swooping sea birds that roost on the island (and the smell of the birds too).
Pulling into the bay, the wind relents, the swell and the waves drop and calm waters greet you. Catching the mooring line with the grappling hook, clear waters where you can see the bottom and the corals below.
Anticipation of a good dive are just a giant stride away
Labbas is a deep dive site, swimming North away from the island you will manage to get to 16-18m before the current that surrounds the islands starts to whisk you away. Lots of coral outcrops dot the sandy bottom, heavens for bluespotted ribbontail ray (Taeniura lymma) with their tails sticking out of there hiding spot giving them away, lots of white-eyed moray eels (Gymnothorax thyrsoideus)resting for the day waiting for the night to arrive to go hunting, huge shoals of goldband fusilier (Pterocaesio chrysozona) swim in a rhythmic dance, the occasional hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) minding his own business oblivious to his surroundings, and one of my favourite, the Pharaoh cuttlefish (Sepia pharaonis)
Seeing one of these, the most gracious of cephalopods, always makes me smile. As i was leading my group of 4 divers, i spotted the cuttlefish hanging out under a table coral, rather like people hiding underneath a bus shelter when its raining. I gave a bang on my tank to alert my fellow divers and waited for the colour changing fireworks to begin. As the other divers come round with cameras in hand, the cuttlefish decides it is time to show off its skills and impress and dazzle with an array of pixelated magic. It amazes me the way it can just simply go from an opaque grey, to brown, to stripes and electric blue, bright bright greens and blood red. The defence mechanism of lifting its marbules and looking like its countername of ‘pharoh”, and slowing spinning on its axis. Pure underwater magic.
Its been my experience with cuttlefish, that there is never just one, as photographers are getting there fill, snapping away for the best light conditions, i set off on my journey of nearby outcrops to find its mate. It takes a good minute before i spot it, in plain view but perfectly disguised as it hugs the sandy bottom, nonchalant and clearly unimpressed that its mate is getting all the attention. Another quick rap on my tank, and 4 divers come across to get a snap of the second cuttlefish. As i move to allow them a fin-free shot, i spot something from the corner of my mask, a third pharaoh, less than 1m away, and must have been there all the time, perfectly still perfectly camouflaged, again unimpressed that it wasn’t the centre of attention.
This was my key to move off and leave the 3 cephalopods to there own ways, the divers and myself have spent 5 minutes or so with these magnificent creatures, they have accepted us into there kingdom, showed us their ways and left us with big smiles and cameras full of snaps.