LATER WE DIVED the resort’s house reef. Though accessible from the shore, with a current running we did it as a boat-dive so that we could drift the sloping reef.
House reefs can be hit or miss, and this was a bit of both. Most of the slope was coral rubble, but there were several healthy patches to explore. Concentrating on the small stuff, I soon found mantis shrimps, nudibranchs, octopus, ribbon eels and an ornate ghost pipefish hiding in a featherstar.
The highlight was the rich collection of small reef fish – angel, butterfly, puffer, wrasse, damsels, hawkfish, lionfish and a snowflake moray eel.
We were ready to explore some of the coral reefs, and the first was Deep Turbo, a series of coral ridges off the north end of Gili Trawangan.
Jumping in to find the visibility close to 30m was a wonderful surprise, as it had been not much more than 13m on our first day.
We descended into a gutter full of garden eels, then swam over a ridge decorated with whip corals, gorgonians, soft corals and barrel sponges.
I spotted a large Maori wrasse, and in the distance a small reef shark. Swimming from ridge to ridge we saw colourful healthy corals,
a blue-spotted mask ray, a starry pufferfish, batfish, snapper, squirrelfish and many reef fish.
On one ridge a green turtle rested. It ignored us as we snapped away, and Leon didn’t seem impressed either, unlike most dive-guides in Asia, who get excited when they find you a turtle.
It took a long midwater swim to get back to the fringing reef surrounding Gili Trawangan. As we reached it, visibility dropped to 9m and the healthy coral was replaced by rubble.
But that didn’t matter, because a dozen green turtles could be seen. No wonder Leon hadn’t been interested in a single specimen! These turtles were resting and getting cleaned, and were unmoved by our presence. I remembered reading somewhere that the Gili Islands claimed to be the “turtle capital of the world”. I had laughed at the claim, but seeing this many turtles in one spot I could understand the boast.
Our second dive that morning at Turtle Heaven cemented that claim. This sloping reef off the northern end of Gili Meno didn’t have the nicest corals or the best visibility, but it did have plenty of turtles.
At first we drifted along a sloping reef covered in mushroom corals and home
to small reef fish. But arriving at a ridge covered in coral rubble and a dozen green turtles, we paused for 30 minutes for some very close turtle time.
The greens were sleeping, rubbing their bellies and occasionally jostling for best position. Some were having their skin picked clean by cleaner wrasse and their shells scraped of algae by surgeonfish.
Laura Waters explores the underwater sculpture garden at Meno Slope.
A few of them returned from getting a breath of air, and would almost push us out of the way to get the prime locations.
The funniest thing I saw was the octopus clambering over a turtle’s shell. It was hard to tell if the octopus was looking to see what was happening or attempting to manoeuvre the turtle off its home.
Elsewhere at the site we found a feeding hawksbill turtle that was equally indifferent to divers, plus an ornate ghost pipefish and schools of basslets, fusiliers and feeding mouth mackerel.
Our afternoon dive, also on Gili Meno, was very different. We started at Meno Slope in the shallows, on a rubble slope only 4m deep where a sculpture garden has been created by artist Jason deCaires Taylor. Featuring 48 life-sized human statues arranged in two circles, it is quite surreal swimming around concrete human forms decorated with algae, sponges and other marine growth.
This experience was followed by a drift along the sloping reef, finding hard corals in the shallows and more colourful whip corals, gorgonians, sponge and soft corals in depths to 22m. Two approachable turtles were the highlight of the dive.