Monday, August 9, 1999
Baliís the best if you
like to go snorkeling
I just returned from my first trip to Bali, an
Indonesian island that for most people conjures up images of tropical
One well-traveled friend told me about snorkeling at a
national park in the northwest corner of Bali.
"I'm staying too far from there," I told her.
"I don't think I'll be able to go."
"You have to go. It's the best snorkeling in the
"In the world?"
"For me, yes."
Now she had my attention.
Once in Bali, it took me a week to arrange the
snorkeling trip, which was a four-hour drive one way. When I finally
arrived at the boat harbor, I discovered that a guide had been hired (at
my own considerable expense) to take me snorkeling. Whatever, I thought.
Let's just get to the reef.
After a few delays, we set off.
"I heard this place has the best snorkeling in the
world," a Belgian traveler told me as we motored toward the protected
"I heard the same," I said. "We'll soon
When the boat was anchored, I jumped off and found
myself face to face with -- a dead reef flat.
"Crown-of-thorns ate much of our coral two years
ago," my guide told me. "We removed thousands of the starfish
from the reef but the damage was extensive."
JUST as I was beginning to think this snorkeling
adventure was a wild goose chase, a flash of neon blue caught my eye. Soon
I was following a school of bright blue damselfish called chromis.
As I headed out, the reef began to take life. The
corals turned blue, yellow and pink. Red and purple tube sponges popped
up. Giant clams beckoned with open arms. Soon, I was swimming in
crystal-clear water that swarmed with so many colorful fish I felt like I
was in the middle of a confetti parade.
"We have nearly 400 species of fish on this
reef," my guide said when I commented on the vast variety. "How
many do you have in Hawaii?"
"Far less," I said. "But Hawaii waters
are interesting because our fish are unique. About a quarter of Hawaii's
reef fish are found nowhere else in the world."
Hawaii also is distinctive for the many groups of fish
that are lacking. We have no breams, rabbitfishes or toadfish, all
abundant in Indonesia. Neither does Hawaii host native snappers, skates or
THE explanation for this lack is that Hawaii is so
isolated from other islands and land masses that many fish larvae couldn't
make it here on their own. Hawaii natives with short larval lives either
aren't here or are represented by only a few species.
Not surprisingly, the species we do have in abundance
tend to be the ones with long larval lives, such as moray eels and
Swimming back to the boat I noticed a school of 2- to
3-foot-long needlefish drifting in the shallow water. These fish were so
big, I thought at first they were barracuda. I watched in astonishment as
one leapt clear of the water and went gliding over the surface. I knew
needlefish could fly (and sometimes puncture people in the process) but it
was the first time I ever saw one do it.
When I climbed back into the boat, the Belgian was
"Well?" I asked him. "Is this the best
snorkeling you've ever done?"
"It is," he said. "And for you?"
"Yes. It's the best."
Now I'm one of those people who get all dreamy at the
mention of Bali. It's a tropical paradise with some of the best snorkeling
in the world.