Gunung Api is a small volcano island lying just across a small strait, to the west of Banda Neira. Its last volcanic eruption took place in 1988, and hot molten lava streams flowed down its north-eastern and northern slopes into the Banda Sea, destroying the existing reef system. The local village was permanently evacuated.
After a time the lava cooled and set like a 200 metre wide concrete path on the reef substrate. The solid platform provided by the cold lava, the attendant ionisation process and the earthen minerals with the lava, have combined to form ideal conditions for the regeneration of the coral reef at Gunung Api.
The regrowth rates here have been phenomenal, dumfounding marine biologists and shattering misconceptions about how fast hard corals grow in nature. The size and conditions of the coral formations are quite staggering, especially when one considers that they have only being growing for a maximum of 19 years. Contrasting the existing formations of neighbouring Gunung Api reefs that were not exposed to lava with the new reef, it is clearly evident that a natural wonder of global proportions has occurred at the Banda Islands.
The best point to drop in to see Banda’s wonder-reef is the northern most flow of lava on north east coast of the island. Descending from the Banda Sea surface you are immediately struck by the awesome spectacle below you. In the shallows there are tiered table corals, warty finger corals, bottlebrush corals, acropora corals, then from 20 down to 35 metres cabbage leaf corals take over the scenery. Some of the table corals are as big as houses, the cabbage patches are more like fields, and the corals are so densely packed that there is hardly a spare space amongst them.
Slender fusiliers, greensnout parrotfish and cuttlefish are commonly seen here, as are triggerfish. The shy clown triggerfish could lay claim to being the prettiest of all fishes, with its black, yellow, gold and white contrasting markings. Black triggerfish are far more abundant at Gunung Api, and can be easily identified by their black body with a white band at the base of their dorsal and anal fins.
There are also a couple of rocky outcrops that break up the landscape and add topographical variety. These too are totally covered in corals and a seafan or two, with anthias and damsels swarming all over. A close examination of the gorgonian fan may bring you reward in the form of a longnose hawkfish sighting.
Swimming along at depth, there’s a good chance that you’ll see large Napoleon wrasse, schools of round batfish and pinnate batfish. If upwelling conditions bring in murky planktonic water, then you’re in luck. Some of the Banda Islands more numerous pelagics are likely to visit. Mobula rays fed on the rich plankton, dogtooth tuna and blue trevally will hunt at the extreme of your vision, searching for stray fishes as easy prey.
Gunung Api is a once-in-a-life time experience, and is a ‘must-see’ on any Banda Islands liveaboard safari.
• Banda Islands tourist information
• View map of the Banda Islands
Gunung Api Reef Basics: Hard coral reef phenomenon
Depth: 5 – 35m
Visibility: 10 – 15m
Surface Conditions: Calm
Water Temperature: 26 – 29°C
Experience Level: Beginner – intermediate
Number of dive sites: 2
Diving Season: March, April, and mid-September to mid-December
Distance: ~1km (5 mins) west of Banda Neira
Access: Banda Sea liveaboards
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