SEVENSEAS Marine Conservation & Travel Issue 11, April 2016 - Page 63

aving agreed to an 11 month stint in Indonesia, I assumed I would spend as much time as possible exploring the country’s 13,000+ islands, with little

need to return to the same place repeatedly. This was before I found out about Bali’s lesser-known neighbors of Lombok, the Gilis, and Nusa Lembongan. Now, it’s almost a challenge to commit to exploring a new place, rather than returning to one of my previous loves.

Locals say that Lombok is what Bali was like 30 years ago. Many use Lombok as a jumping off point to access the Gili Islands, but it is a spectacular destination in its own right. A string of middle- and high-end resorts dust the shores of Sengiggi, while further south lies Kuta, one of the most popular destinations for surfers and divers on the island.

To the west of Lombok are the three Gilis: Air, Trawangan, and Meno. They each have their own charm, but Air is my favorite, accessible only by horse cart and bike, surrounded by places like the Secret Garden, where divers can catch giant sea turtles snoozing on coral beds or swimming lazily in between meal breaks.

Nusa Lembongan, further west from the Gilis (closer to Bali than Lombok) is a picturesque town that boasts one of the best places in the world to catch manta rays and sunfish in their natural habitat. One of the most impressive feats the researchers and conservationists have accomplished here is to ensure a marine protected area where the mantas can feed and breed in relative safety, in a way that can contribute to scientists understanding of this charismatic, but poorly understood, sea creature.

One of my greatest pleasures since moving to Indonesia has been the opportunity to improve my SCUBA skills. When I first arrived, I only had a handful of dives under my belt, and was not yet fully comfortable underwater. That is no longer the case. With highly trained dive masters and shops available in almost any part of the country, as well as access to the greatest amount of marine diversity in the world, I foresee many hours happily stuck inside of a wetsuit in the months to come!