Once the sun sets, the reefs and sandy slopes surrounding North Sulawesi and these small islands become completely unrecognisable from their daytime appearance. Most of the colourful day fish head deep into the crevices of the reef, hiding from predators, while the nocturnal critters head out into the open to feed. Night diving is very popular in Bunaken Marine Park, and we highly recommend to all of our guests that they make at least one during their stay with us. Many people are so amazed by it, they make many more after the first one.
But what about night snorkelling? Can snorkellers experience the same amazing things as the divers do at night?
The answer is yes, absolutely.
Night snorkelling can be an amazing experience, but you need to visit the right sites to have the best experience possible. Luckily, our dive and snorkel guides know exactly where to take you so you enjoy your night snorkelling session just as much as the divers do.
Most of the critters we encounter at night are generally smaller than the fish we see during the day. Therefore we need to visit a sheltered site where currents are slow to non-existent, so you can spend time looking around the corals to find the critters. We also need to be much shallower than day snorkelling so you can actually see the critters.
We usually head to the North Sulawesi mainland for night diving and snorkelling excursions. The sandy slopes are perfect for divers, and the reefs can go very shallow, along with shallow sand beds and seagrass meadows, which is perfect for the snorkellers. The mainland reefs are generally not as beautiful as the ones around the islands, but for night snorkelling beauty is not so important, as you are not looking “at a scene”, but more for the individual animals themselves.
We depart from Siladen Resort & Spa at 17:45, and the sites are usually no more than 20 minutes away. Each snorkeller will be given a high powered torch with a focussed beam, and the guide will carry some extra ones in case yours fails. Once you reach the site, you will be given an in-depth briefing about procedures and what you can expect to see. After the briefing, it’s time to slide into the inky black water armed with your underwater flash light, and swim over to the shallow reef.
It can take time for your eyes to adjust to the dark reef. At first, it may seem like you are wasting your time, but after only a couple of minutes, amazing nocturnal creatures will begin to reveal themselves to you.
One of the most common night snorkelling encounters are different members of the scorpionfish family, who sit out in the open, waiting for their prey to come to them. Their cryptic camouflage is easier to see past at night, as the light from your torch will reflect off their eyes.
Crustaceans will make up the bulk of your sightings while night snorkelling. The large, clumsy looking sponge crab can be easily spotted stomping over the corals (earning it the nickname “King Kong Crab” by a number of our dive and snorkel guides), and almost every crevice you look in will be full of the red and white banded boxer shrimp. If you are really lucky, you may catch a glimpse of a slipper lobster as it rushes away from your light.
At night, you have a much higher chance of spotting cephalopods than you do during the day. Various species of octopus, cuttlefish, and squid, use the cover of darkness to help them both hunt and avoid predation. One of their last resort defence mechanisms is to eject ink to conceal their escape, which is a much more effective technique at night as the ink blends in with the surrounding water.
Depending on the site, your snorkel guide may take you over some large sandy patches or seagrass meadows, so you can experience multiple ecosystems in one snorkelling session! The sandy patches can be home to ambush predators such as stonefish, stargazers, and spearing mantis shrimp. The seagrass meadows tend to hide the more vulnerable critters like seahorses or robust ghost pipefish.
We will usually spend around one hour in the water, so the snorkellers and divers finish at the same time. It is important to note that without the suns rays warming your back, you will cool much quicker than you would while snorkelling during the day. To stop the cold from ruining your snorkelling session, we recommend that everyone takes a wetsuit with them.
Upon returning to the boat, it is time to warm up with a cup of tea or hot chocolate, and enjoy the ride back to the resort under the milky way. The whole experience (from departing to arriving at the resort) will take around two hours, and don’t worry, the restaurant and kitchen will keep plenty of food for you.
If you are interested in experiencing some night snorkelling during your next visit to Bunaken Marine Park, make sure to drop into the dive centre and have a chat with the dive centre team. They will be more than happy to answer any questions you may have, and go into more detail about what you can expect to see.