Surrounding the wild Indonesian island of Sulawesi are four entirely unique national marine parks that are among the world’s most biodiverse.
Sulawesi is the third largest island in Indonesia with mountains, wildlife-rich rainforest and the indigenous Tana Toraja and Bugis communities. Furthermore, the island is surrounded by colourful fringing reefs and four national marine parks that are each staggering in both environment and size.
1. Taka Bonerate National Marine Park
The 530,765-hectare Taka Bonerate National Marine Park lies to the south of Sulawesi in the Flores Sea, and with 220,000 hectares of atolls and lagoons it is the third largest atoll region worldwide. Around the national park’s 21 islands, 242 species of coral lie below the water’s surface with 526 species of colourful reef fish and 112 species of macroalgae, as well as the impressive giant gorgonian fans. Here, visitors can snorkel and dive with dolphins, turtles and manta rays, and spot scorpion fish, nudibranch, sharks and sperm whales, while exploring some of the park’s 50 dive sites. The best time to visit is from April to mid-May or October to mid-November when the water is fairly calm.
2. Bunaken National Marine Park
Back in 1991, this area to the north of Sulawesi became one of Indonesia’s first national marine parks. And rightly so, with 89,065 hectares of which 97-percent is an expanse of crystal clear water that contains some of the world’s highest marine biodiversity. The water is exceptionally deep – 1,566 metres in Manado Bay – with visibility of up to 40 metres. Visitors are drawn to the region by these incredible underwater conditions and to explore the unique environment that has around 70 types of coral.
3. Kepulauan Togean National Park
Situated between central and north Sulawesi, this protected area is mostly marine park but also includes the Togean islands. The area is famous for its spectacular reefs that encompass fringing reef, barrier reef, patch reef and atoll, as well as for the traditional Bajau fishing community, which has garnered worldwide interest for maintaining the tradition of freediving and spearfishing for survival. Both snorkelling and diving are outstanding within the national park.
4. Wakatobi National Marine Park
Designated a World Heritage site in 2005, Wakatobi National Marine Park was named using the first two letters of each of the four main Tukangbesi Islands: Wangi-Wangi, Kaledupa, Tomia and Binongko. Lying to the south of Sulawesi, between the Banda and Flores Seas, the park covers an area of 13,900 square-kilometres. The barrier reef at Wakatobi is believed to be the second largest in the world with 942 tropical fish species and 750 coral reef species of the 850 known worldwide. Plus, dolphins, turtles and whales can be spotted on their way through. The archipelago within Wakatobi is made up of 143 islands but only seven of them are inhabited, with the indigenous Bajau people living within this region too.
SAIL AROUND SULAWESI
Chartering a yacht around Indonesia’s remote archipelagos affords the most freedom for exploration. Sail between lush volcanic tropical islands, stumble upon white-sand bays and remote indigenous villages, and snorkel and dive straight from the boat. Traditional Indonesian-style sailing ships, such as Silolona and Dunia Baru, boast luxurious interiors and are well equipped for diving and other water sports.