The Maluku islands, sometimes called the Moluccas, are a string of islands stretching between Sulawesi and Papua in the eastern part of the Indonesian archipelago. It was also known historically as Spice Islands; and it was the aromatic smell of the spices - nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon, then very valuable and were nowhere else to be found except on these island - that had brought both Chinese and Arab traders in the 7th century and the Western colonialists in the 16th century to these islands.
Ambon, a tiny island in the middle of the Maluku islands, despite its size had always been in the center of the hub, a busy port of call for the trading ships and later on for the colonialists battle and cargo ships. It therefore inherited the diversity and colourful cultures and religions as the consequence of such a position. For most of its history there has been little conflict between these different elements, however in 1999 a major clash between the two major religion group, Christians and Moslems, broke out.
During this clash the few dive operators operating there left, and what little amount of diving activities that existed previously stopped. Peace has now returned to the island, and dive activities have started again. A dive operator called Maluku Divers has opened in Latuhalat in the southern part of the island and this small outfit gives good service to divers. Accommodation is provided in the dive center or in the house next door. The rooms are basic but clean, with hot water and air conditioner. There are daily flights from Jakarta to Ambon with stopover in Makassar by Lion Air and Mandala Airlines. From the airport the dive center is about 1 hour drive or 40 minutes boat ride.
Ambon island consists of two peninsulas connected together in their eastern tip. Diving in Ambon is mainly done along the southern coasts of the southern arm. These locations are easily reached in 15-30 minutes boat ride from the dive center. Other dive locations are located in Nusa Tiga, a cluster of tiny islands in the western tip of Ambon, and in the southern tip of Seram, the bigger island located north of Ambon. These can be reached by about 1 hour of speed boat ride from Latuhalat. Further away, there are dive locations in Saparua, Molana and Nusa Laut islands to the east of Ambon, about 1.5 hours of speedboat ride from Latuhalat.
The highlight of diving in Ambon is its underwater garden. Coral growth here is amazing, very healthy and virgin almost everywhere. Diversity is top notch. Large size sea fans, barrel sponges and table corals are abundant, indicating none or disturbances from human activities. In almost all dive you would be presented with the full splendour of underwater colours. In Pintu Kota and Hukurila there are caverns with walls and roofs covered in many hued soft corals. With visibility in the range of 25-30 meters in a normal day, wide angle photography of undersea garden is bound to be good here.
The nudibranch hunter types would be disappointed though, especially those who have been spoiled by the diversity and abundance of nudibranch in Bali. But other macro photography objects abounds - small commensal shrimps and crabs living in crinoids, anemones, whip corals, soft corals, sea urchins and sea cucumbers are found in many sites.
Ambon also has its own 'Lembeh' for muck diving lovers. Laha I and Laha II in the southern part of Ambon's northern peninsula are shallow dive locations with a lot of rubbish and coral rubble piles, and low visibility. But among the garbage live weedy scorpionfish, raggy scorpionfish, large black frogfish, huge green frogfish, stonefish, mandarin fish, sea horse, pipe fish, octopus, cuttlefish, porcupine fish, flounders, sand divers, many moray eels and zillions of boxer shrimps.
Fish are plentiful, though the bigger pelagic types are not so often found here. There are sharks and devil rays here but they are not always found. There are schools of fusiliers and snappers in most places and big napoleon wrasse families and schools of huge surgeonfish and black snappers are often sighted in some locations.
Smaller reef fish are everywhere and there are more dartfish here than in other places. In a dive site in Nusa Tiga islands we can dive among clouds of juvenile blue triggerfish. I say clouds because there were zillions of them swimming around, literally looking like black clouds covering the reef front slope. In among these triggerfish there are schools of bannerfish and pyramid butterflyfish. Some of the more exotic reef fish often seen here include the barramundi grouper, which are considered delicacy by some people.
Most of the dive sites offer easy diving, but in some at tide in or tide out times current can be quite strong. However in Nusa Tiga, Seram, Molana and Nusa Laut which are the best sites for viewing the bigger fish, when the current is strong the fish are also abundant. Although some say the best time for diving in Ambon is around November to January, diving here is all year around.
In front of Ambon harbour there's a good diving in a wreck of a cargo ship from WW II era. The ship is still more or less intact with masts still standing. The shallowest part, its stern, is at around 12-14 meters and the deepest is at 37 meters. Although intact it is covered with corals, ascidian and sponges growth and freqented by schools of fish. An octopus live in the shallow part.