Tucked along the northern coast of Sulawesi, just roughly 90 min off shore of the busy metropolis that is Manado, lies the not-so-secret Bangka Island. Once the quiet neighbor of the reef diving mecca known as Bunaken (a nearly 900 square kilometer national marine park), and a stopover for many divers on route to the famous muck of Lembeh Straight to the east, Bangka Island can hold it’s own for reef diving as well as dabbling in the muck.
The island is not exactly off-the-beaten-path traveling, but for those looking to get their feet wet in warm clear water, with sea horses hiding in the shallows, flamboyant cuttlefish dancing over the sand, and the occasional passing dugong…Bangka has it’s fair share of charm. We love it as a place to land and get our cameras wet before moving on to more remote locations. March-June has the best visibility. The rainy season is generally November & December.
There are no roads or large towns on this friendly island, so it is best to travel around by boat, something that can easily be arranged with the local homestays and dive resorts. Our personal favorite place to stay is Nomad Divers, a sweet family run dive resort with simple bungalows, reasonable prices, and a decent house reef for morning freediving.
Part of the famed ‘coral triangle’, the 48 square kilometer Bangka Island has been under threat in recent years from mining. An Indonesian subsidiary of a Hong Kong based company began seeking licenses in 2008 to mine iron ore on the small island. Mining on small islands such as Bangka in a way that negatively impacts the local environment is illegal under Indonesian law, however locals and dive operators have seen the impacts of excavation already underway. A handful of local dive resorts banded together to create the Bangka Conservation Fund with the goal of stopping the mining the restoring the impacted area to a more pristine state.