The pearl of the diving world: Wakatobi
Here we are, back in Wakatobi for the fourth time. It's 2010, and we find that we've returned to a
beautiful, natural place that never stops improving. We look back at our previous visits, and
we can't help but note with awe the profound nature (obvious pun not intended) of the positive
changes that have taken place.
On our first visit, in 1998, we didn't know what to expect. We thought that maybe we would find
something similar to what we had seen in other small, remote dive locations: a bare-bones dive
shop operating on a frugal budget with a couple of half-starved dive guides to haul us around
in a leaky open boat. What we found at Wakatobi was bare-bones, yes, but Wakatobi was already
a first-class dive operation with topnotch professionals catering to our every need, and with
excellent facilities for guests. The amenities were not five-star, but they made the most of
what they had, and we were happy with what we found.
The Wakatobi reefs offered virgin dive sites, but some areas were in a state of disrepair due
to over fishing and other destructive practices. That, too, was going to change. We saw, from
one visit to the next, physical improvement in the reefs and, along with the healthier eco-system,
more sea life.
Let's begin at the beginning. Our 1998 journey started with an 18-hour boat ride from the port of
BauBau in southeastern Sulawesi. This was the boat ride from hell: constant storms in an old,
uncomfortable 40-passenger ferry boat that had seen better days. We felt lucky to be alive
when we finally reached the tranquil waters of Wakatobi, and it was with profound relief, and
many offerings of silent thanks, when we stepped ashore at the resort.
The Wakatobi Resort consisted of one structure, the "long house," with space for 12 divers in six rooms.
The dining area doubled as the lounge where we could hang out between dives. The lodgings were Spartan
(for example, we shared bathroom facilities) but comfortable enough. Ten of us, all strangers at first,
dived into this adventure. By the end of the ten days, we had all become close friends. It was a
special time, something to be treasured in our memories.
About two years later, we heard that Wakatobi had undertaken to build an airstrip to serve the resort.
We resolved to return, naturally, but not until we were sure we could fly all the way. Anything to
avoid that boat ride! As it happened, the airstrip was completed in 2001, and we were able to return
in 2002. What we found was additional lodgings for guests, better dive boats (one boat had been
built by local people in a nearby village) and improved living facilities. We noticed also that
the Wakatobi resort was becoming integrated into the local community, providing materials for
improved roads and initiating modernization projects to help the villages. In return, the local
people agreed to help with the conservation effort that Wakatobi had been carrying on since the
Again, our 2002 stay was as rewarding as the previous one, especially insofar as diving was concerned.
We were also more comfortable in the expanded living quarters. Naturally, we resolved to return at
least one more time.
We came back in 2004 to find more cottages, better sanitation facilities, an extended concrete pier
to serve the dive boats and, to our surprise, even better diving due to strict enforcement of
commercial fishing restrictions. The extensive conservation effort was paying off, and the changes
were obvious. We could see that the fish life and health of the reef had improved since our previous
visits. The resort's ongoing effort to educate the local populace on the value of their ocean
resource was bearing fruit.
Now here we are again, in 2010, and we see a thriving community, a partnership between the
Wakatobi dive resort and the local villages, all cooperating to protect an area of 100 square
miles of Pacific Ocean. We see a fully developed resort with every modern convenience, staffed
by some of the top professionals in the world. We see a human environment where the resort and
the local communities work together to everyone's benefit. Finally, we see a reef system,
teeming with life, that may be unmatched on this planet.
Wakatobi never stays the same; it only gets better. When we come again we won't know what
to expect, but we know we will be pleasantly surprised. Wakatobi never stays the same; it
only gets better.