But what can the Gili Islands offer scuba divers? When approaching the islands by boat from Bali, you will see crystal clear aquamarine waters providing fabulous visibility averaging 20 to 25 metres all year round (sometimes more!). Not only are the waters clear, they are wonderfully warm (up to 31 degrees) and many divers enjoy the freedom of wearing shorts and a rash vest – no wetsuit required!
Divers don’t just want to hear about beautiful diving conditions, they want to see marine life.
And this is definitely where the Gili Islands deliver!
There is something here for every diver whether you like the big stuff or macro. There are drop-offs, slopes, sometimes there’s current for the adventure junkies, and plenty of marine life to see. Keep an eye out for white tip reef sharks, cuttlefish, octopus, moray eels, stingrays, frogfish, seahorses, scorpion fish, there are always turtles and the Gilis are often referred to as the unofficial turtle capital of the world.
It is here that I am going to address the elephant in the room … the coral, or lack thereof. The reefs around the Gilis were subjected to a completely natural event and stress factor known as El Nino. This refers to rising ocean temperatures across the tropical Pacific, and is part of a recurring climate pattern.
It’s no secret there is a history of intense El Niño fish bombing between 1997-1998 when dynamite used to catch fish killed the majority of coral around the Gilis. In 2000, local fisherman got together with dive shops and established the NGO Gili Eco Trust, and this destructive fishing practice was addressed.
However, there is good news ... when Nicole Helgeson of Reef Divers dived the Gilis in May 2018, she was very excited to find over 70 species of coral at The Bounty dive site. Nicole also discovered 35 different species of coral on one bommie at Halik and, during her dives, she found what she calls her "coral unicorns"; very rare corals only found in this area. This shows all is not lost for the Gili Islands' coral.
Instead of talking about the dive sites, let me show you.
When choosing a Dive Centre, we always check Trip Advisor to ensure we are diving with an environmentally conscious company, as this is extremely important to us. All our dives were carried out with Manta Dive Gili Air and Oceans 5. If you wish to dive with a small, personal dive centre, the amazing Gili Pilih Fun Divers is run by a personal friend of ours and comes highly recommended.
All photographs have been taken either by Feet Do Travel or our diver friends. Photo credits have been applied to all photos and we would like to thank Jenni Collier, Simon Bomholt and Simon Greatrex for their contributions.
Night dives at the harbour
Some people hate night dives and others absolutely love them! Night dives are mainly carried out at the harbour, however they can also be from a boat at one of the other local sites.
The harbour is an easy shore dive and if you love your muck diving, this is the place to come. It’s not just the amazing octopus, shrimps, crabs and pipefish you can see on a night dive, nocturnal activity needs to be observed! Divers have witnessed rare mandarin fish mating dances, hunting, feeding and various behaviour that you don’t usually see during the day.
Depth: 5 – 22 metres
These two dive sites are next to one another and dive guides sometimes combine a bit of both. A gentle sandy slope running parallel to the shore, there are large and small bommies plus a large coral mound.
You get to see a bit of everything here, schools of fish, turtles, peacock mantis shrimp, blue spotted stingrays plus the usual brightly coloured angels, butterflies and parrotfish, but it’s also a place for muck diving which means it’s a great all-round site and no one is disappointed.
Turtle Heaven/Turtle City/Turtle Point/Marlin Hill
Depth: 5 – 30+ metres
If you want to see turtles, this is the dive site to see them, it also happens to be my favourite dive site! It’s super fishy and that’s the reason I absolutely loved diving here. Located off the North East Coast of Meno, Marlin Hill is made up of two sloping coral reefs that turn into a pinnacle.
The turtles hang out around 12 metres where a plethora of marine can also be found such as schooling Fusiliers, Anemone Fish (including Nemo) snappers, angelfish, I could go on and on. Sometimes, there are just too many fish for the camera to capture and it does not do this site justice.
Depth: 18 – 35 metres
OK so I have changed my mind, THIS is my favourite dive site! There are many different types of schooling fish such as fusiliers, 2-spot snappers, surgeon fish and rainbow runners plus you can find stunning anthias hanging out around the amazing coral they have here – yes I said it, the coral on this dive site is very much alive and thriving! The coral formations are beautiful and are probably the healthiest and most diverse in the Gilis, there is a large pinnacle, gorgonian fans, barrel sponges, table coral it’s absolutely gorgeous.
As the name suggests this site is off the coast of Gili Meno and consists of two sections of steep walls extending down to 18 m before gently sloping deeper into the sand. Meno Slope is also nearby in between Meno Slope and The Bounty. It’s often protected from strong currents and waves and you can find turtles, octopus, moray eels, clown fish, Angelfish and Anemone Fish. Depth: 5 – 24 metres.
The long-term plan is for the statues to become an artificial reef encouraging soft corals, sponges and, in time, hard corals which will then form a fully established reef.
Halik and Deep Halik also known as Coral Fan Garden
This site can be dived either shallow or deep as it has a coral reef here as well as a small cave where a few baby sharks live (at the time of writing anyway, they may have grown up and swam away by the time you read this!). You can also spot schools of rainbow coloured Anthias, Clownfish, Butterflyfish, Red Tooth Triggerfish plus a variety of Fusiliers to name a few. Depth: 10 – 35+ metres.
Will you see Mantas at Manta Point? Possibly not … just saying! As with everything in nature, Mantas follow the food and arrive when there are algae blooms. For a few months, there were two living here but not everyone gets a chance to see them. If there are a lot of divers, the mantas tend to move off the site until it is quieter. So what about the dive site ... it's a gently sloping staghorn coral garden with larger coral bommies at 18-24, you can expect to see Octopus, Peacock Mantis Shrimp, and several species of Puffer and Angelfish and, of course, turtles! Depth: 5 – 24 Metres.
Update: Since releasing this blog post, in October 2017 groups of Devil Rays were spotted daily, hanging around for at least a couple of weeks! Up to 30 (sometimes more) created an excited buzz across all the Gili Islands. Please read the post I wrote for the Gili Guide, Dancing With the Devil Rays, to hear my story of diving to find them (hint, it wasn't my first attempt!).
Can you see sharks at Shark Point? You bet! Some of the best shark activity can be seen here and on one occasion, we were lucky enough to see a pregnant mother which is awesome … it means more sharks! This site is a fringing reef which is sometimes susceptible to current and waves when the weather is not ideal, there is also a small wreck down at 30 metres. You can hopefully spot moray eels, pufferfish, batfish, lobster, crab, scorpion fish, turtles (of course) and all types of aquarium fish live around the bommies. Depth: 10 – 35+ metres.
It’s no secret that Sy is a muck-diving fan, it's the reason we visited Lembeh, and Seahorse Bay is his favourite site for that very reason.
A sandy slope dive, it is here that you can search and (hopefully) find the site’s namesake … seahorses! Beautiful, graceful little seahorses that live in the weeds, but there is plenty more to find such as longhorn cowfish, frogfish, nemo, ribbon eels and schools of Moorish idol. Depth: 5 – 20 metres.
The Gili Islands are a 30 minute fast-boat ride away from Lombok and 2 hours by speedboat from Bali (Padang Bai, Sanur or Amed). We used Eka Jaya but Gili Getaway are also recommended. If you wanted to island hop between Gili Air, Meno & Trawangan, it will take you around 20 minutes to travel between each one using the local “Island Hopper” boat. If you want to read more about the beautiful northern Gili Islands, check out our posts from Gili Air, Gili Meno and Gili Trawangan. You can also easily reach the "secret Gili Islands" in the South, Gili Gede and Gili Asahan.
Have you been diving in the Gili Islands? What were your thoughts? If you hadn’t considered it before, will you now? Tell us in the comments section below, we love to know what you are thinking.
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