Text and Photos by Cipto Aji Gunawan (Garuda Indonesia Inflight Magazine)
Kapoposang is one of the largest of the Spermonde Islands, around 70 km northwest of Makassar, South Sulawesi. Kapoposang covers an area of around 50,000 hectares and is inhabited by around 100 families. Several other islands, both inhabited and uninhabited, lie near Kapoposang. The larger ones include Papandangan, Kondongbali, Suranti and Tambakulu.
Kapoposang and the nearby islands were declared a Nature Tourism Park by the Department of Forestry in 1999. Diving has been an important activity at Kapoposang since the mid 1990s, pioneered by several local divers including Sani Limbunan and Andi Januar Jaury. But because there were so few local divers at the time, and because of the distance from other well-known diving areas in Indonesia, Kapoposang has basically remained a secret.
Even now, there are only two accommodations at Kapoposang, managed by the Makasar Dive Centre and the Popsa Dive Club.
Your journey to Kapoposang Island starts from Popsa pier, near Fort Rotterdam, a historic fort surviving from the Gowa-Tallo kingdom.
The best time to visit Kapoposang is between April and November, when the seas are calm, the weather favorable, and the wind less fierce than in the other months. The trip takes two hours by speedboat; the ocean breezes help to cool your skin in the hot morning sun.
As you approach Pulau Kapoposang, you see the deep blue water, which suddenly meets an expanse of coral reefs between extensive shallows with white sands in the seabed. Sea grass also grows lushly near the shore. The sea bed at Kapoposang has a unique composition; near the island are some quite shallow contours, and then suddenly steep underwater cliffs leading to seemingly endless depths. The water is very clear; you can expect underwater visibility of over 15 meters – ideal conditions for divers.
We had to bring all our supplies from Makassar, because the accommodations on the island are not equipped with full logistical support. Luckily, we didn't have to bring a diving compressor, because this facility is provided at Kapoposang.
According to the Indonesian Academy of Sciences (LIPI), which conducts monitoring and assessment near Kapoposang, in 2007 there were over 68 species of coral, and over 160 fish species.
Diving points are found along the west, north and east coasts of Kapoposang; some of the best known are "Killing Field", "Shark Point", "Mardjono Point", "Nakano Point", "Cave Point", "Turtle Point", "Aquarium", "Januar Point" and "Ian's Point".
We did our first dive at Cave Point, a favorite spot for underwater photographers because of the extremely high diversity of marine life found here. Our dive started from the inner part of a rock wall; at a depth of four meters, a cliff nearly 90 degrees downward was right in front of us. We slowly approached the escarpment and gazed down into the deep blue water. It reminded us of the diving contours at Bunaken, with steep, seemingly bottomless escarpments providing great diving challenges. The visibility, over 20 meters, makes a dive down to 30 meters feel not that deep.
There were many small gaps in the escarpment; this is why it's called "Cave Point". The gaps in the coral typically form small caves where you may see turtles sleeping. But it must not have been our lucky day, because we didn't see any turtles, though we did encounter some large pelagic fish, including jackfish and tuna.
Suddenly, out of one of these little caves darted a white-tip reef shark, giving us a bit of a fright, though these sharks are not actually dangerous to humans.
Our second dive was at Killing Field, just 15 minutes from where we were staying. Killing Field is next to another dive spot called "Shark Point", and more challenging than Cave Point. The seabed walls are not as deep as at Cave Point; at a depth of around 30 meters, it changes to a vast expanse of sand.
The strong currents here attract large fish to feed. We came across a large Great Barracuda, perhaps a meter long. In the distance, we also saw several Eagle Rays, a type of stingray that swims in the open sea like pelagic fish; its head resembles and eagle's, and from a distance it does look like a flying bird.
We also did a night dive near the lodging, at a spot called "Aquarium". Our flashlights lit up the colorful coral reefs. Nudibranches, which are already quite colorful, seemed even more beautiful at night. We also encountered some sleeping puffer fishes. It's easier for divers to get close to fish at night, when they are less active. Aquarium is a very easy spot for diving, with depths of only around four to eight meters and almost no current.
At Ian's Point, concrete blocks have been planted to provide an environment for fish; these are called "fish aggregation devices", or in Indonesian, rumpon. The rumpon attract smaller fish, as here they can hide from predators. Eventually, coral will grow on them, and they will function as semi-artificial coral reefs.
Kapoposang's unique beauty makes it a useful asset for the local community, but it remains underutilized. Attention from the public and the local government will enable Kapoposang to become an icon for Indonesia and South Sulawesi.