Located in the northern part of the Banda Sea, the remote island of Ambon has established itself as a prime destination for muck diving. But do not be fooled, as Ambon has other fascinating things on the table. The macro creatures found in Ambon have been known to be extraordinary and striking. Prepare yourself to be hypnotized by the variety of the critters.
History might not be kind to the Ambon underwater ecosystem as people used corals to build roads in the past, resulting in the devastation of the fringing reef. But over time, nature has revived itself into something more remarkable. The damage caused by human action turned into a region full of world-class muck dive sites, possibly one of the best in Asia. Over 200 fish species have been recorded in Ambon alone, including some endemic to the island.
Top highlights of Ambon
- Challenge yourself for the rare sighting of psychedelic frogfish (Histiophryne psychedelic) and the newly discovered Bryozoan goby (Sueviota bryozophila)
- Dive inside the Duke of Sparta wreckage and get blown away by its massive structure
- Get inside the unique and stunning rock formations of Pintu Kota & Hukurila Cave in the southern part of Ambon
- Be mesmerized by the weedy Scorpionfish (Rhinopias frondosa) and Eschmeyer’s Scorpionfish (Rhinopias eschmeyeri) in yellow, blue, red, peach, and brown when you dive into the Rhino City
Ambon has a long and dark history on its sleeve. Along with the other islands in the area, especially Banda, Ambon became the epicenter of clove and nutmeg production in the 16th century. The Dutch and British tried controlling the distribution, resulting in a spice monopoly. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Ambon and the islands in the Maluku archipelago experienced political and religious turmoil, complete with endless violence until the accord’s signing in 2002.
Aside from its gloomy past, Ambon remains one of the islands in Indonesia with stunning nature. Located in the center of Maluku Islands, this volcanic island is the home of spectacular pristine beaches, tropical rainforests, and volcanoes. As part of the Wallacea along with Seram and Maluku, and its location in Outer Banda Arc, the Banda Sea around Ambon is a marine ecoregion and the epicenter of The Coral Triangle, which is known to have the most extraordinary diversity of underwater life.
Diving in Ambon
Muck diving might not be every diver’s cup of tea, but doing it in Ambon should be an exception. As part of The Coral Triangle, it is guaranteed that the types of marine creatures in the region are as diverse as the ones in Raja Ampat, especially concerning the critters.
Though well-known as one of the best regions for muck diving, Ambon also offers reef and wreck diving. The wreck of the Duke of Sparta is worth diving into due to its massive size. The south part of Ambon, like Hukirila Cave, provides a nice break from all of the muck diving because the dive sites in this part border directly to the Banda Sea with striking rock formations full of healthy coral reef.
Expect to see large numbers of crinoids, sponges, sea fans, and table corals once you explore outside Ambon Bay. Fusiliers, bumphead parrotfish, Napoleon wrasse, big dog tooth tuna, and grouper are abundant, especially in the south. Species of sharks, whales, and dolphins are often seen, proving that Ambon is more than muck diving.
But the primary attraction of diving in Ambon is the critters. Most of the dive sites along Ambon Bay are full of ghost pipefish, frogfish, pygmy seahorses, scorpionfish, mandarin fish, and numerous species of shrimps, crabs, nudibranchs, and octopus. You only need to pay close attention, as these critters are the master of camouflage.
Look for Ambon scorpionfish (Pteroidichthys amboinensis), first recorded by Dutch ichthyologist Pieter Bleeker in 1856, with their red, orange, or yellow color, which can be found in the depths beyond 7 meters. Halimeda ghost pipefish can also be spotted with its large head and a green body resembling the Halimeda algae, and this creature is one of the hardest to spot.
On a rare occasion—where luck plays a pivotal role—you may see the psychedelic frogfish (Histiophryne psychedelica). The newly found Bryozoan goby (Sueviota bryozophila) species are also rare since they are perfectly camouflaged and often hide within the crevices of the White Lace Coral.
Seeking The Crown Jewel of Ambon Critters
Ambon is different from any dive destination in Indonesia. There are no specific marine animals as the main stars or magnificent coral reefs like in Banda or Raja Ampat. Instead, the whole experience lies on the critters, who find home among the rubbles and the muddy waters.
From all of the critters that have been discovered, nothing baffles or excites divers more than the psychedelic frogfish (Histiophryne psychedelica). Unknown to the scientific world until 2008—even though it was first found in 1992—the discovery of this frogfish was included as one of the top ten species found by the International Institute for Species Exploration in 2009.
Though widely known by divers, finding one is a challenging task. Spotting the psychedelic frogfish can be considered a rare achievement. This fish takes mimicry to a whole different level. Irregular stripes in orange and white resemble fingerprint patterns—and it’s different in each individual— adorning the body with tiny aquamarine eyes acts as a perfect camouflage. Another unique trait of this fish is that it does not swim. Instead, it uses its pectoral fins to walk along the seafloor and sometimes uses the fins to function like jet propulsion, making it “hop” across the seabed.
For all the reasons above, it is safe to say that the psychedelic frogfish is the crown jewel of any critters in Ambon because it is hard to spot one.
Diving Environments in Ambon
The water temperature in Ambon is reasonably constant throughout the year, between 26 to 29 degrees Celsius, making it ideal for those who want to dive outside the peak season. Muck diving is famous for poor visibility, and Ambon is no exception. The average visibility ranges from 5 to 20 meters even on a clear day, but during full and new moon, the visibility decreases due to strong currents.
Though the currents are relatively calm and gentle, they can be intense on some days. Please always check with your diving operators before deciding to dive. Some of the dive sites in Ambon are suitable for beginners. Still, only experienced and advanced divers are allowed in some other places, especially in the southern part, where reef diving is more common than muck diving.
How to get to Ambon
As the capital of Maluku province, getting to Ambon is relatively easy. Many big cities in Indonesia, like Jakarta, Surabaya, Makassar, Manado, or Denpasar (Bali), offer daily flights to Ambon, some being direct flights and some with a stopover.
Liveaboard service usually combines trips to Ambon and Raja Ampat due to proximity. Using the Liveaboard also allows you to explore remote parts of Ambon dive sites, which are rarely accessible by public transportation. It also gives you a clear diving schedule to enjoy the underwater paradise.
Diving Seasons & Weather in Ambon
Ambon is one of those places where you can dive all year round due to its sheltered locations compared to other islands in the Banda Sea, especially if you only want muck diving as it concentrates along Ambon Bay.
October to April is the best period to dive as the dry season occurs during these months. Less rainfall means better visibility because when doing muck diving, having the maximum visibility is your best friend. Liveaboard service is usually combined with the trip to Banda. Since these two areas have different topography and diving environments, it is best to check with your operators regarding the schedule.
The wet season lasts from May to September, with heavy rainfall and occasional typhoons, making it the wettest period in Ambon. The condition is not ideal during these months due to the strong winds, waves, and currents, resulting in poor visibility.
Dive Sites in Ambon
Marine Life in Ambon
Ambon is a unique destination for diving. Unlike Raja Ampat or Komodo, muck diving is why divers visit this island. When it comes to marine life, fish and critters are the principal inhabitants, as pelagic creatures are rarely seen in Ambon.
Though often overlooked by divers, the fish species occupying Ambon's waters are as diverse as the critters.
From schools of barracuda, grouper, and Napoleon wrasse to boxfishes and pufferfishes are abundant in Ambon. Reef fish species such as bumphead parrotfish, cardinalfish, damselfish, fusiliers, triggerfish, anthias, and sweetlips can swim swiftly among the soft corals, gorgonians, and sea fans.
For macro enthusiasts, Ambon is a paradise on earth. Most of the dive sites in Ambon cater to this type of diving, highlighting many of the weird but beautiful tiny creatures that occupy the waters of Ambon.
Different species of frogfish, rhinopias/scorpionfish, pipefish, and cuttlefish can be spotted in most of the dive sites in Ambon. Various types of octopuses, moray eels, shrimps, crabs, and octopuses have also made this region their home.
Some unique critters were discovered here in Ambon, adding to the excitement of diving on this island. Like Ambon scorpionfish, first recorded in 1856 by Dutch ichthyologists and named after the island. Then there is the psychedelic frogfish (Histiophryne psychedelica), whose sightings are rare, and then there is the Bryozoan goby (Sueviota bryozophila), a newly discovered goby species in 2013.