The Bunaken National Park is a marine park in the north of Sulawesi island, Indonesia. The park covers a total surface area of 89,065 hectares, 97% of which is overlain by sparkling clear, warm tropical water. The remaining 3% of the park is terrestrial, including the five islands of Bunaken, Manado Tua, Mantehage, Nain and Siladen. Although each of these islands has a special character, it is the aquatic ecosystem that attracts most naturalists. The park is located near the centre of the Coral Triangle, providing habitat to 390 species of coral as well as many fish, mollusc, reptile and marine mammal species. The Park is representative of Indonesian tropical water ecosystems, consisting of seagrass plain, coral reef, and coastal ecosystems.
The islands are rich in species of palm, sago, woka, silar and coconut. Animal species that exist on the mainland and among other coastal Sulawesi black macaques (Macaca nigra nigra), deer (Cervus timorensis russa), and polecat (Ailurops ursinus ursinus).
The waters of Bunaken National Marine Park are up to 1,566 m deep in Manado Bay, with temperatures ranging between 27°C to 29°C. It has a high diversity of - corals, fish, echinoderms or sponges. Notably, 7 of the 8 species of giant clams that occur in the world, occur in Bunaken. The park has around 70 genera of corals; compare this to a mere 10 in Hawaii. Although the exact number of fish species is unknown, it may be slightly higher than in the Philippines, where 2,500 species, or nearly 70% of all fish species known to the Indo-western Pacific, are found.
Oceanic currents may explain, in part, why Bunaken National Marine Park is such a treasure trove of biodiversity. Northeasternly currents generally sweep through the park but abundant counter currents and gyros related to lunar cycles are believed to be a trap for free swimming larvae. This is particularly true on the south side of the crescent-shaped Bunaken Island, lying in the heart of the park.
A very rich coral ecosystem covers most of Bunaken National Park, dominated by fringing reef and barrier reef corals. There are about 390 species of coral recorded in the waters of the Park.
Biologists believe that the abundance of hard corals is crucial in maintaining the high levels of diversity in the park. Hard corals are the architects of the reefs, without them, numerous marine organisms would be homeless and hungry. Many species of fish are closely associated with particular types of corals (folious, branching, massives, etc.) for shelter and egg-laying. Others, like the enormous Bumphead Parrotfish, Balbometopon muricatum, are "coralivores" and depend on hard corals for their sustenance.
Bunaken is one of Indonesia's most famous diving and snorkeling areas and it draws visitors from all over the world. Some 20,000 local inhabitants make their living from the waters in the Bunaken National Marine Park, and this has inevitably led to some conflicts. By and large though, the co-operation between national and local government authorities, conservation groups, business owners and local communities has been very successful here. This has led many to cite Bunaken as a model example of how Indonesia should be preserving its natural marine treasures.
Bunaken is barely a degree above the equator and thus tropical. The wet season, from November to mid-April, brings frequent rains sometimes in storms lasting for several days which freshen the air nicely but also reduce marine visibility. The dry season is from May to October, when temperatures climb and visibility reaches a maximum.
The thing to do in Bunaken is dive, dive and dive! However, the steep walls and occasionally strong, rapidly changing currents mean that many sites cater more to the intermediate/advanced diver. There are beginner-friendly sites too and all dive shops can arrange introduction dives and Open Water Dive courses.
Snorkeling is fantastic in front of many of the resorts around the island, with an incredible amount of marine life inhabiting the shallows. Remember not to snorkel without fins as the currents can sometimes be strong and change quickly even when they are not. Pick a reference point on the island and do not stray too far unless you are a very confident swimmer.
There are no unusual health risks in the park, aside from the standard set of easily avoided venomous marine critters. Stinging jellyfish are found only occasionally, primarily during the change of the seasons in spring and autumn. Bunaken is considered to be a malaria-free zone. Nearby areas of North Sulawesi are malarial though (but not rampantly so). Saltwater crocodiles may be encountered close to river mouths and mangroves, although no official populations survey has been done in quite some time, making it impossible to know whether or not they still exist in the area.
The best visiting season: May to August.
How to achieve location: Bunaken National Park can be achieved through Manado harbor, Marina Nusantara Diving Centre (NDC) in District Molas and Marina Blue Banter. From the Port of Manado using Siladen boat towards the island can be reached + 20 minutes, island Bunaken + 30 minutes + 50 minutes Montehage island and the island of Nain + 60 minutes. From Blue Banter Marina using the available cruises toward the area of tourism in Bunaken island can be reached within 10-15 minutes, while the NDC to the location of the port of diving on the island Bunaken by using the speed boat be within + 20 minutes.