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Puri Jati - Bali Muck Diving, Pt 2

13 November 2017, by Matthew Oldfield

Imagine a featureless sand plain, crisscrossed by drag marks from fishing nets and dotted with thousands of small cup corals, and you have a pretty accurate idea of what Puri Jati is like. The site will never win any awards for looks, but divers that come to this site aren't here for the scenic views. Like Seraya further east, Puri Jati is muck diving, pure and simple.

The site is a few kilometres west of Seririt.  The turn-off from the main road is simply marked by a sign for a hotel just down the coast, after which the site was originally named.  The hotel has now changed its name but the site remains Puri Jati.  A small warung caters for any visiting divers and provides small concrete tanks filled with fresh water for washing gear and cameras, as well as showers and toilets.  The owners also fly a flag when divers are in the water to warn off any fishing boats with their nets.  Entry is simple - just walk in off the beach and swim out.  The bottom very gradually descends till much further offshore, where at around 10m it turns into a steeper slope and drops to 20m+ and out into the gloom.  However, the vast majority of divers will rarely venture as far as this and most of the dive will be done in less than 10m.

There are a few bumps and depressions to break the monotony of the site.  Worm casts and shallow pits - probably dug by rays searching for food - dot the plain and there are a some areas of coralline algae, the occasional sea pen, anemones, sea cucumbers and starfish, particularly in the shallows above 5m.  In many areas a covering of fine, filamentous algae coats the sand like fur.  Slightly deeper the most obvious signs of animal life are the cup corals that can literally carpet the sand in parts of Puri Jati.  These solitary corals like to move around at night so don't expect the site to be the same each day.  There can also be quite a bit of rubbish on the site, washed down from the river just east of Puri Jati.  Just how much will depend on the amount of rain in recent weeks.

The star of the show at Puri Jati, and what keeps divers coming to back for more, are cephalopods and mimic octopus in particular.  These spectacular animals are relatively easy to find at Puri Jati, almost always on the shallow shelf rather than deeper.  Mimics have keen eyesight and will normally be spooked by a diver well before they themselves are spotted.  As a result, a diver’s first sighting of a mimic is often just a pair of eyes decorated with short tufts, sticking up from a hole in the sand.  Even in the shelter of a bolt hole, these animals are very shy and can take some time getting used to having a noisy diver so close.  But if left for long enough and given no cause for alarm, the mimic may eventually pull its body and tentacles out from the hole and set out to hunt.  This is the moment when a diver realises what all the fuss is about.  Mimics normally rely on camouflage to remain undetected on the exposed sand, but if threatened by a passing fish, or if a diver gets too close, they put on an incredible warning display of black-and-white stripes across their tentacles and body, enough to surprise most predators and give the octopus a chance to escape.  They also curve their tentacles into different shapes and patterns - it is this behaviour that has led to the suggestion that these animals mimic other venomous animals such as lionfish and sea snakes.  Whether or not this is correct, mimics remain a truly remarkable animal and Puri Jati is one of the best places in Bali to observe this octopus in action.

A search for mimics might also turn up some other unusual cephalopods such as the 'White-V', named after the markings on its body, veined or coconut-shell octopuses, that use pieces of old coconut or other debris to make a mobile home, and small cuttlefish lying camouflaged against the sand.  And despite the drag fishing that still occurs on the site, Puri Jati has plenty of other animals to keep most macro-photographers happy for many dives.  Robust ghost pipefish, different species of 'normal' pipefish, dwarf pipehorses and seahorses can be found hiding in any debris or amongst the algae.  Ambon scorpionfish are sometimes found, although these incredibly well camouflaged fish can be very difficult to locate.  The anemones provide homes for transparent commensal shrimps and porcelain crabs whilst imperial shrimps hitch a ride on the sea cucumbers.  There are common and dwarf lionfish, lots of flatfish, flatheads and sand-divers, many different species of goby, snake eels, garden eels, conger and small morays, frogfish, big snails grazing across the algae, big crabs and some bizarre nudibranchs and sea hares in the shallows.  More than enough for any critter-hunting photographer!

Matthew Oldfield
Co-founder of ZuBlu