LOLOATA ISLAND, PAPUA NEW GUINEA
Wrecks and critters
Season: Year-round diving
Water Temperature: 28-30°C/82-86°F
Papua New Guinea (the eastern half of the island of New Guinea and its offshore islands) is one of he world’s top diving destinations, owing to its extraordinarily rich marine life, and you do not even have to go far beyond the capital, Port Moresby, to find some rewarding diving.
Bootless Bay is just 22 kilometres east of Port Moresby, situated on the south coast of Papua New Guinea, and holds three small islands: Lion Island (uninhabited, but an excellent picnic spot), Motupore (where the University of Papua New Guinea has a research station) and Loloata, home of Loloata Island Resort. The resort is located just half an hour away from the international airport at Port Moresby and offers a tranquil alternative to staying in a Port Moresby hotel for those that have a few days available for some additional diving while travelling to and from Papua New Guinea’s premier dive sites at Milne Bay, New Britain or New Ireland.
Within Bootless Bay there are a variety of marine habitats, ranging from mangroves, sand banks and seagrass meadows to rocky reefs, rubble banks and deep, oceanic water. Some of the finest dive sites are on the barrier reef beyond Bootless Bay. Here tidal currents dictate when diving can take place, but the bonus is certainly to be found in the supply of food which supports a very good fish population. Loloata Island Resort’s 30 or so dive sites offer plenty of variety.
Pumpkin Patch is a series of bommies on the reef edge. Some are joined with ridges, others separated by deep gullies. Before jumping in to sample the delights under the water, take a look around as Bryde’s Whales have sometimes been seen in this area. The bommies are rich with life. A very prolific seafan population is well worth investigating. Long-nosed Hawkfish can be found lurking there and Pygmy Seahorses, Merlett’s (Rhynopias) Scorpionfish, black coral shrimps and Ornate Ghost Pipefish are amongst the smaller treasures that can be located.
When the boat moors at Suzie’s Bommie it is on the edge of a steep reef that bottoms out at around 31 metres. The flat top of part of the reef is around 10 metres below the surface. Here the riches on offer include the diminutive, lumpy-looking Pygmy Seahorse and soft corals in pinks, yellows and magenta. The surface of the reef is awash with Oriental Sweetlips, Coral Cod, batfish, unicornfish and trevallys. Look carefully among the corals for the well-camouflaged Tasselled Wobbegong. These beautifully ugly small sharks rely heavily on their cryptic pattern, waiting quietly for the moment when a fish or cephalopod swims into their strike zone before they secure their lunch with an arch of the back and a snap of the jaws.
On the fringing reef south of Loloata Island, and just five minutes away by boat, lies the Boston Havoc A20 Aircraft. This wreck is in good condition with only the nose gunner’s section snapped off. Dik Knight, Loloata Island Resort’s Manager, discovered this section of the plane before the rest when he first dived this site. Although the water can be quite turbid, many divers feel it is worth diving here to see this fine example of a World War II aircraft. It is possible to lift the hatch of the cockpit cover and enter the cockpit. All the controls are in place, but there is little coral growth on the wreck and hence, little marine life.
Lion Island has several dive sites, all of which are usually sheltered. A couple of wrecks have been sunk here and the area is particularly rich in more unusual marine creatures, such as the beautiful and elegant Ghost Pipefish (which can be found in many colours), Flying Gurnard and Dwarf Lionfish. For invertebrate hunters, there is a veritable feast of delicate nudibranchs (especially Flabellina, Notodoris and Phyllidia species), molluscs, sea stars, urchins and ascidians.