At the eastern end of Tulamben Bay, a Hindu Temple perches on a cliff of sharp, black volcanic rock that drops into the sea to form a rocky reef-top that parallels the shore from whence 3 solid coral growth ‘spurs’ or fingers descend to well below 70m depth. The western side of the spur facing Tulamben bay forms what is known as ‘The Wall’; a sheer vertical drop of 30m and more. Life forms here are essentially the same you would find on the wreck, albeit in less concentration due to much more open space. Fish congregations would increase in density on the outer reaches of the three spurs where currents bring higher concentrations of nutrients. A classic ‘Tulamben Wall Dive’ would have you enter the water at the beach just below the temple and head away from shore with the reef to your right, over coral outcrops past two huge barrel sponges at 12m and 15m respectively to the beginning of the wall which has several caverns and is richly overgrown with sea fans of many colors, various sponges and black coral bushes. Several enormous ear sponges dot the area; sadly two of those have the names of diving morons engraved in them. You would gradually descend, wall on your right shoulder, to your predetermined maximum depth (30m is recommended) where you would turn right 90 degrees, gradually ascending to about 20m as you continue your dive parallel to shore, with the ‘Drop Off’ now sloping at an approximately 45 degrees angle below you, the blue yonder on your left shoulder. At this turning point, at 29m depth, is the ‘Drop Off’s’ signature highlight: a huge, purple Gorgonian sea fan that would out-span an adult diver, arms and fins outstretched! It is the home of an extended family of shy Longnose Hawk fish, a relatively uncommon deep water specimen. On a sadder note it must be said,however, that at the time of this writing, the size of this fabulous fan that had been known to divers since time memoriam has withered to about one third of its known size and appears to be slowly dying. No foul play seems to be at work, and storms do not cause surges this deep. During my last visit, I removed some algae growth and clams that appeared to suffocate it; but I have no illusion of being able to save it. Probably, a time comes for all things living, and change is inevitable.
It is here that, unless you have the luxury of a dive boat following your progress so that you won’t have to return to Tulamben Bay, some planning is required: should the current run to the east, don’t follow it too far, as you will have to fight it on your way back, drastically upping your air consumption even if you return at a shallower depth until you can take shelter in the lee of the current when you reach the wall again. But currents here are mostly mild, increasing a bit at the outer reaches of the 3 spurs, and run towards the bay more often than not, taking you home again comfortably.
The entire ‘Drop Off’ area is covered with a filigreed, rusty-red and white carpet of fire (hard) coral, consisting of small trees and branches about the size of a human hand. Up to the ‘La Nina’ year of 1998, that carpet extended all the way to the surface. It now forms a clearly defined navigation mark at 12m depth as hard coral couldn’t survive water temperature warmer than 31 degrees, but which prevailed during that year. True to fashion that most living things underwater are constantly engaged in a tug of war, it appears that in several places fire coral – in a quest for the surface and the sun – is attempting to regain the space it had vacated in the zone above the 12m line and that had been occupied by soft coral since then.
A word of caution : Although the Drop Off is an easy dive, the formation of the wall combined with the clarity of the water, coral extending down forever and promises of ‘big dogs that lurk at depth’ are very tempting to go deep. Please stay within the safe limits you have been taught by your instructor. Divers do get bent at the drop off! I had an ‘out of air’ situation many years back when doing a decompression dive to find out for myself where the reef really ends. In October 2008, a European solo diver did lose his life; his body was found floating on the surface near the wall, tank empty. Enjoy the spectacular beauty of the Drop Off – don’t push it!