Gili (Indonesian for islet) Selang appears to be a huge, broken off rock from the steep cliffs that forms Bali’s easternmost extremity at the foot of Mount Seraya. It gets the full brunt of the Thru Flow as it enters the Lombok Strait. Not only that; sitting squat at the receiving end of this onslaught, it would literally split part of the enormous current, causing some of it to rush westward to flow ‘up’ along the coast. A combination of varying intensity of the Thru Flow, tides and wind-created wave action makes for exciting diving, to say the least. I started exploring this site in 1997, always coming by boat from Tulamben. Many years later I visited the area while driving round the eastern isthmus by car and stopped at a look- out near the temple past the marine light tower that commands a spectacular view over Gili Selang from about 150m above; the convergence and swirls of the currents and their immense energies are clearly visible; I could hardly believe I had been diving regularly in that and lived to write about it.
Once in the water, however, with a properly trained guide that is familiar with the area, some drift diving experience and respect for and understanding of the forces that surround you, this dive is quite manageable and may well turn out to be an experience of a lifetime, as you would drift from a north-Bali typical reef environment with inhabitants that include black tip, white tip and grey reef shark into the realm of pelagics that often includes dolphins, hammerhead shark, tuna and mackerel – even Tiger shark have been sighted here – and back into an east-Bali typical reef flat at the speed of an urban commuter train that regulars have named the ‘Selang Express’.
Gili Selang actually consists of three dive sites: the large bay to the north-west of the islet known as Labuhan Kutumanak, the Express round it, and the large reef top area at the lee side to the south-east of the islet. The coral growth in the area is very rich in both hard and soft coral with some of the biggest Arcopora table coral I have seen anywhere, huge bommies and soft coral fields. Everything appears size XL and up, including the fish and a resident Hawkbill turtle. It is also here one regularly sees sea snakes, which is unheard of in the Tulamben area (where they would be snake eels). It is amazing to see how coral adapt to their environment, even to vicious currents as these. On the swept outer slopes, they would grow to a maximum of 10cm from the floor to withstand the forces of the flow around them; reef fish such as Moorish idols and Clown triggerfish that are often found on this site and that venture out this far into the current (strangely enough they do) can often be seen being swirled around as if caught in a blender; watch your bubbles explode into foam that reminds you of a spectacle such as diving in a Swiss mountain creek, and you understand why.
But all is calm and well when you stay within the confines of the bay and don’t venture out too far. The reef would slope with an increasing gradient to eventually drop into a sandy slope at around 35m, increasing to 50m to the east of the islet. The current would pick up at around 15m, sometimes 20m, and this is your signal to turn back, as the vicious currents often come in bursts, accompanied by a clearly audible boom. Once you are caught in the Express there is no turning back, and you will have to ride it out to the other side of the islet.
What makes Gili Selang so special and – in my opinion – worth the extra effort to get there and the adventure this dive no doubt entails, is that it is a combination of many dive environs; the richness of the reefs of the north-east blending together with aquatic life typical to the south east of Bali. Add to that the full brunt of the ‘Indonesian Through-Flow’ and adjacent deep water (the slope would drop straight down to 200m a mere 100m to the east of the islet and on to 1200m not much further out) with the pelagic this attracts, and you are in for one exciting cocktail!