17 Apr

The Complete Guide to Safe Diving with the Sunfish in Bali

Crystal Bay Nusa Penida

The sunfish, also known as the Mola Mola, is one of the ocean’s most graceful and mysterious creatures. We absolutely love them so much that the official logo for our dive agency in Bali is a Mola Mola.

They can be found in several locations around the world. In Indonesia, they swim in the deep tropical waters between Bali’s main island and Nusa Penida in the east.

For most parts of the year, they are impossible to reach by recreational divers. However, between July and October, they ‘visit’ the nearest reefs to be cleaned by the small residing cleaners.

Mola Mola as an object of ecotourism

Divers around the world flock to see the rare once-a-year occurrence. In an effort to boost ecotourism and encourage ethical behaviours around fragile ecosystems, an official code of conduct was released by the Department of Culture and Tourism in 2012. The Mola Mola is now an object of ecotourism, and anyone who does not comply would face severe consequences.

These guidelines were written to offer a safe and productive dive experience for both the sunfish and the divers in Bali. Remember, they resurface onto the reefs upon instinct to be cleaned from parasites. This activity is crucial for the health of the Mola Mola.

Six considerations before diving with the Mola Mola

1. Learn more about the Mola Mola

Research and preparation are essential for a smooth and productive diving experience. Research as much as you can about the sunfish. The more you know about them, the more you will appreciate these magnificent creatures. It’ll give you a general idea of the do’s and don’ts, and what to expect from them.

We’ve written many articles about the Mola Mola. These are a few of the best ones you should use as reference:

2. Choose your dive operator wisely.

When you visit the agency’s website, before you make that call or inquiry, simply take a look at how the website is structured and how professional the content looks.

A dive center that considers your safety and ecotourism to be very serious, tends to be detail-oriented and will publish informational blogs quite frequently to ensure that their prospective customers know what to expect.

3. Prepare your dive equipment and schedule for multiple dives.

In Mola Mola season, you’ll experience cold waters and thermoclines, down to 18 degrees Celsius. Most people wear a thick double wetsuit (a 5 mm long suit and hood, or 3 mm long suit and 2 mm shorty). We will provide you with the standard equipment if you wish.

A dive computer is also useful in case we need to plan for deeper dives when the sunfish is not present on the surface. The sunfish can still be found at recreational depths, however, do prepare to schedule for multiple dives across several days, to increase the chance of spotting the Mola Mola.

Remember, as the wise divers say, we wait for the Mola Mola, not the other way around; we are the guests and they are the host. We always try to keep this in mind whenever we have unlucky days and fail to find the sunfish.

4. Dive in small groups

If you choose Blue Ocean Bali as your agent, we’ll stick to the code of conduct and approach the sunfish with no more than four people at a time. Sunfish are shy creatures that can easily be startled. This group of four includes a dive guide, so only three guests can approach the Mola Mola at a time.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t book a Mola Mola Dive Safari with more than three friends. The first group of four can approach the sunfish, marvel and take pictures of it for around five minutes, then the next group.

5. How to approach a Mola Mola

Approach a Mola Mola only from one direction – the front or side, within its field of vision. NEVER approach from behind, above, and especially below the fish. Your scuba bubbles will startle both the cleaner fish and the sunfish, disturbing the natural cleaning process. This may become detrimental to the sunfish in the long run.

Do not use a personal underwater motorized propulsion which will make excessively loud noises underwater.

When the fish is swimming, you must keep a distance of 10 meters because that’s when it is most aware of the environment. It’s absolutely prohibited to feed the Mola Mola, as you might make them sick or interfere with the natural cleaning process.

6. How to keep a good distance from the sunfish

When the fish is at its cleaning station, wait for it to settle for about one minute. It will enter a kind of hypnotic state when it’s not as aware of the environment as before. Only at this time that you are allowed to approach it up to 3 meters. It’s advisable to only get up close to it one at a time.

When taking pictures, do not use flash. Also, touching the fish is prohibited because the skin of the sunfish is lined with a protective mucus that prevents infection due to foreign debris or parasites. This lining can accidentally become scrubbed off when you touch it.

Dive Safely and Responsibly with Blue Ocean Bali

Blue Ocean Bali is a scuba diving center based in Sanur, with more than 15 years of serving happy customers who love to learn about Bali’s untouched natural biodiversity. We prioritize safety and ecotourism in order to provide returning customers with the same high-quality diving experiences for years to come.

Check out where we dive!

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