Pulau Gunung Api Banda
is one of ten volcanic islands in the Banda archipelago
, and as you may have suspected by the name of the island, Gunung Api Banda – meaning fiery mountain - is made up entirely of a volcano. This small island chain was part of the fabled “Spice Islands” during the time of Portuguese and Dutch maritime trade, and until the mid-19th century, was the only source of nutmeg and mace in the world
. The shallow waters at the foot of Gunung Api Banda are an internationally recognized dive spot. Multi-coloured corals contrast starkly with the blackened volcanic sea bed, housing a rich marine life, high in number and species diversity, despite the small total area. In 2005, the Banda islands were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Journals from the early European sailors describe the islands as a jewel-like cluster, surrounded by crystal waters and brilliant coral reefs. Hundreds of years have passed since then, but visitors to the islands nowadays still say the same.
The Banda islands
are located in the Banda Sea, approximately 130 kilometres southeast of Ambon
, administratively the Banda district, Central Maluku, Maluku province.
Banda Volcano is a perfectly conical mountain that rises 656 meters above sea level, and is about 3 kilometres wide.Due to its key location in the spice trade, Banda Volcano ranks among the best documented volcanoes in Indonesia. It is also one of the most active volcanoes in East Indonesia. Historical eruptions have been recorded since the late 1500s, and have been relatively low-level, though there have been the occasional larger eruptions, with lava flow reaching the coast.
On May 9, 1988, after 97 years of dormancy, a violent eruption shook the Banda islands. A column of ash billowed 3 kilometres into the air, and earthquakes were felt every few minutes. Two days prior to the eruption, 1,800 residents of the island were evacuated to nearby Neira and Lonthor, both of which are remnants of volcanic activity. On the day of the eruption, people began moving to further islands, and eventually to locations as distant as Sulawesi. About 10,000 people of the 16,000 population living in the Banda islands were evacuated during the 1988 eruption, which finally ended in August, 1988.
This powerful eruption had a devastating impact on what was once an integral part of the famed “Maluku Sea Gardens.” Molten lava oozed across 70,000 square meters of well-developed fringing reef, destroying everything in its path. But even volcanic clouds have a silver lining, and this seemingly catastrophic event led to a remarkable discovery.
Maluku Sea Gardens Restored
Hardened lava, once broken down, provides some of the most fertile soil on earth. This is because it is rich in minerals and nutrients brought up from within the earth. Therefore, the plant growth affected by volcanoes can recover quickly. But does the same hold true for coral growth? Prior to the Banda eruption of 1988, this idea received scant attention, but scientists were now provided with a unique opportunity. Coral colonization was monitored on 3 locations, and in just 5 short years, the hardened andesitic flow supported over 120 species of coral. A higher diversity and abundance than the adjacent reef not covered by lava.
Now, 20 years later, coral growth around Gunung Api Banda not only matches, but exceeds the development that normally takes coral formations over 70 years to achieve, making it the most rapid growing coral in the world.
Gunung Api was designated as a National Park by the Ministry of Forestry in 1992.