The H writes...
So we’ve had a tumultous couple of days; When we feared we might get stuck in the Togean islands, we decided that perhaps it would be prudent to get the hell out of there while we could, so we made our way back to Manado. Which put us close to Lembeh – only about 90 minutes west of Manado, which is a world renown location for muck diving.
“What”, I hear you ponder, “the ever-flipping hell is ‘muck diving’?”.
Well. Imagine a very busy shipping port, where, at any given time, there are a dozen oil tankers, container ships, and other boats floating about. The shipping channel is completely devoid of coral, and the years and years of garbage from the busy shipping port (Bitung Harbour, in case you were wondering) and the surrounding villages were all dumped into the water.
In effect, that means that you have a relatively heavily polluted area of water, with a relatively fast-flowing swell running through it, and what pretty much amounts to a trash heap at the bottom.
Now, if you suggested to go for a stroll across London’s trash heaps, you’d probably get a funny look and a swift excuse from me. To be fair, that’s probably a similar response that you’d have to Lembeh strait as well. If it hadn’t been for the fact that it’s an absolutely awesome place to go diving.
Sure, there aren’t a lot of corals, but the trash, rocks, rubble, and sand are home to an absolutely astonishing array of life.
For example, we saw the trifecta of squiddy-type-animals (Yes, this would have been a more eloquent word, if I had access to Google and had been able to check what that family is called): We saw squid, cuttlefish and octopus in a single dive. We’ve seen half a dozen different types of sea-horses, including the awesome-beyond-words pygmy sea horse. I can’t recall we’ve ever seen ribbon-eels before, but in two dives, we saw three different types (Well, it turns out that they are in fact the same species, but the male, female and juvenile Ribbon Eel all look pretty different from each other) back to back.
In fact, despite the small point that we only did five dives at Lembeh, over two days, we’ve seen tons of things we’ve never seen before, including flounders, soles, two types of frogfish, a metric tonne of cool types of shrimp, Devil scorpionfish, various Sweeper fish, and…
Snowflake Moray Eel
Juvenile Barramundi Grouper
Now — When you first start diving, you are overwhelmed with everything being new. After that (say, after your first 40 dives or so), it’s still awesome to see all these fishes, of course, but over time, you’ll come across a species you haven’t seen before less and less often. When you dive in a new location in a similar climate / area that you have dived in before (in our case, most of our diving has been on reefs across the indo/pacific region), you may see a couple of new types of fish, but they’ll be different types of fish you’ve seen before. You’ll recognise the new fish as, say, a Triggerfish, because you’ve seen other triggerfish before.
The incredible novelty of diving here in the Lembeh strait was, above else, that there was just such an incredible array of critters that, not only had we never seen them before, but that we were rather frequently completely unable to identify. The Benggai Cardinalfish (see pic above), for example, looks nothing like a cardinalfish, and the Juvenile Barramundi Grouper not only doesn’t look like a grouper, but it moves in such a completely bizarre way, that it can be tricky to recognise it as a fish at all – at first, we thought it was some sort of Spanish Dancer, or other dancing worm. Completely bizarre.
The other thing Lembeh is fantastic for, is Nudibranches – or underwater slugs, basically. They exist in all matter of waters, but as an example, when we were diving in Koh Tao, we only really saw two or three variants. Even in the Similans, I can’t remember seeing more than 5-6 types. Here in Lembeh, we must have seen at least thirty or forty different types of nudibranches, one more ridiculous than the other. Just to give you a taster, here’s a small collection of some of the nudies we found: