A Weird And Wonderful World Underwater: Lembeh Diving March 2011

Indonesia’s northern Sulawesi has one of the greatest – and most unlikely – underwater environments in the world. Scores of fantastic-looking marine species – many of which are rarely seen anywhere else on the planet – are regularly spotted on the barren black sand slopes of the Lembeh Strait.

Orange frogfish amongst grey weed

You can see much larger versions of each photo by clicking on the picture. This will take you to the Divehappy Lembeh Strait March 2011 gallery which also features images not shown here

It’s difficult to over-exaggerate just how amazingly strange the creatures of Indonesia’s Lembeh Strait truly are. There are few other places in the world where you can hope to encounter creatures that sound like they come directly out of a Harry Potter novel – the Hairy Frogfish, the Mimic Octopus and the Flamboyant Cuttlefish, for example. And not only do these creatures exist here, but they exist in relative abundance – it’s likely you will see a plethora of otherwise-incredibly hard to find marine creatures during a weeks’s diving in Lembeh. As such, this strip of water near Manado city in northern Sulawesi, home itself to a large deep water port, has become a mecca for scuba divers in the last decade.

A mimic octopus moving rapidly over the sand

I’ve been here twice before, and much of what I wrote up in my previous Lembeh Strait diving trip report in 2008 is still true, so there’s not much point rewriting it again here. Hopefully the photos below give some idea of just a fraction of the creatures you might encounter in Lembeh. Basically, if you want easy diving and love seeing reality-warping critturs in their natural environment, then this is the place to come. If you want reefs and clear visibility, you might want to go somewhere else, like Bali or Komodo. This time round, I stayed at the Kasawari resort in Lembeh. I’ll be writing up a full review shortly, but I would unreservedly recommend Kasawari if you can afford the higher price tag to other Lembeh resorts which tend to be more affordable.

Squat Lobster

Lembeh is basically the best value destination for underwater photographers of all levels that I can think of. if you’re learning to take photos or simply prefer to use a small compact than a big bulky DSLR, Lembeh’s array of small creatures will provide perfect subjects. If you’re getting started with a DSLR, the lack of currents, shallow diving and easy to deal with terrain to manouevre in lets you focus wholly on taking pictures rather than grappling with the underwater environment. And if you’re an experienced photographer, the sheer richness of marine life will keep turning up something new or old favourites to try capturing in new ways.

A seahorse floating free over the sand

The other thing that is not noted often is that Lembeh above water is stunningly pretty – lush green hills rising steeply above the water covered in palm trees beneath the blue sky. While it’s arguable there are too many resorts in Lembeh now (I think it’s up to 10 currently), the area is big enough that it does not feel too built up yet.

Given the amount of divers wanting to go to Lembeh, it’s relatively easy to get there despite it being fairly remote: SilkAir fly from Singapore to Manado and AirAsia fly from Kuala Lumpur to Manado. Check Kayak and Skyscanner to compare prices and timings. It’s then about 90 minutes (or less) drive to your resort, depending on its location. I’m already making plans to go back in 2012.

Kasawari Resort Lembeh
Shrimp on the vine, Lembeh
Hundreds of tiny catfish faces peer out from a their fast moving school
Female Ribbon Eel
Goby living in a pipe
Flamboyant Cuttlefish - only about 6 centimetres long
Baby triggerfish inside a rusty can
Hairy Frogfish with lure - the shrimp like appendage is lowered over prospective pray's hideyholes - if they bite, the lure is whisked back to the frogfish's mouth
An octopus literally running backwards away from the camera
Reptilian eel buried immobile in the sand
An octopus lying in wait inside a broken bottle
A devil scorpionfish approaches the camera aggressively, pushing its head back to look bigger
A whole bunch of nudibranches staying friendly
A stargazer lies in wait in the sand
Three pegasus sea moths - two smaller males chasing around after the female
A tiny cuttlefish attempts to spear its prey
Wunderpus chasing across the sand
Banggai Cardinalfish
Ornate Ghost Pipefish hovering just above a frond of seaweed
Up close with a devil scorpionfish

[Lembeh Strait 2011]

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