Lembeh: A Muck Diving Paradise

Martin Bovingdon

Ask any diver about their bucket list, and more often than not it will feature names like whale shark, manta ray and dolphin, coupled with destinations like the Galapagos and Maldives. But as quickly as you tick one thing off, two more names get added to the list; this is where the more weird and wonderful start to occur. Names like flamboyant cuttlefish, hairy frogfish and wonderpus appear. And with these, one place consistently finds itself as the top destination... Lembeh!

Flamboyant Cuttlefish. Photo: Martin Bovingdon

Flamboyant Cuttlefish. Photo: Martin Bovingdon

Located off the northeast coast of North Sulawesi, Lembeh is a jungle-covered island separated from the mainland by the Lembeh Strait, the world’s number one destination for muck diving (searching for smaller creatures in typically sandy and rocky areas). Getting there is an adventure in itself, taking me two flights, two hours in a bus followed by a short boat ride. But once there the effort is well worth it, and it truly lives up to its reputation!

As part of the ring of fire, you wake every morning with views of the volcanoes Gunung Klabat and Gunung Tangkoko on the Sulawesi mainland. These volcanoes helped to create and form the naturally protected area of Lembeh Strait. This natural protection is what allows the strait to maintain such a high density of rare and unusual marine life; it also means the diving is excellent all year round.

Lembeh is a photographers dream, and like so many people I arrived with my camera keen to start ticking off and photographing critters on my bucket list. The boats return to shore between dives, as the resorts on Lembeh are never more than a fifteen-minute ride from the dive sites. Returning makes fitting in three dives and a night or evening mandarin fish dive very easy. It also provided the perfect opportunity to change batteries, memory cards and plan my shots for the next dive.

Planning shots is made easy as sightings of particular marine species increase and decrease depending on the site. Nudi Falls, for example, is a favourite for the variety of nudibranch species and Rojo for the chance of spotting a hairy frogfish or two. That said, this is the ocean, and nothing is ever guaranteed. Luckily, the local guides who undergo years of training are experts at finding critters and helping you get great shots. The guides are also incredibly patient with photographers while being sensitive to the marine life and their habitat.

Hairy Frogfish. Photo: Martin Bovingdon

Hairy Frogfish. Photo: Martin Bovingdon

A real emphasis and consciousness exists about the environmental impact of divers in Lembeh. Dive sites are limited to the number of boats and divers allowed at any one time; however, this still doesn't stop the plastic and waste problem which is visible in most places. Guides can often be seen with mesh bags, clearing litter and plastic as they go; this sets an excellent example for other divers to follow (check out Dive Against Debris).

Lembeh is a world-class destination that lives up to the hype and deserves its place on any bucket list. It is a muck divers, and a photographers, dream with something new on every dive. As my bucket list continues to grow, Lembeh will no doubt be a destination I will be returning to again.

Behind the Lens explores the lives of those who capture the underwater world on camera