Scuba Diving Lembeh Strait
World Class Criiter / Muck Diving.
World famous for its macro life, this is most probably simply the best place in the world for macro photography. Lembeh Strait plays host to a cornucopia of weird and wonderful creatures to be found here and here alone. A dive in Lembeh Strait is a unique experience with no equals in the world.
Situated on the eastern side of the tip of North-Sulawesi, the Lembeh strait (Selat Lembeh) runs between the Sulawesi mainland and Lembeh island to the east and is 22 km long and 2 km wide.
Although most divers come here for the muck diving, Lembeh has much more to offer. Specially around Lembeh island there are some small but very beautiful coral reefs and at the northern tip at Batu Kapal the currents attract large pelagics like mackerels and sharks. There are also four beautifully covered wrecks, two of them large and all within limits for recreational diving.
Lembeh Strait is regarded as one of the best diving spots in the world when it comes to muck diving.
” Muck diving gets its name from the sediment that lies beneath most dives: A normally muddy or “mucky” environment. Other than the muddy sediment, the standard muck dive may consist of dead coral skeletons, discarded fishing equipment, tires and other man-made garbage. In addition, the visibility is usually sub-par to the reef or wreck sites of the area.”
HIGHLIGHT DIVE SITES
There are about 60 dive sites around Lembeh Island. Most of the muck diving sites are within Lembeh Strait. On the eastern side of Lembeh Island there are a few dive sites with more colorful corals and steeper walls. Most of the dive sites within the Strait are great for muck diving, two sites however offer beautiful coral gardens. Angels Window and California Dreaming should not be missed if you want a nice colorful dive for a change.
NUDI RETREAT 1, 2, 3 – One of the most heavily-dived sites in the strait, this is a lovely coral bowl in the shallows, turning into a sandy slope with encrusted boulders down below with two mini walls stretching out to either side, sporting healthy soft coral growth right up to only 2 meters in depth. The prime attractions here are pygmy seahorses and sea moths along with the attractive underwater scenery and general variety. Nudi Retreat is named for the large variety of nudibranchs that can be found there. When the visibility is good and a bit of current is running to open up all the soft corals, Nudi Retreat is a good Wide Angle dive.
JAHIR 1,2 – A muck site that can be exceptional rich in critters. Coral patches on the shallow sandy flat to about 5 meters depth and a black sandy slope that continues down to 28 meters. Few concrete blocks that the mooring line is attached to and some sponge areas along the slope attracts a lot of interesting finds.
HAIRBALL 1, 2, 3 – This is one of the most famous of the muck sites in the Strait. The sandy slope here is exceptionally rich. The position on a point means that the mix of currents brings more nutrients than on most other nearby sites. A sandy slope to 30 meters with scattered reef in the shallows and at the far north end of the dive site.
TK 1, 2, 3 – are short for Teluk Kembahu. “Teluk” means bay and Kembahu is the name of the nearby village. An excellent muck site with a sandy slope that starts at 5 meters and continues down to about 22 meters. Patches of rope-sponges attract various marine life as well as some small coral bommies in the shallows.
AW SHUCKS – Next to a pearl farm, this site has a verdant mix of coral and sponge growth in the shallows with a sandy slope below. The first divers to explore this site proclaimed “Aw Shucks!” after they found a lot of critters during their dive. Snorkeling can also be done here.
AIR PRANG 1, 2, 3 – “Air” means water and “Prang” means war. Air Prang was named after the jetty offering fresh water from an uphill aquifer, installed by the Japanese during WW2. Air Prang is a large, spread-out gradual sandy slope, which is popular for night diving but also potentially great during the day.
RETAK LARRY (LARRY’S CRACK) – Another black sand site, but with a small stand of healthy coral in the shallows.
NUDI FALLS – is named after the fact that the bubbles from the divers sometimes cause nudibranchs to fall off the wall above and drift down. One of the most popular sites in the Strait. It consists of a beautiful sheer wall with a rocky slope below, then a sandy slope, levelling out into the main channel of rubble sprouting a deep forest of large soft corals. Scenically, this site is unlike any other in the Strait.
POLICE PIER 2 – A sand and rubble slope with soft coral area with many orange sponges, as well as a small muck area. There are some pearl farm shacks on stilts in this site – a lot to see under the shack. Police Pier 2 is named for its proximity to the pier of the police station that monitors Lembeh Strait.
PANTAI KECIL – This dive site is beside police pier 2 so it is quite similar to Police Pier 2. A sandy and rubble slope with soft coral area with many orange sponges, as well as a small muck area. “Pantai” means beach and “Kecil” means small, so this site is named after the nearby beach, which is very small.
MAWALI WRECK – The most popular wreck in the Strait, this huge WW2 Japanese freighter lies on her port side, offering a coral-encrusted oasis. Mawali is the name of the nearby village.
SARENA BESAR – This site is at the Sarena Island group in the center of the strait. Since it is located at the “big” island, and the word for big in Indonesian is “Besar” the site is called “Sarena Besar”. The site is a combination of coral, rubble area, and a sandy bottom. In the shallow, there is some nice coral area, whereas the deep area is sandy bottom.
BATU KAPAL – In Indonesian, “Batu” means rock and “Kapal” means ship. From a distance, the rocks of this site resemble a ship. These rocks are a set of pinnacles off the northern tip of Lembeh Island. This is the best big fish dive in North Sulawesi, but severe multi-directional currents prevent all but only the most experienced divers from venturing there. Turtles, white-tip and grey reef sharks, as well as eagle rays are also sometimes seen.
DANTE’S WALL – This site is named after a dive guide named Dante. At the very northern tip of Lembeh Island, this dive site has a beautiful wall going down to 30-35 meters, covered in black corals and sea fans. Where the wall ends at a slope, in the shallows there is small opening to a huge cave with shrimp, lobsters, and flashlight fish.
CALIFORNIA DREAMING – This stunning site is a seamount out from the island of Pulau Putus. It features twin coral peaks with a sand flat in between. The shallows are good for giant frogfish and tiny boxer crabs. The coral slopes down on either side, but the most exposed section is a series of steps formed by boulders and sand shelves which descend into the depths. A kaleidoscope of soft corals make this Lembeh’s most colorful dive site. Large mackerel and tuna pass by and the scenery is a big draw.
ANGEL’S WINDOW – A twin-peaked coral pinnacle comes within a meter of the surface. A large cave offers a swim-through for divers on the deep end of the pinnacle. This site got its name from the sunlight that shines through the cave opening in the early morning. One side is a coral slope leveling out onto a sand flat at 15 meters and on the other side is a wall to a shelf at 8 meters, then a small plateau and another drop-off, down to 20-32 meters.
AIR BAJO – Air Bajo is one of the premier muck dive sites located on Lembeh Island. In Indonesian, Air Bajo means Sea Gypsy. Air Bajo is a large area that is broken up int three dive sites. Each of the three sites begins with a shallow sandy flat 4-6 m deep, then a gentle sandy slope to a depth of 20m where the bottom gradually flattens.
DIVE SEASON: The Strait and it’s dive sites is protected by the mountains of North Sulawesi and by the ten-kilometer long Lembeh Island. Conditions for good diving are favorable throughout the year, with water and topside temperatures being cooler between July and September. Raining season is December – March.
VISIBILITY: Average 5-20m (15 – 60ft)
WATER TEMPERATURE: Average 24-27C (78-84F)
SKILL LEVEL: All level
ACCESS: Land based diving, boat diving and shore diving
MARINE LIFE: Diving at Lembeh Strait means you are on the lookout for numerous weird but amazing looking species such as flying gurnards, mimic octopuses, wunderpuses, a large variety of frogfish including the Straited and Painted varieties, pygmy seahorses, fingered dragonets, juvenile batfish, stonefish, Ambon scorpionfish, devilfish, stargazers, bobtail squid, hairy octopuses, blue-ringed octopuses, a large variety of nudibranchs or even Rhinopias, Weedy Scorpionfish and many other elusive creatures that are on your wish list…. this is the place for you.
HOW TO GET THERE: Sam Ratulangi International Airport (MDC) is an international airport in Manado. Bitung is about 1.30 hours drive from Manado airport.
- Proper buoyancy is of utmost importance around Lembeh. Sometimes you find more species in a single square meter than in the other 20m2 you have explored. Often, rare species are almost invisible and you really have to focus and check every single detail to find them. Great buoyancy allows you to hover at a short distance above the sea bed; without disturbing underwater life around you.
- There is a thing called photography etiquette. It means that you should not stress out species by making too many photographs. Also, make sure your fellow divers also have ample time to take a shot.
- Good dive guides are essential.
Tangkoko National Park lies roughly between Bunaken and Lembeh, north of the city of Bitung. Driving time from Bitung to Tangkoko National park is about 45 minutes on winding asphalt road. The national park is very popular because of two main species to spot; the tarsier and the crested macaque. Both are awesome to spot in the wild. Chances of spotting the famous two animals are early morning or late evening.
Tarsiers are the smallest primates in the world – only about a fist size – who make Tangkoko their last refuge and are found only in Sulawesi. Tarsiers (tarsius spectrum) look particularly cute because of their big saucer eyes. Locals know them as: tangkasi . Since these are nocturnal animals they can be observed only at night.
The crested black macaques (macaca nigra), endemic to Sulawesi, usually come in large social groups, and can be seen playing, fighting or grooming themselves. While the cuscus, a pouched animal can be seen among the trees when one is particularly lucky.
Tomohon is a small city in Northern Sulawesi. Because of the elevation it is much cooler here compared to the high temperatures in the city of Manado that lies nearby. Tomohon is surrounded by (active) volcanos. You can climb to the rim or do some pleasant hikes in the area. People from Tomohon are Minahasans, a tribe that still maintain their authentic customs up until today.
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