Pipefish at Lembeh Strait

The following article originally appeared Dutch scuba diving website and magazine Duiken (“diving” in Dutch), focusing on the Lembeh Strait and its fantastic muck diving. Original text: Judith Rietveld, photos: Daniel Versteeg.

Duiken at Lembeh Strait

Do you enjoy looking for strange creatures in the sand or do you prefer diving on the spectacular reefs of Bunaken? You no longer have to choose, because Thalassa Dive Resorts Indonesia now offer a combination trip Manado between and Lembeh. And the great thing is: in November we are organizing a Duiken Readers’ trip to these Indonesian gems!

What am I looking at?

What am I looking at now? It looks like a brown seagull under water with one large protruding feather on its back. But we are under water in Lembeh Strait, at dive site Aer Bajo. So it can’t be a gull. The “creature” (I really don’t have another name for now) is frantically tripping with its paws on the black sand, to lure creatures from their hiding place.

And it does so successfully: his pointed mouth opens and he swallows one after the other. He suddenly spreads his wings wide, as if he wants to bow. What is this?! Then I clearly see his fish tail. I have never seen such an incredibly weird animal during a dive. It is a flying gurnard. Although it has a lot of fish characteristics, I still refuse to believe that it is one.

A Flying Gurnard at Lembeh Strait
Flying Gurnard

Shaun the Sheep

Shaking my head, I swim away from him, over the black bottom of Lembeh Strait. Daniel is taking pictures a little further. Over his shoulder I watch what he’s looking at, but I only see a green leaf. Yet he keeps taking photos. Now I know he can be very creative, but this?

He understands that I have no idea what he is doing. He points to a few tiny white dots on the sheet and then shows his camera screen. Shaun the sheep! Or its Latin name: Costasiella kuroshimae. These are really not visible to the naked eye, but in the photo they are like comic cartoon sheep. A juvenile Ambon scorpionfish also wants attention and I lay my video camera on the sandy bottom to film it. Balancing on one fin and then the other, he comes to the camera. But, it’s a real show-off. He jumps into the air and starts to bite. Food! He does this three times in a row and almost ends up on my camera.

Our diving guide Randi swims towards me like a madman and just about drags me along to something he has discovered. He points to something that looks a bit like a sloppy anemone. But it’s a hairy frogfish! He is sleeping peacefully. His hair is moving in the current. They yawn every so often and Daniel’s timing is perfect: he manages to capture the gigantic open gullet.

Thalassa Dive Resort Lembeh
Hidden in a green bay: Thalassa Lembeh. Our base for muckdiving!

Muck diving

Muck diving, you either love it or hate it. And Lembeh is known worldwide for that. Muck literally means “mud” or “dirt.” This type of diving is not about kaleidoscopic coral reefs, it is totally the opposite. You dive over a vast, endless black sandy bottom that never ends. What’s so nice about that? Actually a lot! If you look closely, you can discover a lot of special – and especially strange – life.

Duiken photographer Daniel has already made dozens of dives in Lembeh Strait, so he may call himself a muck diving fanatic.

The nice thing about muck diving is that you are always looking at the sand, looking for…something. The tension arc is much higher than when you dive on a coral reef. There is always something interesting to see there. Here you are just sitting with your nose on the sand and if you find something, the surprise is all the greater!

Says the fanatic. Anemones are scattered here and there, but also mini-reefs have been created on pieces of stone or waste.

Thalassa Dive Resort Lembeh

Thalassa Dive Resort Lembeh
The brand new dive resort Thalassa Lembeh.

Our base of operations is the brand new Thalassa Dive Resort Lembeh, which has only been open for a few months (Two years now. Ed.). It is the brother of Thalassa Dive Resort Manado, so you can now make a great combination of both resorts and their varied dive sites. The travel time between the two resorts is around 32hours and you can combine this nicely with a land tour.

The resort lies in a hidden, green bay in Lembeh Strait. The entire place is enclosed between swaying palm trees and rugged jungle. Nearby the area is a small fishing village, which lies in the bay further down. Daniel and I both have our own single room, with a single bed and private bathroom.

We have a beautiful view of the beach with the dive boat on the doorstep. In the restaurant we are served delicious meals from Mega, with a fresh fruit juice. How uncomfortable it will be during our reader’s trip in November! Then we have the whole resort to ourselves!

Shaun the Sheep at Lembeh
Not visible to the naked eye, but the LCD screen shows a whole herd: shaun the sheep!

The other Lembeh

Lembeh is known for muck diving, but there is also the “other Lembeh”. This place is located north and on the Lembeh side of the Strait. It is only suitable for advanced divers because apparently there is a lot of current. That is why they do not always visit this site.

The pinnacle that rises a meter above water reveals where we are going to dive: Angels Window. We drop into the water and descend. Soon we see the big pinnacles in front of us, with the “angel window” in it, the opening starts at 20 meters. The word heaven certainly applies. Bright yellow and green sponges grow along the orifice.

Angel's Window at Lembeh Strait
Angels Window. A heavenly place indeed.

We calmly swim through the small cave. You must have good buoyancy; the entrance is big enough, but you can bump into something quickly. Certainly if there were currents – but we are not bothered by anything. You immediately see the exit, it is not azure blue but a bit murky.

At the top of the window is a beautiful reef, rich in all kinds of sponges, hard and soft corals. Angel fish and bat fish swim over the reef, stone fish are camouflaged and dozens of anemone fish swim back and forth nervously.

Pante Parigi

Pante Parigi is the second dive site of the “other Lembeh”. We don’t have to go deep for this dive because there is so much to see at 5 meters! The whole bottom is covered with healthy, hard coral. I have never seen so many stag horned corals together. Whole fields of them. Huge table corals, six-person dining table-sized, bright green motipora , all kinds of polyps and purple barrel sponges several meters high, ensure a very surprising variety of muck diving. And so close by! This is indeed a very different Lembeh.

Hairy Frogfish at Lembeh Strait
Hairy frogfish

Such an awesome writeup about Lembeh from our friends at Duiken. Are you excited to go Muck Diving at the Lembeh Strait? Let us know!

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Picture of Arjen Bokhoven

Arjen Bokhoven

I'm a PADI Advanced Open Water diver, I do guest relations and resort management at Thalassa Dive Resorts Indonesia. Whether I'm diving the walls of Bunaken to spot schools of fish & turtles, or explore the sandy flats of Lembeh with its fascinating underwater creatures- I love all of it.

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