The island nation of Indonesia straddles the equator between the Indian and Pacific Oceans and lies at the heart of the ‘Coral Triangle’ - the epicentre of the world’s marine biodiversity. Nowhere on ...
Although the term ‘muck-diving’ was first coined to describe dives on ‘less-than-optimal’ sites in Papua New Guinea, the jewel in the critter-crown now belongs firmly to a destination in North Sulawesi – the famous Lembeh Strait. Since its diving discovery in the early 1990’s, this area has become synonymous with a spectacular diversity of a very different kind – rather than pretty reef fish and big pelagics, the Lembeh Strait is filled with a remarkable concentration of weird and wonderful critters that make their home on the sand and rubble slopes, sheltered bays and reefs.
The allure of muck diving lies in finding rare, camouflaged, and breathtakingly beautiful critters in the strangest of places - and the reefs and sand and rubble slopes of Lembeh are perfect for those who get their ‘fix’ from spotting these unusual species. The Lembeh Strait’s sheer abundance of unique critters and incredible biodiversity means pretty much every dive is capable of throwing up a surprise or two - be it a new species to tick off from your ‘hit list’ or witnessing some incredible behaviour. Lembeh is one of those places where the exceptional seems to become the norm and dives here can be both intriguing and downright weird all at once. For devotees, muck diving means developing a level of attention to detail like no other style of diving and an appreciation of all things tiny, cryptic and bizarre - of which the Lembeh Strait has plenty!
A complete list of the critters and macro-life found in the Lembeh Strait will probably never be complete, but a simple list of those iconic species that can almost be considered as ‘guaranteed’ reveals just how good Lembeh is - everything from incredible cephalopods such as flamboyant cuttlefish, wonderpus, mimic octopus, hairy octopus, coconut octopus and blue-ringed octopus, to Ambon scorpionfish, Rhinopias, Inimicus scorpionfish, pegasus sea moths, pygmy seahorses, seahorses, nudibranchs, 8 species of frogfish, hairy shrimps to boxer crabs, stargazers, big mantis shrimps, electric clams, ghostpipefish, Bobbit worms, cardinalfish, and ribbon eels amongst many, many other species. And as well as actually spotting a particular species, divers to Lembeh also have a really good chance of being witness to plenty of behaviour - mating, laying eggs, feeding and fighting are very obvious parts of life in the Lembeh Straits.
Some of Lembeh’s iconic sites include Nudi Falls and Nudi Retreat, Aer Prang, Aer Bajo, Angel’s Window, Critter Hunt, Hairball, Jahir, Makawide, the Mawali Wreck, Police Pier, Pante Parigi, Retak Larry and TK. These sites offer barren sand slopes, reefs, walls, wrecks, jetty dives, plains of seagrass - and everything in between. Animals come and go and certain sites will have more critters than others so it is best to ask the guides at your resort if you would like to see anything in particular - they are the ones with the relevant and up-to-date information and are experts at finding those rarities!
Lembeh diving is suitable for all levels of experience although beginners should be careful of their buoyancy and ensure any sediments are not disturbed. Water temperature varies by only a few degrees throughout the year. It lingers around 28 - 29C from October to March and drops slightly in April, May, June and September to 26 - 27C. The coldest months are July and August, with average water temperatures of about 25-26C. ZuBlu recommends wearing either a 3mm or 5mm full-length wetsuit depending on your sensitivity to cold and which month you will be here.
Located just off the port of Bitung on Sulawesi’s northeast coast, the narrow strait lies between the mainland and the island of Lembeh itself. The strait owes its extraordinary diversity to a particular set of characteristics. For starters, it is located in the centre of the Coral Triangle, home to more marine species than any other part of our planet. It also lies directly in the path of a huge through-flow of water, moving from the Indian to the Pacific Ocean. This constant stream of nutrient-rich, cooler water is channeled through the strait by peculiarities of the seabed and the offshore island of Lembeh itself, and means a constant supply of food, and juveniles of every sort, are pushed through the channel every day. On top of these geographical factors, the wide range of different habitats that can be found within the strait itself further contribute to the overall diversity. Along its 14km length, Lembeh has sheltered bays and rocky pinnacles, black volcanic sand slopes, white limestone sand slopes, beds of algae, fringing coral reefs, rubble zones and even several ship wrecks. Man-made debris and sunken logs add to this huge array of different microhabitats and all contribute to the diversity of this remarkable spot Including the wrecks and more traditional reefs, there are over 30 sites to choose from, all within 6- 7km of the dive resorts.
The closest airport for both international and domestic flights is at Manado with frequent flights from Singapore - a good connection for most Asian and European destinations - as well as regular domestic flights from Jakarta and Bali via Makassar, on Garuda and Lion Air (Wings). From Manado, land transportation to Bitung takes approximately 90 minutes and a short 10 - 15 minute boat ride will then take you to your resort if you are staying on Lembeh Island.
Gone are the days of a single operator – the original Kungkungan Bay Resort - with just 2 or 3 boats heading out to different sites every day. Today, diving in the Strait is big business and there are now many resorts as well as liveaboards and day-trippers making the journey over from Manado. Popular dive sites can be busy but the size of the strait means divers can normally find somewhere a little more peaceful.
There are now resorts on the mainland both north and south of Bitung itself, as well as up and down Lembeh Island’s western coast inside the strait. Guests can also choose to dive from Manado or Bangka on a day trip although given the quality of diving in Lembeh, it would make more sense for guests keen on doing some serious muck diving to stay in Lembeh. With dive sites scattered up and down the strait, the resort’s all have similar access to any of the great dive locations and divers should base their choice of resort on the budget and facilities on offer.
Several resorts now offer combination packages allowing guests to stay in Manado, Bangka and Lembeh, all on one trip and transferring by boat rather than road, allowing guests to dive all the way around North Sulawesi.
The strait’s protected location between the mainland and Lembeh Island means diving is good year-round and although conditions will vary, the seas are generally calm and dives sites can always be found with little or no current. The wet season typically runs from December to March, the dry season July to September, although these dates have become vary variable in recent years - guests can expect some rain at any time of year and in any case, wet season storms very rarely last longer than a few hours. The visibility is generally lowest when the water is at its coolest – typically in the summer months of August and September - but this pulse of cool water is great for critters and so whilst the visibility can be poor, the diving can be amazing from the summer and into October and November. Rough seas outside the strait in January and February can make access to some of the sites on the eastern side of Lembeh Island difficult.
If you feel the cold, it is worth bringing a 5mm suit particularly as dives are often quite long and slow. Currents are generally not a problem as the more exposed sites are avoided when the strong tidal flows are running through the strait. Water temperatures can drop to 25 - 26C in July and August, but are typically 27 - 29C.
Most of Lembeh’s muck critters can be seen year round and it is very difficult to attempt to predict a single best time of year to see a particular species. Animals come and go, dives sites become ‘hot’ for a few months, conditions within the strait change - all adding up to a near-impossible task of trying to predict the likelihood of seeing a particular animal at a certain time of year. However, many of the dive centres have spent a great deal of time recording their critter encounters and have noticed some patterns. For instance, Lembeh Resort has been tracking different species for several years and runs a useful ‘critter log’ on the company’s site. Whilst nothing is ever guaranteed, they are willing to offer a few observations. For example, whilst blue-ringed octopus can be spotted year round, they are most often seen from August to December, and carrying eggs from Jan to March. Mimic octopus are more likely to be seen mating from January to July. Flamboyant cuttlefish are seen feeding, mating and laying eggs year round, but with a greater chance from August to January. If there one time of year that seems to have more life than others, it is following the cold water months of July and August - although the Lembeh Strait is one of those destinations where the diving really is good all year round.
Make the most of your trip to Lembeh with 17 dives in the world’s best muck diving destination. 7 nights accommodation in a Garden View Room, double occupancy, with 17 boat dives and 1 self-guided house reef dive per day. Single occupancy rate is available along with upgrades to Deluxe Ocean View Cottages and Cliffside Suite.
The prefect length of time to get a taste of what Lembeh has to offer. 5 nights accommodation in a sea view bungalow with 4 full diving days, 12 guided dives and unlimited diving on the house reefs. Upgrades are available for nitrox fills per day, single supplement, and accommodation in a Panorama View Bungalow.
Murex Resorts in partnership with Lembeh Resort offer guests the ultimate way to explore Sulawesi - the ‘Passport to Paradise’. Dive from 3 different resorts in Manado, Bangka and Lembeh and explore all that this extraordinary area has to offer. This package includes 13 nights accommodation, 30 dives and all transfers by boat. Upgrade to Deluxe Ocean View Cottages or Cliffside Suite at Lembeh Resort. Upgrade to nitrox fills throughout.