Season: Year-round diving
Water Temperature: 26-29°C/79-84°F
Diving: House reef, walls, coral gardens, critter diving, shore diving, boat diving
Nitrox (Lembeh Cottages Resort & Spa, Kungkungan Bay Resort, Lembeh Resort)
Can be combined with: Twin centre stays with resorts in the Mandado area and Gangga Island are very popular, or why not compliment your liveaboard cruise with an extra week on shore?
Non-diving activities include rafting, forest and volcano hiking, wildlife and bird watching, cultural tours, spas.
The coastline of Sulawesi and the long, narrow island of Lembeh running parallel to it form the calm channel of the Lembeh Strait, where divers can experience some of Indonesia’s finest diving. This extraordinary locale now ranks as perhaps the world’s top location for weird and wonderful marine critters.
The coastlines of Sulawesi and Lembeh Island provide a wide variety of habitats including not only numerous coral reefs but also sandy bays, mangrove swamps, an old lava flow surrounded by jagged rock, volcanic outcrops and a newly discovered wreck. For those divers who are interested in rare or unusual species, the Lembeh Strait is the jewel in the Asian crown. The variety of marine life, which includes squid, octopus, seahorses, frogfish, scorpionfish, devilfish, Crocodilefish, stargazers, dragonets, Flying Gurnards, Mandarinfish, sea spiders, crabs, shrimps and sea snakes make this area a serious contender as the world’s finest diving destination for anyone with a serious interest in marine creatures and it has already attracted a long series of marine biologists, photographers and authors. Over 180 species of fish have already been listed in just one small area in the bay!
A rich supply of plankton is carried into the strait and concentrated there by the prevailing currents. Whilst this means that the water is not crystal clear, it does result in a wide and unique diversity of marine life. Both the number of species and the superb variety mean that this is the place where even well-travelled and experienced divers will find creatures they have never discovered elsewhere. It has been said that Kungkungan Bay has the densest concentration of nocturnal species anywhere in Indonesia and in 1994 a National Geographic film crew selected the Lembeh Strait to shoot a special on marine life. Year-round diving is offered at Kungkungan Bay due to its protected position from both the northeast and the southwest monsoons. Kungkungan Bay offers a unique combination of ‘fun’ diving opportunities and the chance to see many little-known creatures for those interested in underwater wildlife. It is a spectacular destination for the macro-photographer.
At Nudi Retreat a sandy cove is fringed by a low but beautiful coral wall. As with so many dive sites at Lembeh Strait, the sandy slopes are well worth investigating. Here Flying Gurnards hover just a centimetre or so above the surface, or glide slowly away on their wing-like fins, suggesting some strange hovercraft. Pegasus (or Short) Sea Moths are surely some of the most bizarre yet delightful fish on earth and watching a pair of these strangely-shaped creatures (complete with ‘beaks’ and circular, outstretched pectoral fins) shuffle along on the bottom, the female following the male, is an enthralling experience. Along the wall, keep a lookout for Ribbon Eels, the strange vertical-aligned Coral Shrimpfish (or Razorfish), frogfish of several species and a remarkable variety of colourful and oddly-shaped nudibranchs.
Dive sites like Hairball and Jahir seem at first sight to be the complete antithesis of normal warm water diving: not a coral reef in sight, just a slope of dark volcanic sand and silt stretching down into the gloom, poor visibility (perhaps 8 metres or less) and a scattering of debris. Don’t be put off by the scenery, however, for here lurks a splendid collection of animals that richly rewards the diver both by day and by night. Check out the sponges that cling to bits of debris down here, for some of those yellow or orange blobs could well be frogfish (Giant, Clown and Striated are all regular). Relying on a different kind of camouflage, the sandy-coloured Hairy Frogfish (apparently an unusual morph of the more widespread Striated Frogfish), looks like some strange shaggy dog as it crouches on the sandy bottom or ‘walks’ slowly along on its modified pectoral fins, occasionally wriggling its remarkably worm-like lure. Ambon Scorpionfish, equally masters of camouflage, look like shredded lumps of seaweed, even ‘playing dead’ and drifting over the bottom like a clump of algae if threatened. Spiny Devilfish make scorpionfish look positively attractive, while the equally strange Finger Dragonet scrabbles over the surface using the finger-like spines on its modified pectoral fins. Other interesting animals here include Black-finned Snake Eels (only their heads poking out of the sand as they lie in ambush), Common Seahorse, Peacock Flounder, various mantis shrimps and many nudibranchs, including the impressive T-bar nudibranch. At night the Stargazers shuffle their way to the surface, their faces staring upwards like some strange demonic skull half-buried in the sand. Huge slipper lobsters trundle over the surface like relics of the Jurassic age and sea hares ripple as they move about their business. Black sea urchins reflect iridescent purple and red in the spotlight beam as they move across the bottom, often harbouring Urchin Cardinalfish and shrimps amongst their long spines.
One of the strangest yet most rewarding dive sites at Lembeh Strait is Mandarin, named after the Mandarinfish that live there. Mandarinfish are only active around dawn and dusk, so this is one dive that starts as a day dive and ends as a night dive! As the gloom gathers one fins over a valley of soft coral and then over a ‘pass’ covered in staghorn coral before reaching an amphitheatre-like structure filled with coral rubble and mushroom coral. Here one settles down to wait until, at the appointed hour, just before it gets dark, little shapes can be seen scuttling round amongst the crevices. The judicious application of a spotlight reveals these most wondrously beautiful little fish, dressed as if in patterned green, orange, red and blue silk! If you are really lucky you will see a pair mating, rising up suddenly in unison into the open water before equally suddenly retreating to the safety of the coral.
The coral-encrusted wreck of the World War II freighter Tanduk Rusa lies on its side in 17 to 30 metres of water and is still in remarkably good condition. Crinoids, trees of black corals and draping elegant soft corals have made this once sea-worthy vessel their home. Huge schools of fish gather here including the delightful swaying Teira Batfish and vast swarms of darting silversides. Moray eels peep out and ‘snarl’ from their crevices, but perhaps the most beautiful performance is provided by the exquisite lionfish as a chorus of up to 40 individuals besport their elegant fins in a fabulous underwater ballet.
Rough chunks of black volcanic rock mark the site of an old lava flow at Batu Angus (Burnt Rock). In this sheltered area almost every inch of the rock is covered with coral. Huge anemones, some over a metre in diameter, are sprinkled liberally over the area whilst damselfish, butterflyfish and shy gobies are abundant. This spectacularly beautiful coral garden is also a superb spot for snorkelers. At Batu Sandar, another beautiful coral garden, Ornate (or Harlequin) Ghost Pipefish drift amongst the crinoids and fans, taking up the colours of their hosts, whether black, yellow or even mauve.
Batu Kapal (Stone Ship) is situated off the most northerly point of Lembeh Island. Not a dive for the novice, as it is usually washed by fairly strong currents, this site affords superb diving and the best opportunity for pelagic observations. The Batu Kapal is in actual fact a large rock shaped somewhat like a ship and the dive begins at the bottom of the rock at about 24 metres. From here a submerged ridge runs towards smaller pinnacles at about 36 metres. Coral cover is provided by both soft and plate corals and huge mixed schools of surgeonfish and jacks swarm all over. The strong currents sweep in the nutrients that feed the food chain, attracting big fish: Grey and White-tip Reef Sharks, huge schools of barracudas, Dogtooth and Bluefin Tuna, turtles and even the occasional Whale Shark are sighted here. Visibility in this area can be up to 25 metres or more.
Shore-diving at Kungkungan Bay Resort’s House Reef can be rewarding. Beautiful red gorgonians grow on the wooden struts of the pier at only 10 centimetres below the surface and in the top five metres of the water column cuttlefish, scorpionfish, crabs and superbly coloured nudibranchs can be found roaming around the coral formations. Out in the bay, the sloping reef is broken by small drop-offs and ledges. Beautiful soft corals in delicate shades of pink, bright orange and red, along with large sponges and sea whips, cover most of the reef. In the north of the bay, coral bommies (heads of coral) project from a sandy slope. Everywhere anemones, each with its own shrimps and anemone fish, litter the reef. Pygmy Seahorses regularly occur on the sea fans below about 20 metres. At certain times the current in the straight forms an eddy current in the bay, known locally as ‘the merry-go-round’, which can be great fun to ride: divers can ride up the coast on the main current and back on the eddy!
COMBINATIONS: As you will pass through Manado en route to Lembeh Strait, we can, if you wish, arrange for you to stay in the Manado area and enjoy the fabulous diving of Bunaken Marine Park. Alternatively, why not visit Gangga and Bangka islands with their wonderful marine life, including extraordinary soft coral gardens. Alternatively, it is straightforward to combine a visit to Lembeh Strait with a visit to another of Indonesia’s fantastic dive destinations. Talk to us about the possibilities.
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