I imagine everybody who follows a keen interest in diving has a list of places they dream of at one point going to. My list is getting far too long these days, with places like Truk Lagoon in Micronesia sitting very high at the top. One place I’d always had my eye on was Sipadan, and I was lucky enough to get permits for a few days earlier on this year. As well as taking all the world class diving it had to offer, I spent some time diving around the other islands. All I ever heard was how Mabul was the Muck Dive capital of the world, and although the diving was very good, I feel that it is in Indonesia where the title of the world’s best muck diving should lie.
The phrase ‘muck diving’ originates from the terrain that makes up the dive. Usually sparse of living coral or key points of interest, the beauty of muck diving is going out into dive spots consisting essentially of nothing but sediment and finding the weird and wonderful critters of the sea. It is often also referred to as ‘macro diving’ because of photographers diving these sites equipped with lenses enabling them to take extremely close up shots of the microscopic. However, macro dive sites usually have more on offer in the ways of coral, but earn the name from the purpose being to seek out small fish and crustaceans. Personally, this type of diving is my dive of choice. I take a lot of enjoyment out of a very slow paced dive, taking my time to stop and look as opposed to fast paced drift dives. Although I am also keen on dive sites with the giants of the sea on offer such as the Manta Rays and Mola Mola at Nusa Penida, the ability to always find something new on a dive is what maintains my interest.
For starters, Bali is defiantly not short of both muck and macro diving. I have already previously given praise to our house reef in Amed in another blog post, commenting on how good the muck diving was there. There is no coral whatsoever, and only a few objects in the form of two different tyre stacks at 20-something metres and various ceramic objects in the shallows. It is not unusual to see Octopus, Cuttlefish, Razorfish, Stonefish, Leaf Scorpion Fish, Flying Gunyards and many more.
About a 15 minute drive from our Tulamben resort, we have a very good macro site on offer. I use the term macro over muck as it has slightly more of a coral base as opposed to just sediment. There are wide varieties of anemones dotted around the dive site, which in turn are home to a lot of different types of shrimp as well as porcelain and anemone crabs. Feather stars are everywhere, the usual hiding spot for Ornate Ghost Pipefish. You can also usually expect to find many different kind of Nudibranch, Hermit Crabs, Octopus, Cuttlefish, along with a very persistent Remora which I always seem to have sucking on the back of my thigh after about 10 minutes into the dive.
Seraya is another well known dive site for macro diving, mainly because of the discovery of Harlequin Shrimps in the area. I am yet to be lucky enough to find one whilst diving there, but the area is covered in various different types of shrimp and has a lot of Moral Eels hiding in and around the sparse coral formations dotted around in the seabed. Lovina has another muck dive site called Puri Jati, which sports poor visibility but an abundance of anenomes with huge Porcelain Crabs, Dragonets, and Cuttlefish amongst others.
You don’t even have to specifically set out for a muck dive site to be greeted by macro life. Both the Liberty Wreck and Coral Garden here have small points of interest. For example, the USAT Liberty Wreck has a Pygmy Sea Horse living on a sea fan just next to the bow of the ship. There is Leaf Scorpion Fish that lives just outside a swim through towards the stern of the boat. We have also previously found Ornate Ghost Pipefish on feather stars attached to the ship itself. At the Coral Garden, there is another pair of Leaf Scorpion Fish that live in the artificial reef. There is a cleaning station at around 25 metres full of Cleaner Shrimps, as well as Boxer and Dancer Shrimps. Both Robust and Ornate Ghost Pipefish can be found dotted around the dive site, as well as both male and female Ribbon Eels, Juvenile Box Fish, Stonefish and Juvenile Emperor Angelfish.
Although we have amazing Macro and Muck diving here, the real key to my argument in bringing the title to Indonesia lies in Sulawesi. Going back to my opening paragraph, Mandano is next on my ‘to dive’ list. Home to the Lembeh Strait, the area features marine diversity like no other. The sheltered straits form a bottleneck in the surrounding sea has created a vast amount of plankton forming a rich sediment buildup on the seabed. The landscape therefore does not have amazing coral reefs, but does mean that the conditions are perfect for some of, if not the worlds best muck diving. The mind boggles when you even start mentioning the names of what is on offer here. Hairy Frog Fish, Mimic Octopus, Halimeda Ghost Pipefish, Flamboyant Cuttlefish, Stargazers, there are creatures here that you would struggle to find anywhere else in the world.
At the end of the day it all comes down to personal opinion. Having been to both Bali and Mabul, I feel they both have different things to offer Macro wise, but for me Bali is the winner of the two. Lembeh Strait however seems like it is in a league of its own. Just from reading about it and looking at photos, I cannot wait to one day get lost underwater there amid a world of the weird, wacky, and just plain crazy.
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