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Blackwater and Bonfire Night Diving at Lembeh Resort, North Sulawesi

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Critters at Lembeh Resort Dive Centre Manager Brigitte Gassner is a huge fan of blackwater and bonfire diving where she is able to spot and photograph critters at their larvae stages. Many of the sightings during these dives are critters which are unseen by the majority of underwater photographers and scuba divers. Brigitte has even been able to spot a paper nautilus at one of Lembeh Resort’s closest dive sites.

Brigitte is passionate about sharing these new diving experiences with guests staying at the luxury Lembeh Resort located on the banks of the Lembeh Strait. But what is bonfire and blackwater diving and how is it different to other night dives?

Image: Brigitte Gassner

It all Starts with Plankton

There are two types of plankton; zooplankton (which is animal based) and phytoplankton (which is plant based). These two forms of plankton drift with the ocean currents and are the source of all marine life. The word “Plankton” is derived from the Greek word “Planktos” which translates into English as “drifter” or “wanderer”. Did you know that in one teaspoon of sea water there are literally billions of life forms?

What is Blackwater and Bonfire Diving?

Blackwater diving takes place over deep water, away from the reef. In Lembeh, blackwater dives usually take place in the middle of the Strait. Bright lights are suspended in the water column at various depths up to 25 meters. The lights attract plankton in the water column which in turn attracts intriguing and rarely seen larvae stage critters.

Bonfire diving takes place at shallower depths on the reef or sandy slope – in Lembeh, there is no shortage of suitable dive sites. Bonfire diving is also based around the use of bright lights to attract plankton and both larvae stage and more mature critters.

Image: Lilian Koh

Blackwater and Bonfire Underwater Photography Subjects

The most iconic blackwater and bonfire dive critters include crustacean and cephalopod larvae and of course the paper nautilus which, to many, is the ultimate of all critters. Other common subjects include jellyfish and other critters which drift freely in the open ocean. Many larvae stage critters do not yet display any coloration and are often translucent as they are still in the early stages of development. Both types of diving feature a lot of critter behavior spotting and imaging opportunities.

Jellyfish are often behavioural hotspots, look out for jellyfish playing host to a range of species from tiny amphipods through to jackfish. The jackfish will enter the jellyfish and use it for protection, it’s often possible to see the jackfish going in and out of the jellyfish as it exits it host to breathe before re-entering.

Image: Lilian Koh

Blackwater and Bonfire Photography Techniques

Blackwater and bonfire photography require using fast shutter speeds – typically sync speed, as you are capturing images of larvae which is moving. A fast shutter speed will help to “freeze the action”. Shooting with a small aperture, which gives more depth of field, allows for more of the critter to be in focus as opposed to only a small section which is closest to the lens.

Best Times for Blackwater and Bonfire Diving

It’s technically possible to blackwater and bonfire dive at any time but Brigitte says the most abundant dives are around the new moon – up to 4 days before and 3 days after. Around the new moon there is little moon light so the bright dive lights become more active. When there is a full moon there is already light on the surface so the level of activity is dispersed and less centered around the dive lights.

Image: Lilian Koh

Lembeh Resort

Are you planning a trip to North Sulawesi? Lembeh Resort not only offers marine biology and underwater photography trained dive guides, luxury accommodation and exquisite dining – they are also committed to sustainability and are the 2019 winners of the prestigious Blue Green 360 award for Dive Operator of the Year awarded at ADEX in Singapore.

For more information about Lembeh Resort take a look at their website www.LembehResort.com 

Sarah Ann Wormald is a writer and PADI Master Instructor with a passion for underwater photography and conservation. Sarah is the author of “Diving in Indonesia” and “Diving in South East Asia” (Tuttle Publishing). With over 20 years of diving experience, Sarah has dived all over the Indonesian Archipelago and South East Asia. Find out more at www.MurexDive.com.

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Diving below the waves of the Western Cape, South Africa – Long Beach at night (Watch Video)

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Head under the waves of False Bay and explore the incredible diversity that is found along the Western Cape. The bay has popular dive spots from diving amongst the biodiverse underwater kelp forests to jumping in with the playful and friendly cape fur sealions (Arctocephalus pusillus). The bay along with the rest of the South Africa coast is known for the range of shark species that are found from the shallow coastal shores out into the open oceans. The coast is also home to numerous endemic shark species such as puffadder shyshark (Haploblepharus edwardsii) and Pyjama shark.

Longbeach is a shallow shore dive close to the coastal town of Simonstown on the Western Cape. The dive is mainly made up of diving across the sand with a few wreckages, rocks and outcrops where there’s algae growing. A pipeline can be found at the site which provides locations for species such as Pyjama Sharks (Poroderma africanum) and octopus (Octopus vulgaris) to shelter. Diving at night at the site provides the opportunity to see species that are more often hidden during the day such as cape Squid (Loligo reynaudii) and Biscuit Skate (Raja straeleni). Other shark species such as the small Puff Adder Shyshark (Haploblepharus edwardsii) are also occasionally seen at the site.

Diving with the local dive club – Cape Town Dive Centre.


Follow Jake aka JD Scuba on the YouTube channel @Don’t Think Just Blog.

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Miscellaneous Blogs

Book Review – The Final Dive: The Life and Death of ‘Buster’ Crabbe (2007)

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It was the height of the Cold War. The Soviet Cruiser Ordzhonikidz, supported by two destroyers, had brought Soviet leaders Khruschev and Bulganin to Britain for sensitive meetings with the British Government. The ships were moored in Portsmouth harbour and the Prime Minister, Sir Anthony Eden, had expressly forbidden any clandestine inspection of them. However, on the morning of 19th April 1956 Commander Lionel ‘Buster’ Crabbe, an experienced naval diver, slipped into the cold waters of Portsmouth harbour. His top secret mission was to photograph the hull, propellers and rudder of the Ordzhonikidze. He was never seen alive again.

A badly decomposed body, with head and hands missing, was discovered by fishermen in Chichester harbour months later. It was claimed to be the missing body of Buster Crabbe – but many had doubts. The incident marked the start of a controversy that claimed the posts of several high ranking naval, government and intelligence service personnel. The author of The Final Dive, Don Hale, claims it is one that still rages and which may not be resolved even when secret government files are released in 2057.

Don Hale, an acknowledged campaigning journalist and former Journalist of the Year brings all his experience and skill to unravelling this longstanding scandal. He has drawn upon official reports and private letters, statements from government representatives, fellow officers and friends to piece together Buster’s life and events leading to his disappearance and subsequent investigation. He speaks of “inquiries blocked by intrigue, constant cover-ups and government bureaucracy coupled with threats relating to the Official Secrets Act” (p. xi). If you like reading about subterfuge on a grand scale you will enjoy The Final Dive.

Don Hale’s meticulous account of the life of Buster Crabbe is supported by dozens of black and white photos and extracts from numerous official documents. It reveals how an amazing series of civilian jobs, wartime activities and friendships with high ranking government officials, British intelligence officers, American CIA operatives. . . and now known spies, prepared him for his final dive and perhaps his fate. One of Crabbe’s acquaintances was the author Ian Fleming – of James Bond fame. Indeed, it is suggested that Fleming based the character of 007 on Buster Crabbe. After reading of his exploits, both before WWII, his bomb disposal work during the war, and afterwards it is easy to see why. Certainly, those who worked with Buster Crabbe “all agree he was fearless.” (p.59). After reading of his exploits one wonders if he was too fearless.

In the later stage of Buster’s life, prior to his disappearance, Don Hall recounts “a constant merry-go-round of overseas assignments” (p. 118) for Crabbe and how he “began to receive increasingly hazardous commissions” (p. 136). It culminated in the morning dive in Portsmouth harbour. Hale’s forsensic-like account of the events surrounding the final dive and aftermath reveals absolute panic and bungling behind the scenes as official answers conflict with known facts. He describes how “The whole incident still seems bathed in secrecy, with the true facts deliberately buried in bureaucracy, and supported at the highest level by an incredible cover-up operation”.(p. 205).

A final comment by Don Hale adds to the intrigue. He states “The only part of the Crabbe puzzle about which I am not certain is not who sent him – we know the answer to that – but why on earth he was he sent, possibly at considerable risk?” (p. 248). After reading The Final Dive: The Life and Death of ‘Buster’ Crabbe you will no doubt have your own ideas.


The Final Dive: The Life and Death of ‘Buster’ Crabbe (2007)

  • By Don Hale
  • Stroud: Sutton Publishing
  • ISBN 978 0 7509 4574 5
  • 260 pp

Don Hale was a professional footballer before becoming editor of several regional newspapers. He has received numerous national and international awards for investigative journalism including Journalist of the Year. In 2002 he was awarded an OBE for his campaigning journalism in the Stephen Downing miscarriage of justice case. He has championed several others who have been wrongly convicted.

His other books include Town without Pity (2002), Murder in the Graveyard (2019) and Mallard: How the ‘Blue Steak’ Broke the World Speed Record (2019).


Find out more about Professor Fred Lockwood, who is also a published author, at www.fredlockwood.co.uk.

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Explore the amazing triangle of Red Sea Reefs - The Brothers, Daedalus and Elphinstone on board the brand new liveaboard Big Blue.  With an option to add on a week at Roots Red Sea before or after. 

Strong currents and deep blue water are the catalysts that bring the pelagic species flocking to these reefs. The reefs themselves provide exquisite homes for a multitude of marine life.  The wafting soft corals are adorned with thousands of colourful fish. The gorgonian fans and hard corals provide magnificent back drops, all being patrolled by the reef’s predatory species.

£1475 per person based on double occupancy.  Soft all inclusive board basis, buffet meals with snacks, tea and coffee always available.  Add a week on at Roots Red Sea Resort before or after the liveaboard for just £725pp.  Flights and transfers are included.  See our brochure linked above for the full itinerary.

This trip will be hosted by The Scuba Place.  Come Dive with Us!

Call 020 3515 9955 or email john@thescubaplace.co.uk

www.thescubaplace.co.uk

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