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Diving the Coral Triangle

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There are many reasons to visit the Indonesian archipelago, but a big reason is diving due to the various locations available. After all, Indonesia is located in the “Coral Triangle” within the marine waters of Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste – a region with more than 500 reef-building coral species and an epicenter of marine biodiversity. Geographically, Indonesia has 17,500 islands scattered over both sides of the equator and spread out in an area that is over 700,000 square miles. You’ll find some of the finest reefs in the world there, but the main reason for my trip to Indonesia was to try muck diving in Lembeh Strait – North Sulawesi.

Heading out for a morning dive in Raja Ampat

Getting it “Strait”

Just the word “muck” evokes images like the Pines River in Revere, Massachusetts which usually (if not always) has dark, murky water – to see the bottom your face must be less than a foot away from it. But the Pins River is only 50 miles from home. Lembeh Strait in North Sulawesi is over 9,000 miles away. It’s been two years since my last visit to Indonesia but I’ve been anxious to return and see more of the underwater beauty.

Although Lembeh Strait was at the top of my list, I also considered stops on Bunaken Island as well as Raja Ampat, West Papua. Bunaken Island is known to have excellent wall diving and Raja Ampat is known for having very healthy coral reefs and many species of fish.

So, I started planning and lucky for me a Google search turned up www.divesafariasia.co.uk. Ben Stokes, co-owner of the company, was offering a Trans-Indonesian trip that sounded perfect, and it was. I contacted Ben and he later phoned me that evening to go over details as the trip was departing in less than a month, and there was one spot left. Lembeh Strait was not part of his group trip, but he kindly offered to set up that portion for me, and I would simply go and meet the group the following week in Bunaken Island. By mid-November 2013, I was heading to Indonesia for 18 days.

Ben set up Kungkungan Bay Resort for me on the black sand shore of Lembeh Strait. This is a luxury sea level resort with a professionally run dive shop on-site. The accommodations are superb; a beach front cottage just steps from the water. It had a living room and a large separate bedroom that had a walk in stone shower – and its location is picture-perfect. The resort’s restaurant is open 24 hours with a full-service menu. There is wide variety of deliciously prepared food of quality ingredients. They even smoked their own bacon! The professional and friendly staff ensures you will have a pleasant stay at KBR.

Surface interval in Raja Ampat 2

Boat and Shore Diving

The dive operation www.divekbr.com is run very smoothly by Manager Stefan Soh. They offer two boat dives in the morning, one afternoon boat dive and a night dive. There is unlimited shore diving from the long dock, so you never get sand in your gear. All you have to do is let the staff know that you will be going on a “shore” dive. They will have all your gear ready for you on the dock where you will be doing a giant stride in the water. When you are done with your dive there is a ladder to climb out. The staff is always there to help with getting in and out of the water. Shore diving from KBR is done at slack water only due to the currents – but it’s really the current that drives great visibility and fosters an abundance of strange and wonderful critters.

Pontohi Seahorse Lembeh

The term “muck” has been used to describe the diving in Lembeh Strait, but that’s really a misnomer. Here’ “muck” simply refers to the black sand, lack of natural hiding spots, and a stark environment many critters have adapted to live and thrive in. So it was quick to see that visibility is far from zero.

Lembeh Strait is sometimes called a muck diving mecca – and for good reason – it’s the reason divers from all corners of the globe go search of the most unusual critters. It did not take long to discover that any critter with odd shapes, copious amounts of hair, psychedelic colors, deadly poisons, cunning camouflage (or prefers to carry other marine life on its back) will simply thrive in Lembeh Strait.

My first dive was a site called Palau Abadi located close to shore across from the very busy city port of Bitung. The site is also next to many fishing boats that were moored. My first thought was; “What could possibly be here besides floating debris?” We all did our back roll and descended to the black sandy bottom, but the visibility was far better than I initially pictured in my mind.

The action started right away when my dive guide Liberty pointed out a peacock mantis shrimp, a juvenile painted frog fish, a xeno crab on sea whip, then an orangutan crab, a frog fish, a sea whip goby, a ghost pipefish, a blue ring octopus, a shrimp fish, a Lembeh Sea Dragon, and a Cuttlefish egg with the developing embryo – all in the first twenty minutes of the first dive. The action just continued throughout the day and the remainder of my stay at Kungkungan Bay Resort.

Manta at Manta Sandy in Raja Ampat

When we visited sites like Jahir I, Aer Bajo II and III, or TK 3, there wasn’t any coral and the bottom was black sand only. These locations offered visibility around 20 feet, but I also saw the strangest marine life. On the other hand, dive sites like Nudi Retreat offered a wall covered in hard coral and yellow soft coral. Dive site Angles Window had a wall covered in hard corals, and at 80 feet there was a swim-through with a resident pigmy seahorse. Across from the resort was a dive site named Pintu Colada where we experienced a sandy slope with critters. After finishing the dive in the shallows, there were several healthy coral heads to swim around in the bright shallow water. These dive sites had visibilities that exceed 50 feet. Pintu Colada was also the site of the Mandarin fish dive. This was my first Mandarin dive and we were not disappointed. Several large Mandarin fish greeted us for their mating ritual – this dusk to night dive was truly spectacular.

During the initial dive briefing, the manager invited us to suggest any particular critters that we wanted to see. I arrived with a wish list of “critters” – 32 in fact – and 75% were nudibranchs. The first day of diving, I just wanted to get in the water to see what it was all about. It was incredible, and my guide showed me so much that I practically forgot about my list. When I looked back at the list that evening, the most sought after for me was the “boxer crab”. I couldn’t stand the thought of going home without seeing it, but the following day during the afternoon dive the boxer crab was unveiled in all its radiance.

I saw things there that I never thought I would ever see. It was almost common to see several Blue ring octopus, different species of pygmy sea horses, ghost, banded and robust pipefish, soft coral crabs just to name a few.

Mandarin Fish

Moving Past Lembeh Strait

The second leg of my trip required a three hour drive to Tasik Ria Resort where I would finally meet up with Ben Stokes from Dive Safari Asia. From this point on, I was traveling with Ben and a group of 15 diving at Bunaken Island, and then off to Raja Ampat.

I only had one day of diving Bunaken Island. The spacious dive boat leaves in the morning and stays out near Bunaken Island all day. Lunch is served for all the divers during the surface interval. The dive boat’s guides give a descriptive briefing and are safety conscious. There were four divers to one guide.

The diving here involved gorgeous wall diving with tiny critters sprinkled about. The wall itself is basically vertical and there is some current to contend with, but the visibility was at least 100 feet. There were huge barrel sponges, gorgonians, and big stands of staghorn coral along with giant turtles. There was also smaller stuff including colorful ascidians, soft coral, nudibranchs and more. It was amazing to look around and see all the life.

surfacing in Bunaken - Sulawesi

Round Three

The third leg of the trip involved a late day flight from Manado, North Sulawesi to Sorong, West Papua. During this two hour flight we crossed the equator into the southern hemisphere. We spent a memorable evening at the one and only Royal Mamberamo Hotel in Sorong.

The following morning, we had a two hour speedboat ride to Mansuar Island in the area known as Raja Ampat and stayed at the Raja Ampat Dive Lodge (www.komodoalordive.com) located on a brilliant white sandy beach with the verdant green mountain backdrop. The cottages were very comfortable with good food and a friendly staff.

The location and setting of this dive resort was absolutely gorgeous. It also had a fantastic house reef, though all of the house reef dives were done by boat (again, sand never ended up in any gear). The crew would have us board the boat at the dock, and the captain would either drop us at the end of the long dock or drop us off further up the reef and then follow our bubbles. We would usually have two guides in the water with two or three divers per guide. The briefings for each dive site were very informative, well-illustrated, and well-planned. Our guides were Dovan and Roy, they did a great job pointing out critters during each dive.

Surface interval in Raja Ampat

The boat schedule included two dives in the morning and one in the afternoon with a choice of evening or night dive before dinner. After the morning boat dives, we would stop at an uninhabited island or village for our surface interval which included coffee, tea or water along with fresh fruit and baked snacks. One day we visited Arborek Island and had our second boat dive of the day there. It was a fantastic location with a huge variety of marine life. We had macro critters pointed out to us, witnessed giant clams, and watched a school of Napoleon Wrasse foraging in the shallows before parading off to deeper water.

Another fantastic site worth mentioning is Frewins Wall. I could have spent several days at that one site. It started out as a slope with hundreds of tiny yellow sea cucumbers, but the highlight was a deep cut/overhang that the current took us by. This overhang went on and on with soft coral just draping out of the wall with black coral and gorgonians. It ended with a shallow shelf where we spent some time observing anemones with resident clown fish swimming about; just beautiful.

Raja Ampat had a lot of odd critters, and some were difficult to make out. One of the oddities was a hermit crab with tiny anemones growing on its shell, then the half-inch red crab that looked like it didn’t have legs, but closer observation showed me that the legs were clear. Then, in the white sand, Dovan pointed out a sandy colored 2×1/2-inch flat worm-like critter, but a closer look showed me that it was a tiny flat crab – and these were all spotted on the night dives.

Good Planning and Great Guides

This was truly a fantastic trip! Ben really knows how to put a well-organized dive trip together. It was a long journey but he made everything seem effortless. I enjoyed every aspect of this trip and having him as a guide.

Dive Safari Asia run their ‘Trans Indonesia Tour’ twice a year. The next dates for the trip are:

7th – 23rd November 2014

20th March – 5th April 2015

For more information or to book, call 0800 955 0180 or visit www.divesafariasia.com.

For more than 25 years Andrea has been an avid scuba diver with over 1500 logged dives. Her interests include hunting lobster and scallops in the cold waters off Massachusetts – USA, and since 2006, photography. Her travels have been to most corners of the globe in search of rare critters.

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Scotland Underwater

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The first in a series of blogs about Scotland Underwater from Ross Mclaren…

Here in Scotland our driech and dreary weather is world famous. But actually, the copious amount of rain that we often moan about, is responsible for a cacophony of colours across our beautiful country.

The one place that might not always be as renowned for being vibrant and colourful is our seas and lochs.

As always there’s exceptions. Our beaches on the north west coast are covered in golden white sand and with turquoise water that might be mistaken for the Maldives… albeit a wee bit nippier… and we’ve even got a few wee lochs (called Lochans) with some pretty green shades to them, but for a good percentage of our coast and lochs, it’s a steely grey mass that greet us.

So, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Scotland’s underwater world mirrors the water it lies beneath. Now, I’m not going to pretend you’re going to be met with a rainbow of colours found somewhere like the Great Barrier Reef, but actually the vibrancy found under the waves definitely took me by surprise.

Disclaimer! I’m no expert in marine biology or underwater photography! I’m pretty much a guy with “all the gear and no idea!” I started out with a wee GoPro and built my camera “rig” up to something that’s now resembling an octopus. But, I’ll be completely honest, I have no real clue what I’m doing in terms of settings, etc. It gets put on “Auto”, I turn the lights on, try not to disturb the marine life and press the button hoping for the best. Quite simply, I’ve fallen in love with our underwater world and do my best to try do it some justice through my photos.

One of the most beautiful marine species I find photographing, and to be honest probably one of the easiest, is the anemones. We have such an abundance of these from deadmens fingers, to firework anemones, and the colours that can be found are just breathtaking. The patterns and shapes they make as they glint in the light of the torches and with the movement of the water is magical.

They might not be the most exciting sea creatures but the humble crab is also a fantastic specimen to capture, and again we have a wide variety. I’m not quite sure what it is but you can almost see/feel the attitude oozing out of them when you catch them in the beam of the lights.

I say this to almost anyone who’ll listen, but I always said I would absolutely love to get sweeping wide angle photo of a wreck. Those are by far my favourite photos to look at. Seeing these hulking feats of human engineering being reclaimed by nature and appreciating the scale of them in one scene is awe-inspiring. Sadly in Scotland with our visibility (well certainly in the areas I frequently dive) it’s not really possible and when it is, it really doesn’t do it justice. However on the flip side Macro photography here is definitely rewarding!

Last summer I had one “photographic goal”… get a nudi! I was desperate to capture a wee sea slug, but no matter how hard I looked I could only find one all year and when I did my GoPro just didn’t do it justice. This year though, well it seems to be a completely different story! Every dive we seem to come across at least one… it also helps when you’ve an eagle eyed dive buddy! With the new camera and macro lens the quality in photos has improved as well. It’s not just the number we’ve seen but the variety we’ve spotted as well! There are so many different kinds, different colours and shapes. It can be a wee bit frustrating trying to hold myself still in the water and getting the camera to focus in on this tiny wee creature, but it’s so worth it!

The dogfish/catshark isn’t particularly uncommon in the UK and it’s no different up here in Scotland, if you know where and when to look. They are absolutely stunning to photograph and, although not overly colourful, the texture of their “skin” and their eyes is absolutely incredible.

Now cucumbers are most definitely not my favourite vegetable… but sea cucumbers… those I do love! I genuinely can’t get over how cool they look. They remind me of wee trees and I’m totally mesmerised watching them bring the food to their mouths with their tentacles.

Jellyfish! The scourge of beach goers everywhere! The dread of someone shouting “JELLYFISH” and hoping beyond hope you aren’t caught in a tentacle brings back childhood memories. So until I started diving the “evil” jellyfish was much feared. However, since I started exploring the underwater world and seeing them in all their glory, I have come to appreciate jellyfish for they unbelievable beauty and grace. I love watching them float past (from a distance!) and seeing the shapes they take in the water. They are so full of grace!

Even the most dived sites can throw up a wee surprise every now and again. We’d headed to one our usual haunts with the main goal of logging a couple of deeper dives just to build up to Scapa later in the year. We descended down to around 38m where we planned to swim along for a wee bit before ascending again. There were a few rocks, but generally not much life but I took the camera anyway, you know, just in case.

Now these guys aren’t completely uncommon here on the west coast, but they’re mainly found at night and until now I’d never spied one, let alone photographed one! Bobtail Squid/Little Cuttlefish! I’m not going to lie, I was so excited! I actually thought I was slightly narked as it appeared out of the sand. This wee fella was so cool! The colours were absolutely breathtaking and getting the opportunity to photograph them was just amazing.

Scotland isn’t the diving capital of the world; we’re not going to suddenly become a top dive destination on many diver’s bucket lists. BUT we do have some incredible marine life, with such unbelievable colours! Although it’s not the easiest diving you’ll ever do, when you do get that moment it makes it feel all the more special.


For more from Ross, follow him on Instagram @underwater.ross and on Twitter @outdoorsross.

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A Red Sea Scuba Scene (Part 2 of 2)

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The first two days of diving were amazing – I think you’ll agree after reading Part 1 of the blog HERE. We left the Brothers Islands setting sail for Daedalus – the southernmost point of our itinerary around 275km southeast of Hurghada. Conditions were perfect for our crossing and continued throughout our day at Daedalus for three dives. I was so excited for this site as it was the highlight on my previous trip and I’d also had word it was the hot spot for oceanic whitetips the last couple of months.

A feeding hawksbill turtle pays no attention to the divers on Daedalus.

We moored up by the lighthouse at the southern point of the island and was thankful to see there weren’t as many boats as at the Brothers. Our first dive was a rib dive to the North Point to drift out in the blue at around 25 metres+ in the hope of seeing scalloped hammerheads. I wasn’t expecting the same action as my previous trip with schools of around 20 hammerheads due to difference in the time of year and sure enough the action didn’t hit as big. We spotted a couple of lone hammerheads between the group deeper than 40 metres. After spending half the dive in the blue we came back to the stunning East wall with its amazing soft coral and small fish life. Towards the end of the dive we had an incredible encounter with a feeding hawksbill turtle that was completely comfortable with our presence as it fed on the soft coral. It’s always a pleasure seeing turtles.

Oceanic whitetip shark swimming under the sun at Daedalus.

Although we were on the rib once the dive was finished, the action wasn’t over. As we neared Scuba Scene we saw some commotion with other ribs in front stopping and looking in the water. Initially the rib skipper said it was a whale shark but as we neared we saw the unmistakeable dorsal fin of an oceanic whitetip shark break the surface. In fact, there were two of them and they were really excited. I lent over the side with my camera and got my best photos of them as one came to investigate bumping into the camera. This is what I love; this is what gets me excited and sure enough for the next two dives I decided to stay under our boat at around 5 metres for most of the dives. There were three in total around Daedalus and I had some incredible close-up encounters with them. This is what I was here for and I was so happy after our day at Daedalus with the oceanics.

Although the conditions at Daedalus were like glass, the weather forecast wasn’t looking great for the next two days and the decision was made to journey back north to Elphinstone instead of staying for another day at Daedalus. I was a little disappointed as it would mean missing out on some more great shark action. However, I missed out on Elphinstone on my last trip due to bad weather and was happy to get the chance to dive there finally.

Lionfish swimming amongst the stunning reef of South Plateau, Elphinstone.

Sure enough the winds picked up during the night and it was a lot more choppy when moored up at Elphinstone. With Scuba Scene’s size, it was very capable of dealing with rougher seas and we planned for a full day there. We had two morning dives before deciding to head inland as conditions worsened. My dive buddy and I stuck with the South Plateau for the two dives and both were stunning. The life on the plateau was amazing as lionfish were in abundance and while photographing them I got surprised by my very first torpedo ray. It was only a juvenile and what a cutie it was as it swam over my dome and turned just before it hit me and swam away. Two friendly hawksbills were again a highlight as they didn’t care for the divers exploring the plateau. While ANOTHER oceanic whitetip really made our trip to Elphinstone in bad weather worthwhile. FIVE different oceanics on the trip; I was happy to just get one but buzzing with the action at three different sites.

Colourful pyjama nudibranch on a night dive at Abu Dabab 3.

It wasn’t all bad leaving Elphinstone early as we managed to get an extra dive in with a night dive at Abu Dabab 3 after an afternoon dive there also. The afternoon dive was a highlight of the trip for me as I got to experience something different with a “cave” dive of sorts. My dive buddy sat the dive out but guide Adma Rashed was eager to get in as he loved exploring the caves. I was soon following him exploring a shallow cave system through the reef. As it happens, this was his first time exploring the whole way through the system and he was so happy after the dive. I’m no cave diver and have no interest in deep cave exploration but this was really fun and different to everything else on the trip. I’d certainly like to do more of this relaxed type of cave diving.

One of the many moray eels at Small Giftun Island.

The rest of the trip for the Thursday and half a day on the Friday was Red Sea reef heaven again. A night dive at Mangrove Bay provided a couple of cuttlefish (I love cuttlefish) and also my first time seeing a Spanish Dancer underwater. Although we tried the seagrass at Marsa Shona and saw a green sea turtle from the surface, we couldn’t find any underwater and soon left to explore the reef – an amazing reef full of blue spotted ribbontail rays to enjoy. We finished with two dives at the Police Station dive site around Small Giftun Island. The gorgonian fan corals were a beautiful sight but the highlight of diving here were the huge moray eels and, in particular, one huge free swimming moray that swam next to me for a brief period right at the end of my last dive.

WHAT A WEEK OF DIVING!!!! Thank you Scuba Scene Liveaboard and Oyster Diving.

Exploring a shallow cave system at Abu Dabab 3 was a real highlight.


Sean Chinn travelled as a guest of Scuba Scene Liveaboard and Oyster Diving. Scuba Scene is available to book exclusively through Oyster Diving. Please contact info@oysterdiving.com or call 0808 253 3370 to find out more or reserve your space!

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A luxurious dive resort in the heart of Lembeh Strait. Enjoy refined services while exploring the rich waters of Indonesia.

The resort is nestled around an ocean front deck and swimming-pool (with pool-bar) which is the perfect place to enjoy a sundowner cocktail at the end of a busy day of critter-diving.

All accommodation is full board and includes three sumptuous meals a day. Breakfast and lunch are buffet meals and in the evening dining is a la carte.

Book and stay before the end of June and benefit from no single supplements in all room types!

Booking deadline: Subject to availability – book and stay before end of June 2022

Call Diverse Travel on 01473 852002 or email info@diversetravel.co.uk.

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