Part 1: Lembeh’s Little Monsters
Royal Blood’s rock track “Little Monster” was one of my favourite chart hits of 2014. Maybe it’s the snarling lyrics, the thumping drum beat or the catchy bass guitar riff that gets into your head and won’t leave? Or could it be that the title reminds me of a real-life little monster I once encountered on a dive? The “monster” in question, of course, was a Stargazer and anyone who’s ever been fortunate to come across this most bizarre of fish should get my monster reference. (Actually, can a thing that buries itself totally below the sand, leaving only a shrimp-shaped lure protruding in water to tempt in an unsuspecting victim, actually qualify to be called a “fish”?)
The place was Lembeh, a narrow 10-mile-long strait between Lembeh Island and the mainland of Sulawesi Island in Indonesia.The Stargazer looks like some kind of flatfish to all intents and purposes. Even when it’s not completely covered by sand, all you can see of it are a lure, huge mad staring eyes and two rows of teeth that would make Hannibal Lecter’s mask-maker proud. However, this view from above hides the truth about the Stargazer, which is that it’s a pretty fat animal that resembles a bulldog with gills. Amazingly, it can dig itself right down into Lembeh’s soft black volcanic sand, in just a few wiggles, till it completely disappears – and I mean completely! Then it sits, staring upwards towards the moon and stars, and it waits until a passing little fish gets curious about the shrimp bobbling about just above the sand and wanders over to take a closer look, to check if it’s indeed an edible morsel. That’s when the Stargazer strikes. Blink and you miss it! In a split-second and a puff of sand the unsuspecting fish is confined to history and the Stargazer has his meal. (“I’m having a fishy friend for dinner…”)
Stargazers aren’t monsters, of course, they’ve just brilliantly evolved to make it through their life cycle in one of the harshest marine environments on earth. The most striking feature of the Lembeh Strait is that, well… there aren’t any! You see, what makes Lembeh famous is the “muck diving”*, a way of describing the divers’ experience of diving over flat black volcanic sand. Not the most attractive of expressions, I grant you, but we’re actually the richer for it, because it’s this unforgiving habitat that forces species who live in Lembeh to “adapt or die”. To live on a flat sandy bottom, every species in Lembeh, without exception, has to do something pretty special or it won’t make it past breakfast. So the order of the day is camouflage.
This is the realm of the pink Pigmy Seahorse that nestles in pink coral and grows lumps so that it looks like just a piece of the coral to any uneducated passer-by; the Coconut Octopus that grabs the two halves of the coconut shell and pulls them in around its body until it’s gone and all one can see is an inedible coconut lying on the sand; the Mimic Octopus that changes both its shape and colour to perfectly imitate more threatening species such as sea snakes or flounders. Not to mention Frogfish with perfect impressions of sponge and Stone Fish with perfect impressions of, erm, stones. And then there’s the Stargazer.
So it isn’t strictly true to say that Lembeh is featureless. To be fair, several Lembeh dive sites are covered in the most glorious coral walls and there’s even a couple of WWII wrecks thrown in to round off this most unique of spots and put it firmly in the “world class dive destinations” category.
It’s a year-round destination, with tropical weather, flat seas and a backdrop of jungles and volcanoes. A populous region of Indonesia, North Sulawesi offers excellent resorts and dive centres to round off the offering on the ground. Getting there is comfortable, with flights on Singapore Air/SilkAir via Singapore Changi Airport and you can combine a stay in Lembeh with a Singapore Stopover on the way home. Alternatively, opt for some superb wall diving at Manado’s Bunaken National Park (next month’s instalment), or even combo further afield with Indonesia’s other iconic dive spots of Raja Ampat, Bali or Komodo (all also coming in future editions of our Indonesian dive guide).
For Underwater Photographers, Lembeh is arguably the best underwater macro photography location on the planet. It really is as simple as that.
Lembeh has easy diving, but actually I’d say it’s more suited to experienced divers. Why? Well, when you think you’ve seen it all, that’s the time to go to Lembeh!
*The term Muck Diving was first used by Larry Smith, our dear friend who sadly passed away a few years ago. Larry put Lembeh diving on the map and was instrumental in training Lembeh’s guides. His legacy is the understanding, sense of wonder and pure enjoyment that hundreds of divers now enjoy in Lembeh each year.
For more information, visit www.diversetravel.co.uk/destinations/indonesia.
BLUE EARTH – Future Frogmen Podcast Series – Deep-Sea Stories From a Shadow Diver: a conversation with Richie Kohler
A series of conservation educational podcasts from Future Frogmen, introduced by Jeff Goodman.
Deep Sea Stories From a Shadow Diver: a conversation with Richie Kohler.
This episode of the Blue Earth Podcast is a conversation with Richie Kohler. He’s an explorer, technical wreck diver, shipwreck historian, filmmaker, and author.
Richie was featured in Robert Kurson’s incredible book “Shadow Divers ”. It’s a thrilling true story about Richie and John Chatterton’s quest to identify the wreck of an unknown WWII German U-boat (submarine), 65 miles off the coast of New Jersey. They dedicated six years of their lives attempting to identify the wreck.
Richie has travelled the world and explored many deep wrecks, including the Andrea Doria, Titanic, and Britannic. He’s the author of “Mystery of The Last Olympian” about the Britannic.
Richard E Hyman Bio
Richard is the Chairman and President of Future Frogmen.
Born from mentoring and love of the ocean, Richard is developing an impactful non-profit organization. His memoir, FROGMEN, details expeditions aboard Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s famed ship Calypso.
Future Frogmen, Inc. is a nonprofit organization and public charity that works to improve ocean health by deepening the connection between people and nature. They foster ocean ambassadors and future leaders to protect the ocean by accomplishing five objectives.
You can find more episodes and information at www.futurefrogmen.org and on most social platforms @futurefrogmen.
New Fisheries Act misses the mark on sustainability, but what now?
The UK’s landmark post-Brexit fisheries legislation has now become law. The Fisheries Act, the first legislation of its kind in nearly 40 years, will shape how the UK’s seas are fished for years to come.
The Marine Conservation Society, which campaigned for amendments to the legislation throughout its development, is disappointed by the removal of key sustainability amendments and by the removal of a commitment to rolling out Remote Electronic Monitoring.
The charity has committed to pushing the UK Government to go further than the framework which the Fisheries Act sets out, with greater ambition for the state of UK seas.
Sandy Luk, Chief Executive of the Marine Conservation Society said: “UK Government and devolved administrations must act urgently to deliver climate and nature smart fisheries under the new Fisheries Act. This is a key condition if our seas are to recover to good health. The UK Government removed key amendments from the legislation while making promises on sustainability and the introduction of remote electronic monitoring. We will continue to hold the government to account over these promises.”
“I’m pleased to see the recognition of the important role fisheries play in our fight against the climate emergency. However, even with a climate change objective in the Act, actions speak louder than words. We must get to work delivering sustainable fisheries management, which will have a huge benefit to our seas, wildlife and the communities which depend upon them.”
The Fisheries Act has become law against a backdrop of the ocean’s declining health. UK waters are currently failing to meet 11 out of 15 indicators of good ocean health and over a third of fish in UK waters are being caught at levels which cannot continue into the future. Whilst the legislation failed to address some of the more pressing issues facing UK seas, including overfishing, there is still an opportunity to affect change in the years which follow.
Sam Stone, Head of Fisheries at the Marine Conservation Society said: “The Fisheries Act marks the start of a new era of fisheries management in the UK, but the next two years will be critical in defining what this looks like. The new Act has some good objectives, but we now need to come together to make sure it really delivers the on-water change that is desperately needed for ocean recovery.
“There is genuine opportunity to create fisheries that deliver for coastal communities and for the environment, but it means moving away from ‘business-as-usual’. The UK and devolved governments now have the powers to move forward with progressive new management in their waters. That means proper incentives for low impact fishing, proper monitoring of catches and proper commitments to sustainable fishing.
“In the short term, the four nations must work together to make impactful changes, starting by addressing the UK’s most at risk fish stocks. Recovery plans are needed for our depleted stocks, including new catch limits, selectivity and avoidance measures, protection of vital habitats and fully documented catches. Rolling out Remote Electronic Monitoring with cameras on larger vessels throughout the UK should be top of the agenda if future policy is to be as well informed as possible.”
For more information about the Fisheries Bill and the Marine Conservation Society’s work, visit the charity’s website.
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Sharks Bay Umbi Diving Village is a Bedouin-owned resort with stunning views and a lovely private beach. It is ideal for divers as everything is onsite including the resort's jetty, dive centre and house reef. The warm hospitality makes for a diving holiday like no other. There is an excellent seafood restaurent and beach bar onsite, and with the enormous diversity of the Sharm El Sheikh dive sites and the surrounding areas of the South Sinai, there really is something for every level of diver to enjoy.More Less
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