“We’ll be down for about 60-75 minutes.” I was shocked to hear the duration of our upcoming dive, as I was used to 45-60 minutes, tops.
I initially assumed the dive guide was a bit mad to overestimate our diving abilities, but apparently this was the norm.
Divers tend to save air when diving in Lembeh Strait, because they move less in search of odd creatures and focus instead on mastering their buoyancy. Expectations were kept low, with my dive buddy from the US being 6 feet tall and chubby.
There’s not much to see on the ocean floor of Jahir and Serena West, in Lembeh Strait. They are just flat with a grey sandy bottom. However, Lembeh wouldn’t be a world renowned dive spot if it didn’t have anything to offer.
Most divers would doubt this once seeing the ocean floor. The water was mildly murky and there were no specific markers to help with your orientation, as there is hardly any coral. Dive guides function as more than just your chaperone: They are your seafloor navigators.
Coming close to the seafloor, I start to see the earth move. There was sand falling into holes and eyes started to bulge. Once successfully hovering over the sand, it wasn’t long before the camouflaged creatures and the inhabitants underneath the seafloor started to appear. Countless blennies and gobbies popped in and out of their holes with a blank stare in their eyes. Many shrimps also scuttled about, seemingly in a symbiotic relationship with these fishes.
Soon enough, my dive guide pointed out a leaf. I shrugged before finally he assured me that the leaf was a cockatoo waspfish or the Ablabys taenianotus. True enough. As I came closer, it became apparent that the leaf was a fish looking at me.
Three meters later I found myself in the presence of a decorator crab of the Majoidea superfamily. I doubted my eyes before believing that the heap of colors was walking and showing a pair of claws.
It took me about 5 minutes alone just to photograph a small creature, which seemed to be a nudibranch, before surrendering to the fact that I had a mere pocket camera insufficient to properly capture such things.
A photo, however, would have been a nice token to take from the triumphant feeling of discovering such a tiny animal among the oblivious murk. I did manage to capture other organisms, such as a snake eel, Redline Fabelina, fireworm, algae shrimp, squat shrimp, moray eels and flounder fish.
Among the many critters, my dive guide also successfully pointed out some of Lembeh Strait’s special creatures. We happen to come across the Robust Ghost pipefish, the longhorn cowfish, flying gunnard and the painted frogfish. Not to mention, there was the sensation of seeing a sea snake peeking up from the sandy bottom, easily missed by the untrained eye as I live to tell.
There’s no doubt that sea creatures are everywhere, especially in a rich and healthy coral ecosystem, but they’re harder to find as they mostly blend in with their background.
In the meantime, though the creatures are still in their disguise mode, they are easier to find in the muck. As a fun diver spoiled by the beautiful coral of Indonesia, discovering so many alien-like beings in this underwater world became a different thrill on its own. It then occurred to me that an hour’s worth of diving was easily passed with so much roaming to do.
“Lembeh is a great site, because there are so many of these weird organisms all in one place,” explained Dani, resident dive instructor for Twofish Dive Resort. I had previously asked her how Twofish could say that Lembeh was the “muck diving capital of the world” on its website.
So how do these creatures survive with few coral and little visible life in their environment? Dani says that it’s probably because Lembeh dive spots are located within a strait rich with nutrients.
There are many other factors accounting for the richness of the waters, such as the underwater volcanoes around North Sulawesi and the sea currents through the strait – but whatever it is, the Lembeh Strait has become home to countless critters.
My dive buddy and I concurred as we ascended happily and exchanged information on sightings. Divers should not judge the Lembeh Strait seafloor by its cover, as I had misjudged our ability to handle what turned out to be a 69-minute dive.