Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Diving Manado 27 Sep 2009


You will not believe that I booked this diving holiday one year ago. Since then, I had done the most thorough research on the critters I expected to see. The dive sites not only meet the high-rank reputation, but exceed my imagination. Simply blow away my sane mind. Lembeh Straits underneath is a place for aliens, you will agree after looking at the shots I snapped underwater. Yup, I finally indulged in the hell of underwater photography which will slowly gnaw away my precious money and time. My toy is Canon G10, equipped with underwater casing, Sea & Sea YS-110 alpha Strobe and wet macro lens. Taking pictures underwater is a big WOW in difficulty and technicality. I was like an apprentice all over again. Imagine the multitask, checking everything at once - air consumption, depth, no deco time, buoyancy, any nasty triggerfish around (another story later), any leakage of camera casing, current, torch, coral … Alright, I stop the babbling and here comes my diving experience in Bunaken and Lembeh Straits.

I did 2 diving days at Bunaken (5 dives) and 3 diving days at Lembeh Straits (12 dives). I know I am crazy. I took the unlimited diving package in Lembeh, where I could dive until my knee buckled and my neck strained.


Talk about Bunaken first. Mostly wall dives with some current. Really not much to mention as the wall dives were very similar. Having to dive Sipadan before, wall dives at other dive sites seem to lose their colour. I also did some house reef dives where I spotted my first Ambon Scorpionfish and Harlequin Shrimp. Also, during one safety stop, I spotted a gigantic jellyfish, as big as my head!

Lembeh Straits had tons of story to talk about. The dive sites were pretty much the same – murky, dark sand bottom, rubble and rubbish. The critters were, though, abundant and lively. Definitely worth to revisit. The trademark of Lembeh are frogfish, scorpionfish, octopus and other macros. Since the dive sites were featureless, I might as well write this section referring to the critters I spotted.

Paddle Flap Scorpionfish, Ambon Scorpionfish and Weedy Scorpionfish
Scorpionfish were stunning creature. They had the meanest look and poisonous spikes but when they flapped their wing, the beauty hidden would certainly drop your jaw. I spotted three different species. Both had their unique characteristic but the arrogant Ambon Scorpionfish’s expression won this round.

Spider Crab, Mud Crab, Urchin Crab, Porcelain Crab
Alien resemblance creatures. You could easily overlook this critters as they were so good in disguise. Meeting with Urchin Crab was so much fun. It carried the thorny urchin on its back while moving, so that the predators dared not attack them. Porcelain Crab were common neighbor with clown fish. They were very photogenic, with the beautiful soft coral as background.

Pygmy Seahorse, Denise Pygmy Seahorse, Pygmy Seadragon
Pygmy Seahorse was simply adorable. It was tiny but full of facial expression. It lived on the sea fan for the rest of their life. During dawn, they mated passionately and spent the rest of the day clinging on the sea fan. Pygmy Seadragon was the new species discovered in Lembeh. It was so much insignificant unless you knew their habitat.

Painted Frogfish, Hairy Frogfish, Sargassum Frogfish
These creatures had amazing characteristics! They could be as big as football size or as small as thumb size. Ambushing skill was phenomenal. Their mouth could stretch twice the normal size. They were abundant in Lembeh Straits. Well, I spotted 3 Sargassum Frogfish swam until the shore of the resort. This species was a bit special as they liked to float on the surface for food searching.


Mandarin Fish
I did a dawn dive at the house reef. Wow, this was madness. In the rumble, practically, more than 50 mandarin fish came out for mating. They were everywhere! Once they were happy with their sighting, they rubbed each other and disposed the eggs and sperms simultaneously. It was extremely hard to photograph although there were virtually hundreds of them swimming around me.

Flamboyant Cuttlefish, Coconut Octopus, Mimic Octopus
There was one dives that I spotted at least 5 flamboyant cuttlefish! Their gland were strikingly beautiful. When they were stressed, they showed amazing warning colour. Also, I spotted one of them sticking out their tongue to catch the prey, a blink of your eyes and the fishy was gone. The other highlight was the Coconut Octopus. It fled from a shell when my dive master found it. I followed it step-by-step, it was “walking” rather than jetting in the water, super adorable! Occasionally, it peeped at me and other photographers while searching for the hidden place. Mimic Octopus, sigh… I had 5 seconds spotting before it escaped to its hole.

Zebra Lionfish, Shortfin Lionfish, Spinny Devilfish, Painted Stingfish
Again, the sea floor were full of these creatures. I love lionfish. They were always the love of photographer. They liked to stretch their impressive wing, making it looked like underwater butterfly. Painted Stingfish, you got to have some luck to spot them as they only appeared at night. Spinny Devilfish was as cool and nasty as scorpionfish.


Harlequin Shrimp, Crinoid Shrimp, Bubble Coral Shrimp, Cleaner Shrimp, Squat Lobster
Shrimp was my favourite subject. They were candies of eyes. Crinoid shrimp had the best disguise while Harlequin Shrimp had the lavish colour and pattern. Squat lobster was strikingly pink while bubble coral shrimp and cleaner shrimp could be transparent!


Electric Clamp, Banggai Cardinalfish, Banded Seasnake
These were special creature. Electric clamp emitted electric ray to scare off the predator. Banggai Cardinalfish were endemic to this region. Spotting both of them were so much delightful but not the Banded Seasnake. Banded Seasnake is the world most poisonous animal and definitely not a joke I could afford.

Ornate Ghost Pipefish, Robust Ghost Pipefish, Ring Pipefish, Stick Pipefish
Ghost Pipefish were beauty to behold. They normally existed in pair, hovering above the crinoids or feather stars. The female was larger, with pelvic pouch for eggs. Their slender body always appeared to be frozen and easy to be photographed.

Last but not least, how could one overlook nudibranch, the gem of underwater. Lembeh Straits had the diverse species of nudibranch. The most attractive one was skirt nudibranch, whereby it earned their name by flapping their rim gracefully.

I booked the unlimited dive package with Diver Lodge Lembeh ( This was the best diving resort I had been. The diving boat was comfortable, spacious and modern. As it was family run, the service was warming, considerate and well-rounded. Staff were polite, helpful and friendly. I did not have the chance to carry my dive equipment since they fetched me from Bunaken. Food and drink was also unlimited. Dinner was nicely set up and the Dutch owner family dined with the divers every night. Apparently, Rob the owner was contributing himself for the good sake of Lembeh Straits. There are many plans in the future to make Lembeh Straits a better and cleaner diving location. Good faith for Lembeh Straits.

Lembeh Straits is truly a macro heaven where photographer can not afford to miss. It stole my heart and it is now left 20 ft underneath the murky ocean. I would have to retrieve it someday, sometime….