Lembeh Straits

I’d been hearing about Lembeh for weeks...

Everyone I was with was so jazzed to go back to this special place where they saw these incredible creatures. My close friends and most trusted dive advisors had been raving about how much I’d love it. So when we pulled into the marina, I was more than a little curious about this whole situation.

There were so many big, rusting, had-to-be-polluting ships. Did we come to the right place? This is the diving paradise? This is the muck diving capital of the world? What even is muck diving? Is it swimming through oil and ballast water? Well, in a sense, it turns out it is.

Finally getting into the water, we descending into plastic bags, diapers, old bottles, a few banana peels, loads of rubbish from those very big ships I’d seen in the crossing. The marine biologist in me started to get angry. It’s one thing to study the degradation of the oceans, it’s entirely another to swim through the evidence. Why are we doing this?

But, before I could work myself into a fully self-righteous rage, the guide was banging on his tank, showing us a sapsucker slug that can gain energy from the sun, thanks to algae it eats. Then an ornate cuttlefish. Then about 45 other nudibranchs. And a coconut octopus. And an ornate ghost pipe fish. And a Lembeh Sea Dragon – which looks a whole lot like a tiny piece of turf algae.

Oh, and then there were pigmy sea horses and a mimic octopus and anemone fish with isopods living as their tongues. Several frogfish appeared out of the pile of trash that was now their home, confusing my morals even further. Everything was so tiny, and there was so much of it! You just had train your eyes to look differently.

How can so much live in such a place? I still don’t have the answers. But whatever the cause, the waters of Lembeh Straights have such a large and unexpected biodiversity teeming beneath them. People come from all over the world to see bizarre animals most only see in books.

Almost everyone was diving with Nitrox so they could stay under for longer to explore this incredible habitat. Everyone also had an intricate ear care routine post-dive to guard against the polluted waters infecting their ears. Everyone had developed their own strategy. Mostly because almost everyone had been there for so long and so many times! Lembeh divers are devout and loyal, it’s almost like a cult following.

There’s something about the place that is vaguely mystical and magical. It gets under your skin. Every alumnus has their own Lembeh story of some unexpected, rare creature they got to see; everyone has some love affair with the beauty of the forests surround the waters. Everyone perks up at the very mention of muck diving in Lembeh. But no one can quite tell you why. By all accounts, it shouldn’t be so prolific or so monumental. But it is, and perhaps that’s what you have to love about it.

It was definitely one of the most confusing dive experiences of my life. But between the huge wrecks, the reefs, and the black sand filled with strange beings preforming strange behaviours, I too had to admit to seeing what all the fuss was about.


@ This article above is written by Roya Eshragh (PADI Instructor #373094), please give respect to her copyright!
This article & photos are not to be reproduced or distributed without written permission of Roya Eshragh.

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