NORTH SULAWESI is an epicentre of biological diversity. Hidden between debris and rubble on the volcanic sandy bottom of Lembeh Strait, you can find the strangest creatures.
It’s all about having sharp eyes. Maybe this tiny piece of seaweed is really a rare critter? Or perhaps it's just a tiny piece of seaweed?
Dive Into Lembeh is the newest dive resort along the Strait. It offers very easy access to all the well-known dive-sites, and combines the comfort of a resort with the practical convenience of a liveaboard.
Diving in Lembeh Strait is the opposite to diving in the Red Sea, with lifeless desert landscape above water replaced by lush rainforest and swaying coconut palms.
Below the surface, however, there are no colourful coral reefs, only a black-grey sandy bottom, which at first glance looks dead.
But, suddenly, the dive-guide stops and indicates something with his metal pointer. My brain feverishly browses through a Rolodex of underwater creatures – images of fish, crabs and snails are quickly formed and rejected again and again It’s about finding the right outline and size. Here lifeforms assume shapes and camouflages you hadn’t considered possible.
Suddenly the carousel stops and I’ve found a match – it's a skeleton shrimp! The alien-looking creature, no bigger than a fingernail, fuses perfectly into the coral branch on which it sits, which is why I couldn’t see it at first. I settle down and begin the process of getting a good focus through my 105mm lens.
After the first few dives we slowly settle into the special Lembeh dive rhythm. Nitrox cylinders for the entire day are analysed and marked before the first dive. The staff assembles your gear and loads the boat. Even your camera is freighted over from the dunk-tanks in front of the large, well-lit camera-room.
You just have to get yourself on the boat dressed in your wetsuit, check your equipment and that’s it. The staff and the service concept are excellent.
The operation runs like a well-oiled machine, with lots of smiles and laughter.
Lembeh Strait was formed during a volcanic eruption that moved Lembeh Island off the mainland of North Sulawesi and formed a narrow passage. It’s mostly 40-50m deep, but at both ends the bottom slopes down to several hundred metres, and these special conditions are part of the biological mechanism that makes life in the strait so special. The nutrient-rich water from the depths and equally nutrient-rich volcanic sand supports the enormous diversity of species.
Most dives begin under the boat at 5m. After reaching 25-30m as the deepest point, you zig-zag back up the slope to the boat and keep searching.
All dives are conducted in small groups – Dive Into Lembeh maintains a luxurious ratio of three divers maximum per guide.
Most of the 50 named dive-sites are 5-10 minutes’ speedboat ride from the resort in the northern part of the Strait.
Though close to each other, they are quite distinct. In some places there are shallow coral reefs, but the archetypal Lembeh dive is on a grey or black sandy bottom. After the dive, you are handed fresh fruit, water and a clean towel.