UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY WORKSHOP
WITH MARK WEBSTER
BUNAKEN MARINE PARK AND THE LEMBEH STRAITS
North Sulawesi in Indonesia has been gradually building a fine reputation amongst underwater photographers for its amazing diversity of subjects including the unique experience of ‘muck diving’ in the Lembeh Straits. It has taken me some time to organise a research trip to the area and find the best combination of dive centre and location to access the range of diving and photographic opportunities on offer.
First of all it was worth the wait! For me the diving was stunning particularly on the macro level which is quite different from the Red Sea.
I stayed at the Tasik Ria resort which is a very comfortable with good facilities, comfortable A/C rooms with plenty of space for cameras and a fridge for your film and beer. The dive centre (Eco Divers) is on site with its own boat dock and two newly constructed spacious dive boats. The centre is managed by Jim and Cary Yanny, who formerly managed Emperor divers in Hurghada, and they have a large, efficient and friendly staff.
Rather than try to describe everything on offer I have instead compiled an overview of the four main areas that we would dive during a workshop:
Bunaken Marine Park
The park comprises a small group of islands about one hour by boat from Manado. The diving is 99% wall diving with some excellent coral formations and lots of reef fish life and pelagics visiting from the deep blue. There are plenty of wide angle opportunities and excellent macro and reef life which includes species like leaf scorpion fish, ghost pipe fish, frog fish, nudibranchs, all sorts of invertebrates, amazing range of clown fish etc. etc. The whole area is tidal but I did not experience any significant problems with current and indeed many of my dives had none at all, and my trip was during a full moon/spring tide period. Visibility was on average 80-120ft.
House Reef, Pigmy point, Jetty Reef
The house reef is about half a mile from the jetty and is accessed either by one of the main boats or a smaller wooden boat dependant on group size. Plenty of coral although not of the same standard as the Bunaken walls, however the macro life here is excellent and the night diving stunning. There is a mixture of coral, sand slopes and eel grass areas where you will find: scorpion fish, stone fish, leaf scorpion fish, ghost pipe fish (robust, ornate and harlequin), sea horses, snake eels, ribbon eels, shrimp fish, nudibranchs, all sorts of invertebrates, several species clown fish. Visibility varies from 30-80ft.
Pigmy Point is a little further offshore on the end of the house reef. The reef slope here is damaged but the purpose of the dive is the pigmy seahorses on a large sea fan at about 25m, where you will find four or five of these elusive creatures. When I say ‘find’ what actually happens is that the guide will point to a spot on the fan and you will struggle to see the seahorse – they are incredibly small and very well camouflaged and need patience to photograph. When you get it right though it is immensely satisfying.
Jetty Reef is as the name suggests right in front of the centre’s boat dock. There is some coral here but the sea bed is more silty than further offshore. However, there is an amazing variety of life here including a resident yellow frog fish, robust ghost pipe fish, ribbon eels, leaf scorpion fish, pipe fish, many different prawns, clown fish etc. A little further out is the remains of a mini van in two parts, half of which is home to a community of 20-30 lion fish and a variety of oddities. Lots more macro life, scorpion fish, crocodile fish, nudibranchs, sea whip gobies and shrimps, ribbon eels etc. Visibility is variable dependant of sea conditions and the number of divers!
Paw Paw Reef
This reef is south of the dive centre and takes around 15 minutes to reach by boat. Like the house reef it is close inshore but this one has a mixture of reef slope and small wall to 25m or so which has a good variety of corals, sponges and invertebrate life. Similar species and visibility to the house reef although this site does see some current dependant on the state of the tide.
Lembeh is about 45km away from Manado close to the port of Bitung. We transfer via the hotel minibus and on arrival we board local wooden dive boats for the short trip up the straits to the dive sites. To begin with you might wonder why you have come as the visibility is not great and the seabed a mixture of black/grey volcanic sand, rubble some coral and all sorts of detritus. As you get close and with the help of the guides all sorts of strange creatures are revealed and you will find that you simply to not have enough film. One or two of the sites have shallow walls stuffed full of invertebrate life and, because of the overhanging vegetation reducing light levels, you will find sea fans and gorgonians in only a few meters depth. There is an amazing variety of nudiranchs in addition to frog fish, sea horses (ordinary plus pigmy), ghost pipe fish, scorpion fish (Inimicus, Ambon, Leaf, Cockatoo, Rhinopias), ribbon eels, cling fish, clown fish, Bangai cardinal fish (only found in Sulawesi), snake and mud eels, mandarin fish, mantis shrimps, octopus, flamboyant cuttle fish and so many other odd things.
The diving is well organised and there is good quality hire equipment should you want it. You will need a safety sausage or dive flag and preferably an air horn on your BC just in case of current in Bunaken. You will get three day dives a day and an optional night dive on the days we visit the Bunaken Marine park. Dives are generally one hour duration and there is no solo diving for safety reasons although this is not as limiting as it may sound to some. The other thing is that you will definitely want the help of the guides who are amazing as spotting the unusual marine life. Without them you could go a whole week without spotting a ghost pipe fish, leaf scorpion etc. etc., so they really are of great value to you and very enthusiastic in giving their help.
Time in Sulawesi is GMT +8 hours
Voltage locally is 220V with European style two pin plugs
Air temperature 27-30 and humid
Water temperature 27-29 – thin wetsuit advised
No visa required but passport must be valid for at least 6 months
Take anti malarial pills – consult your pharmacist for the current prophylactic
Money – bring US Dollars to change locally into Rupiah. Bank rates are best in the town and you can withdraw cash from ATM’s
Departure tax 60,000 rupiah (about £4-5)
Bunaken Marine Park fee of 75,000 rupiah (about £6)
Tel: 01326 firstname.lastname@example.org www.oonasdivers.com
Tel: 01323 648924
Tasik Ria Resort
Commensal sea whip shrimps