Lembeh Strait - North Sulawesi  31 October to 7 November 2009


Muck and Macro in the Lembeh Strait

We held a very successful workshop at Lembeh Resort in 2007 and have had numerous enquiries since regarding another date which is now fixed for the end of 2009. Read on for some background information and please contact me if you would like to reserve a place on the workshop.

The whole of the Indonesian archipelago is recognised as having perhaps the richest marine echo system in the world. But it is only relatively recently that the Lembeh Strait were found to host an abundance weird and wonderful marine life transforming it to something of a Holy Grail destination to both photographers and marine biologists alike. There is nowhere else in the world where you can guarantee to find such an incredible range of unique critters in shallow sheltered conditions.

The local folklore in North Sulawesi relates that God made more than a few mistakes when he was creating fish to populate the world's oceans. Some of his errors produced very strange or ugly looking denizens that simply would not fit in with those he created to populate the beautiful coral reefs. He looked for somewhere to keep these blunders where no-one would find them and apparently tossed them into the Lembeh Strait where they remained hidden until man discovered sport diving.

So, folklore aside, what has propagated this unique selection of marine life? The Lembeh Strait lies at the north eastern tip of Indonesia's island of Sulawesi just north of the equator in an area where there is a considerable tidal range. The daily movement of nutrient rich waters through the strait attracts and feeds this extraordinary marine population. Most of the area is of a volcanic origin and this is plain to see in the black sand beaches that line the edge of the straits and extend underwater. Some sections feature shallow walls dropping from the surface overhung by vegetation which allows deeper water species (gorgonians, sea whips etc.) to thrive in only a few metres of water. There are also areas which feature coral outcrops and substantial reef sections close to the northern entrance to the straits, which adds variety to the predominance of muck and rubble sites.

The majority of the exciting subjects here are well camouflaged and to get the most out of each dive a good guide is essential. Whilst you will spot some things for yourself, the really well camouflaged species need an experienced eye. The guides that we will use from Lembeh Resort have accumulated more than 18000 dives between them in the strait and will amaze you with their ability to find creatures that most of us would miss. In short a good guide will ensure that you spend your dive moving from one subject to the next until you run out of digital storage or film!

The guide’s revelations are punctuated by your own discoveries of some of the more obvious species – nudibranchs, gobies, dragonets, octopus, cuttlefish. Species like the cockatoo wasp fish, which I had assumed were relatively rare, are found amongst almost every collection of leaves you encounter in a variety of colours. There is a baffling array of scorpion fish to be found as well from an almost albino white species, which stands out like a beacon on the sand, to those so well covered by algae that it is difficult to pin point an eye or the mouth. There is also the more threatening glare of the numerous Inimicus as they stroll across the seabed. One of the most striking species is the Ambon scorpion fish which initially seems to be only a ball of coconut fibre or sea grass leaves rolling with the gentle water movements.

There are more than 40 different dive sites in the straits, which all offer something a little different whilst some are best only for a particular species. The guides pride themselves on finding a specially requested species – I asked for a Rhinopias scorpion fish and was taken to one on the very first dive! Frog fish are seen on almost every dive and exotica like the mimic and ‘worderpus’ octopus are regularly found by the guides.

Photographically this is a mostly macro destination, but if you need a fix of wide angle vistas and coral then there are some good reef dives close at hand. A 60mm macro lens will be the workhorse for most subjects and 105mm macro or maybe a 150-200mm macro lens for the more shy tiny subjects like the pygmy seahorses.

The Workshop
As with previous workshops the emphasis will be on informality and everyone is free to ask questions throughout the day. During the workshop there will be some themed presentations suitable for users of both digital and film systems and Mark will be on hand to help and advise on the best techniques and solutions whatever equipment you choose to use.

There have been many changes in underwater photography in the past few years but the improvements in digital photography have perhaps had the most significant impact on image making. However film is far from dead and the workshop is open to both digital and film users. Past workshops have offered E6 film processing but as it is becoming increasingly difficult to be certain that E6 processing chemicals will be available so sadly film processing will not be offered during this workshop. The techniques used in capturing film and digital images underwater are very similar, the big difference with digital is of course that you can see your results immediately.

The Resort
Lembeh Resort is situated in a small valley on the shores on Lembeh Island with its own sheltered bay and house reef. The luxurious cottage accommodations, designed in two distinct styles, are cut into the hillside affording them fantastic views across the straits to the west, perfect for glorious Sulawesi sunsets.

There is a central bar and dining area, entertainment centre, internet room, well equipped dive centre and a spacious dedicated camera room with individual work stations and ample storage room.

Diving is from spacious locally built boats with covered main decks and helpful dedicated crews.

For full details of the resort visit their website at www.lembeh-resort.com


Workshop dates: 31 October to 7 November 2009

Getting there – Fly to Manado in North Sulawesi where you will be met by the resort staff and transferred to the resort. There are scheduled flights with Singapore Airlines, Malaysian Airlines, Garuda Indonesia, KLM etc. which will route you through Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta or Denpasar. Most of these airlines offer an extra 10kg for diving/sports equipment either FOC or at a small additional charge.

Time in Indonesia is GMT +8 hours
Voltage locally is 220V with European style two pin plugs – the camera room at the resort also has 110v available.
Air temperature 27-30 and humid
Water temperature 27-29c (82°-84°F) – 3-5mm wetsuit advised plus hood
Visa on arrival costs $25 and passport must be valid for at least 6 months
Departure tax is 100,000rph for international flights (approx $10) and 30,000rph for internal flights.
Malaria – this is a malaria risk area and it is best to consider taking a prophylactic - you should consult your physician/pharmacist for the current situation and best prophylactic - check the MASTA website
Currency – bring US Dollars to change locally into Rupiah. Exchange rates are best in the banks and you can withdraw cash from ATM’s. The resort accepts all major credit cards.
Internal flights in Indonesia can be booked through Manado based Safari Tours and Travel (cheaper that booking from UK generally)



Lembeh 2006 Picture Gallery  Lembeh 2007 Picture Gallery

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