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Last day in Lembeh, North Sulawesi. Time goes by way too fast! With its rusty cargo ships and its black sand bottom strewn with sediments and detritus, this strait is really a singular diving spot, far from clichés.
Volcanoes, the harbor and the fish
Opposite the island of Lembeh, there is the huge port of Bitung. The two big local industries are coconut and fishing.
There are ferries, large cargo ships in port, a constant flow of boats of all sizes, which supply the various corners of the island of Lembeh just opposite or which return from fishing. A few blocks away from all this activity, we can see, here and there, old rusty hulls, abandoned, which are quietly decaying in the waters of the strait.
But it only takes a few minutes of sailing north to come across a completely different landscape!
We then discover limestone cliffs topped with jungle, interspersed with small black sand beaches, nestled in their belt of coconut trees. A few wooden huts, traditional outrigger boats moored in front. On the horizon, always present, the shadow of the volcanoes.
We usually stop at noon near one of these beaches, for lunch, followed by a well-deserved nap, before starting the second or third dive of the day. The contrast between the harbor area and the string of beaches a little further away is surprising at first.
And it is always a strange feeling, when sailing in the waters of the strait, with the dive boat, to pass in front of the gigantic ships moored at the docks of Bitung or anchored a little further off.
Each time, when we come back, I think to myself: I am surprised that the underwater fauna is still so rich, here, with the pollution, which is probably not negligible, that a port activity like this one must generate...
The dives are mainly of the "muck-dive"This is a great opportunity to observe the astonishing creatures that live in this not always appetizing black sandy substrate, where many wastes are mixed with sediments.
Flamboyant cuttlefish and clownfish
For now, I am enjoying my last day of diving, stoically ignoring the painful twinges in my right ear... No way!
Besides, once underwater, I completely forget about this damn ear infection, captivated as I am by the spectacular changes of color and texture of a well-named flaming cuttlefish.
Very shy, it allows itself to be approached, without fleeing, by our objectives. It is enough to gently wave your hand over the cuttlefish, to see waves of grey, yellow and red on its skin, which seems to undulate at the least of our movements in the water.
The subject is, of course, very difficult to capture in a photo. The autofocus of my little compact camera has a hard time judging the correct focus with all these variations of colors, as fast as lightning, sometimes fleeting, sometimes lasting, and suddenly replaced by a warty epidermal bristle...
A very strange creature. But so fascinating, that my partner Teresa and I finally stayed longer underwater, for some last pictures, emptying our bottles and letting our guide Atu, who was so cold, go back to the boat to warm up.
But of all the creatures I met in the Lembeh Strait, my favorite is the clown or painted frog-fish.
Of modest size, yellow with beautiful carmine red spots, this small toadfish valiantly paces the black sandy bottom on its small pectoral fins that have become legs. Totally indifferent to the excitement he provokes in us, superbly ignoring the passionate looks we give him, he traces his way. Apparently not more bothered than that by our bubbles and our flashes. Unless his little hike is actually a desperate escape?
We take turns in front of the adorable creature, which has the pleasure to be immortalized, during long minutes, under all the seams.