In the Lembeh Strait, huge cargo ships are languishing at anchor.
In the Lembeh Strait, huge cargo ships are languishing at anchor.

Lembeh: rusty cargo ships and black sand

  Indonesia: Sulawesi - July 2007

Dear English-speaking readers, this page is an automatic translation made from a post originally written in French. My apologies for any strange sentences and funny mistakes that may have been generated during the process. If you are reading French, click on the French flag below to access the original and correct text: 

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

Spectacular sunset, behind the volcano facing Lembeh, clinging to the clouds.
Spectacular sunset, behind the volcano which faces Lembeh, to which the clouds cling.

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.

Black sand beach in the Lembeh Strait.
Black sand beach in the Lembeh Strait.

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.

In the Lembeh Strait, huge cargo ships are languishing at anchor.
In the Lembeh Strait, huge cargo ships are lying at anchor.

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.

Flaming cuttlefish.
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.

Painted frog-fish (antenna or toad fish).
Painted frog-fish (antenna or toad 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.

See also → All my articles on Lembeh

  Indonesia: Sulawesi - July 2007

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  1. Hello Corinne,
    je suis à la recherche d’un lodge sur l’ile de Lembeh pas trop cher (le Lembeh resort est super mais relativement cher) le divers lodge Lembeh à l’air pas mal mais tout au sud de l’ile.
    what was your choice during your trip, I am also looking for the next week on the islands north of Manado.
    Merci d’avance


    1. @ Jean-Luc: I went twice to Lembeh.
      -> First trip of 2007: (l’article ci-dessus fait partie de ceux que j’ai publiés sur ce séjour)
      -> Second trip in 2010:

      Les deux fois, j’ai opté pour le Other Lembeh Lodge de Rob et Linda. Je recommande chaudement ce petit resort aux fous de photo macro. Super service, super guides. En revanche, on est isolé tout au sud de l’île, et on reste entre plongeurs, dans le resort.

      Je n’ai pas vraiment cherché depuis quelles sont les autres options possibles, mais je sais qu’il y a quantité de resorts pour tous les budgets et tous les styles à Lembeh. Continue à farfouiller un peu sur internet avec Google ou sur le forum…

      Pour les îles du nord-Sulawesi, pareil, il y a pléthore de centres pour toutes les bourses et tous les styles sur l’île de Bunaken en particulier.

      Lors de mon voyage en 2010, pour éviter un peu la foule, j’avais opté pour l’île de Bangka non loin. Il y a là deux resorts que j’ai bien appréciés l’un et l’autre : le Murex Bangka Resort and the Mimpi Indah, avec une préférence pour le premier, tenu par des Indonésiens, avec super guide, à l’époque, dont j’avais bien apprécié l’ambiance.

      On m’a aussi dit du bien de l’île de Siladen, que je ne connais pas.

      Here ... Good preparations !!!