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 of an article originally written in French. I apologise for any strange sentences and funny mistakes that may have resulted. If you read French, click on the French flag below to access the original, 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

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  1. Hello Corinne,
    I'm looking for a lodge on Lembeh island that's not too expensive (the Lembeh resort is great but relatively expensive) the various Lembeh lodge looks pretty good but it's in the south of the island.
    what was your choice during your trip, I am also looking for the next week on the islands north of Manado.
    Thank you in advance


    1. @ Jean-Luc: I went twice to Lembeh.
      -> First trip of 2007: (the article above is one of several I've published on this trip)
      -> Second trip in 2010:

      Both times, I opted for the Other Lembeh Lodge by Rob and Linda. I heartily recommend this little resort to macro photo enthusiasts. Great service, great guides. On the other hand, we're isolated in the very south of the island, and we stay between divers, in the resort.

      I haven't really looked into other options since, but I know there are plenty of resorts for all budgets and styles in Lembeh. Keep poking around on the internet with Google or on the forum...

      As for the islands of North Sulawesi, there's a plethora of centers to suit all budgets and styles, especially on Bunaken Island.

      During my trip in 2010, to avoid the crowds, I opted for the nearby island of Bangka. There are two resorts there, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed: the Murex Bangka Resort and the Mimpi IndahI preferred the first one, run by Indonesians, with a great guide, at the time, whose atmosphere I really appreciated.

      I've also heard good things about the island of Siladen, which I don't know.

      Here ... Good preparations !!!