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 facing Lembeh, clinging to the clouds.

Opposite the island of Lembeh, there is the huge port of Bitung. The two big local industries are coconut and peach.

There are ferries here, big freighters here, and there's a constant coming and going of boats of all sizes, supplying the different corners of Lembeh Island just in front of them or coming back from fishing. A few miles away from all this activity, one can see, here and there, old rusty hulls, abandoned, which quietly disintegrate in the waters of the strait.

But it only takes a few minutes of sailing north to come across a completely different landscape!

We discover then limestone cliffs surmounted by jungle, interspersed with small black sand beaches, nestled in their belt of coconut palms. A few wooden huts, traditional boats with pendulum moored in front. On the horizon, always present, the shadow of volcanoes.

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

We usually stop for lunch near one of these beaches, for lunch, followed by a well deserved nap, before attacking the second or third dive of the day. The contrast between the port area and the string of beaches a little further surprises at first.

And it's still a strange feeling, when you're sailing in the waters of the strait, with the dive boat, to pass the gigantic ships moored at the Bitung wharves or wetting a little further offshore.

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

I am always thinking about this when we return home: I am surprised that the underwater fauna is still so rich here, with the undoubtedly not insignificant pollution that a port activity like this must generate...

The dives are mainly of the "Muck-dive", from the observation dive of the amazing creatures that populate this substrate of black sand not always ragoûtant, where many wastes mingle with the sediments.

Flamboyant cuttlefish and clownfish

For the moment, I'm savouring my last day of diving, stoically ignoring the painful throbbing in my right ear... No but!

Moreover, once under water, I completely forget this damn otitis, captivated that I am by the spectacular changes of color and texture of a well-named flaming cuttlefish.

Flaming cuttlefish.
Flaming cuttlefish.

Very shy, she lets herself be approached, however, without fleeing, by our objectives. Just gently shake your hand over the cuttlefish, to see waves of gray, yellow and red on his skin, which seems to waver at the slightest of our movements in the water.

The subject is, of course, very difficult to capture in pictures. The autofocus of my little compact camera is struggling to gauge the correct focus with all these variations of color, fast as lightning, sometimes fleeting sometimes durable, and suddenly replaced by a warty epidermal ...

Very very weird, as a beast. But so fascinating, that my partner Teresa and I finally stay longer under the water, for the ultimate photos, emptying our bottles and leaving our guide Atu, chilled, go back to warm up on the boat.

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 surveys the black sand bottom on its small pectoral fins that have become legs. Totally indifferent to the emotion it provokes in us, superbly ignoring the passionate glances with which we cover it, it traces its path. Apparently no more bothered than that by our bubbles and flashes. Unless his little hike is really just a desperate escape?

We take turns in front of the adorable little creature, who has the chance to be immortalized, for long minutes, from every angle.

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 the island of Lembeh not too expensive (the Lembeh resort is great but relatively expensive) the various lodge Lembeh looks pretty but 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 the ones I published on this trip)
      -> Second trip in 2010:

      Both times I opted for the Other Lembeh Lodge Rob and Linda. I highly recommend this little resort to crazy macro photo. Super service, great guides. On the other hand, we are isolated in the south of the island, and we stay between divers in the resort.

      I have not really looked for other options, but I know there are plenty of resorts for every budget and style in Lembeh. Continue to poke a bit on the internet with Google or the forum ...

      For the islands of North Sulawesi, likewise, there are plenty of centers for all purses and styles on Bunaken Island in particular.

      During my trip in 2010, to avoid a little crowd, I had opted for the island of Bangka not far. There are two resorts here that I really liked: Murex Bangka Resort and the Mimpi Indah, with a preference for the first, held by Indonesians, with great guide, at the time, which I enjoyed the atmosphere.

      I was also told of the good of the island of Siladen, which I do not know.

      Here ... Good preparations !!!