A beautiful purple rhinopias, photographed in the Lembeh Strait. (Sulawesi, Indonesia, July 2007)
A beautiful purple rhinopias, photographed in the Lembeh Strait. (Sulawesi, Indonesia, July 2007)

The strange creatures of Lembeh

#Sulawesi # Indonesia

  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: 


I moved to the island of Lembeh, on the west coast of North Sulawesi (Indonesia), just in front of the big port of Bitung. At the bottom of the strait, hidden in the black sand, live small underwater monsters that are the joy of photographers.

In the heart of the Lembeh Strait

In this month of July 2007, I put my bags down for a few days in Divers Lodgeon the island of Lembeh (North Sulawesi, Indonesia). Rob, the Dutchman who runs this small diving resort with his Indonesian wife Linda, picked me up in Manado and drove me to the port of Bitung.

Then, the crossing of the strait to the resort on the island of Lembeh takes 15-20 minutes.

Small boats come and go in front of the docks of Bitung port. (Sulawesi, July 2007)
Small boats come and go in front of the docks of Bitung port. (Sulawesi, July 2007)
Next to our boat, one of those countless small wooden ferries that shuttle to Lembeh Island, opposite (Sulawesi, Indonesia, July 2007)
Next to our boat, one of those countless small wooden "ferries" that shuttle to Lembeh Island, opposite (Sulawesi, Indonesia, July 2007)
Atmosphere on one of the many pontoons of Bitung harbor (Sulawesi, Indonesia, July 2007)
Atmosphere on one of the many pontoons of the port of Bitung (Sulawesi, Indonesia, July 2007)

I had booked from France, just before leaving, a small package "3 days diving + 4 nights" via his website, having learned, during my e-mail exchanges with Christiane de Froggies that Rob was full for the month of July from the 6th ...

Wow! It was a close call. I thought I would just show up and check out the place, as I often do, but I almost missed the opportunity to dive in the Lembeh Strait.

And that would have been a pity, really. These will be the most extraordinary dives of my stay in Sulawesi...

A beautiful purple rhinopias, photographed in the Lembeh Strait. (Sulawesi, Indonesia, July 2007)
A beautiful purple rhinopias, photographed in the Lembeh Strait. (Sulawesi, Indonesia, July 2007)

In Lembeh, there are almost only luxury resorts, not in my budget. Divers Lodge is one of the few affordable diving structures, with the Sulawesi Dive Quest neighbour.

Rob and Linda's little resort is a haven of peace, nestled in the middle of the greenery. Its pretty wooden bungalows, tastefully furnished, are equipped with all the comforts (real shower and hot water, aaaahh!). They all have huge bay windows with an exquisite view on the small bay with jade waters, on the ocean side, lined with coconut trees.

Clarification. As a reminder, this article dates back to 2007 and the offer in Lembeh has grown a lot since then. There are now more choices of diving centers, for all budgets. In 2010In 2017, I went back to Divers Lodge, which has kept very affordable rates, always with the possibility of private underwater guide or in very small group, a happiness for underwater photographers...

Delicate attention for underwater photographers: there is a real power strip in the chamber, to recharge the batteries.

I enjoy the quietness of the place. Here, we are far from the crowd and the bustle of the port. Simple luxury, calm and pleasure...

Unobstructed view of the small bay, ocean side, from the terrace of my bungalow at Divers Lodge Lembeh. (Sulawesi, Indonesia, July 2007)
Unobstructed view of the small bay, ocean side, from the terrace of my bungalow at Divers Lodge Lembeh. (Sulawesi, Indonesia, July 2007)
My room at the Divers Lodge Lembeh, simple but with all the comfort I need. (Sulawesi, Indonesia, July 2007)
My room at the Divers Lodge Lembeh, simple but with all the comfort I need. (Sulawesi, Indonesia, July 2007)
The spectacular silhouette of Klabat Volcano dominates the Lembeh Strait. (Sulawesi, Indonesia, July 2007)
The spectacular silhouette of Klabat Volcano dominates the Lembeh Strait. (Sulawesi, Indonesia, July 2007)

Extraordinary dives

the Divers LodgeThe resort is isolated on the southern part of Lembeh Island. I immediately get along well with Teresa, a Swiss woman from Zurich, very funny, who has been coming here for many years to take underwater pictures.

She is a fanatic, with more than 700 dives in the Strait... Teresa is equipped with a camera much bigger than my compact, with a big housing and an external flash. She makes great pictures, which she also puts online. Her personal website, here: Starfish.ch.

Diving in the Lembeh Strait is totally different from diving in Bunaken. Here, it is muck-diveThis is literally "diving in the mud". That is to say that instead of diving on drop offs or a reef, we explore a bottom which is not really mud, but a substrate of sediments and sand, here black volcanic, with its lot of detritus related to the activity of the port and the villages nearby, in a water often very charged with particles and debris...

And by swimming gently, above this not very clean bottom, we discover a thousand and one weird underwater creatures, as we can't find them anywhere else, hidden in the debris or under the sand...

Suddenly, a leaf starts to swim (leaf-fish). A seahorse that surreptitiously detaches itself from a piece of yellow algae. A scorpion fish that emerges from a cloud of gray sand. A toad-fish or frog-fish (antennae), hardly visible against a piece of rock, waving its lure, a kind of mini fishing rod attached to its head, which allows it to attract its preys close to its mouth...

It is really extraordinary!

In the family of scorpion fish, I ask for yellow! (Lembeh, Sulawesi, Indonesia, July 2007)
In the family of scorpion fish, I ask for yellow! (Lembeh, Sulawesi, Indonesia, July 2007)
A toadfish in action. I triggered it just at the right moment.... When it opens its mouth to snatch its prey by sudden water suction, it lasts only a fraction of a second! (Lembeh, Sulawesi, Indonesia, July 2007)
An antennae (toadfish or frogfish) in action. I triggered just at the right moment.... When it opens its mouth to snatch its prey by sudden water suction, it lasts only a fraction of a second! (Lembeh, Sulawesi, Indonesia, July 2007)
Another toad fish, very small, that one, and "hairy"! (Lembeh, Sulawesi, Indonesia)
Another toadfish, very small, this one, and "hairy"! (Lembeh, Sulawesi, Indonesia)
A shy seahorse is trying to hide. (Lembeh, Sulawesi, Indo-Lesy, July 2007)
A shy seahorse is trying to hide. (Lembeh, Sulawesi, Indo-Lesy, July 2007)
A kind of sand eel, completely buried in the sand, with only its head showing (Lembeh, Sulawesi, Indonesia, July 2007)
A kind of sand eel, completely buried in the sand, with only its head showing (Lembeh, Sulawesi, Indonesia, July 2007)
A young fish-toad shakes its lure. (Lembeh, Sulawesi, Indonesia, July 2007)
A young fish-toad shakes its lure. (Lembeh, Sulawesi, Indonesia, July 2007)
Another scorpionfish, bristling with venomous dorsal spines (Lembeh, Sulawesi, Indonesia)
Another scorpionfish, bristling with venomous dorsal spines (Lembeh, Sulawesi, Indonesia)

Lembeh, a paradise for underwater photographers

Here again, the trained eye of our Indonesian guides is indispensable... Teresa and I have a guide and a boat all to ourselves. It is, as at Froggies, diving luxury, I must say.

My guide Atu is careful to always put a hood. That way, he does not catch otitis, he ... (Lembeh, Sulawesi, Indonesia, July 2007)
My guide Atu is careful to always put a hood. That way, he does not catch otitis, he ... (Lembeh, Sulawesi, Indonesia, July 2007)

Our guide, Atu, is a young Indonesian with a hesitant English, but very good at finding the bugs we want. These ladies want a hairy frogfish (hairy frogfish, hairy or hairy, as you like) for the morning dive? No problem, you just have to order him to get the baby... Atu finds everything!

Lembeh is really a paradise for underwater photographers. I enjoy it, despite the water being rather "cold" for my taste, in this season, i.e. 25-26°C maximum. I go out shivering at each dive, in my too thin 3 mm wetsuit (which is actually a cheap surf suit, and not really adapted for diving).

All these particles in suspension in the water gave me an otitis (a classic among the small ailments of divers). I treat it properly with the appropriate drops, which have the evocative name of Ottopain (the equivalent is marketed in France under the name of Panotile). Atu is careful to always wear a hood. Like that, he doesn't catch an ear infection...

Other articles about Lembeh Strait

→ Rusty cargos and black sand
→ Nudibranchs forever
→ The mini-monsters of Lembeh

See also → All my articles about Lembeh

  Indonesia: Sulawesi - July 2007

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  1. You're going to laugh, but instead of reading "Divers Lodge", I had read "David Lodge", and I thought it fit pretty well... 😆
    By the way, speaking of earache, I hope Ottopain works!
    Mil needs, Lydie.

  2. Hello
    After watching a documentary on National Geographic, I became very interested in these extraordinary creatures.
    Fish that "walk" on the bottom, amazing camouflage.
    It's clear that a permanent war for survival has accelerated and amplified the evolution of species.
    I'd love to dive there.

  3. I saw a documentary on TV about the Lembeh Strait, a marvel. As a former N1 scuba diver (heart problems), I tried to look at the little creatures, and I saw quite a lot, but this film (a marvel with explanations and everything else, thanks to the director), too bad it's not on sale! I realized that with snorkel and mask it's not worth going there!!!!

  4. @Marc: Yes, I missed this documentary, which a lot of people told me about. Too bad... Maybe there'll be a rerun? Maybe it can be found on the internet? I'll have a look...
    Indeed, the site and its strange creatures can't really be appreciated by snorkeling. In general, the bottom on which we stay to flashouiller these small creatures hallucinating is in the 20 meters. Personally, I hope to go back, especially as I'm now equipped with a much better camera than in 2007.
    🙂

  5. I'm lucky enough to have recorded this sublime documentary. Corinne, of course, possible copy. How to get it to you remains to be seen... but I'm sure you'll find a solution. You have our e-mail .... See you soon!
    isa and marco
    P.S - we're going back to Lembeh at the end of the year, but the (amateur) photos aren't worth the professional video ... nor the conditions in which it's possible to do it (I've got an article in the pipeline for "ontheplouf", to be put online very soon!) : 😳

  6. @IsaetMarco: Oh, but you're adorable... I'll get back to you privately by e-mail very soon! Thank you in advance for this kind offer.
    As for Lembeh, I really want to go back there too. It's about time I stopped making plans for next summer. In the meantime, I'll be keeping an eye on OnThePloufAgain!
    😉

  7. @Kirhan: I returned to Sulawesi and Lembeh, three years after this first trip (which dates from 2007), see here:
    http://petitesbullesdailleurs.fr/voyage-sulawesi-indonesie-2010/
    To dive in Lembeh, I similarly opted for Divers Lodge. You can visit their website and contact them if you need to, there's a lot of information about Lembeh and how to get there:
    http://www.diverslodgelembeh.com/
    You'll need to find a plane ticket to Manado, in North Sulawesi. Of course, there are no direct flights from France, so you'll have to go via Singapore, Kuala Lumpur or Jakarta.
    Good preparation! 🙂

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