Muck diving marvels

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One of the great benefits of dive travel is that you get to meet other divers that invariably have dived in other parts of the world.  Surface intervals and meal times often involve non-stop conversations with hitherto strangers about the pros and cons of various dive spots, as well as comparing notes on what to see.  My last trip on-board the Pawana diving in the Similan Islands was no different, but what was memorable about one diving conversation was one divers complete aversion to muck diving. This shocked me – I have seen some fantastic marine life when muck diving.  The most weird and wonderful creatures lurk in the muck – and in the most unlikely of locations, like this snowflake moray eel in a pile of rotting vegetation.

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To non and less experienced divers unfamiliar with muck diving, this is the name given to diving in sites that have sandy or silty conditions, sometimes with debris both natural and artificial. It is not scenic diving and in most parts of the world, you won’t find too much living in such conditions.  Within the nutrient rich waters of the coral triangle however, it is a very different story.  Due to the silty conditions, muck diving tends to attract experienced divers as it requires exceptional buoyancy control so the silt isn’t stirred up.  Muck diving also attracts macro underwater photographers due to the diversity and rareness of many creatures found on these sites. I am fortunate enough to have dived in two of the world’s top muck diving spots – both in Indonesia. So this post is for muck diving naysayers,  as well as those simply curious to find out more

Ambon

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Ambon was the last muck diving destination I visited.  It was a very special trip to celebrate a very special birthday.  My buddy and I initially had two days diving from land based resort, Maluku divers, followed by another two days on the live-aboard Amira before heading off to Raja Ampat. Ambon bay is one of the lesser known muck diving destinations, although it is very much on the muck diving map. The U-shaped bay can experience strong currents, which is great for the marine life, but this sometimes can impact visibility for divers.  Anyway, this didn’t affect any of our dives and I was very happy with what I saw.

You are more likely to see sea horses in muck conditions – the sea bed and seaweed is their natural habitat…

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A close relative of the iconic seahorse is the ornate ghost pipe fish…

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Like a lot of marine life, the ornate ghost pipe fish is a master of disguise and can change colour according to its surroundings.  This fellow thought he was safe hiding in this feather star…. can you spot him?

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and another, this time in yellow…

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Feather stars offer a refuge for a number of small marine creatures.  I managed to spot this tiny file fish…

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On one dive, our guide drew our attention to something in this feather star.  At first I couldn’t see it at all…

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With muck diving, patience is mandatory, so after a few moment observation, I saw something move – and there it was… a tiny crab beautifully disguised…

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Just as many of this creatures can blend in beautifully to their environment, others find it a bit of a challenge – one of the reasons muck diving is popular with photographers.  Here is my best selection of various rhinopias scorpionfish…

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Looking at these, it will come as no surprise that Ambon bay is famous for the numbers and diversity of rhinopias scorpionfish.  Ribbon moray eels are also very easy to spot in muck conditions…

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These days I don’t often see a first – or if I do, I am unaware of it.  This however was a first for me in Ambon – a clown snake eel – buried in the sand waiting for his next meal to swim by…

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There were many other marine creatures I saw that were beyond my Lumix point and shoot camera’s capabilities.  These included rare dragonets, including mandarin fish, whip coral critters, sea moths and a lot more.  Ambon was a hit – but four days was about right for me.  Here is the full Amira liveaboard itinerary we followed, so you can see the sites we dived:

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You can also read about my 400th dive, which was during my time in Ambon onboard the Amira. I’ll also write more about my trip on the Amira soon – Raja Ampat really is one of the very best dive locations.

Lembeh Straits

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Lembeh Straits is probably the best known of all the muck diving locations in the coral triangle. It is also home to species that simply don’t exist elsewhere in the world – like these Banggai cardinal fish in the picture above.  Lembeh Straits is also very popular, partly due to its accessibility – a direct three-hour flight from Singapore to Manado.

My buddy and I chose a budget liveaboard that was to divide its time between Bunaken and Lembeth Straits.  The reality was a couple of days reef diving off Banggai island, then four days muck diving.  Our elderly boat, the Serenade, was memorable for various reasons.  For example we had no hot water or waste water piping in the cabin bathroom, I had an ant nest in my bed and the food was pretty dreary.  We got what we paid for!

Underwater we were not disappointed – I was genuinely “wowed” by my first dives in Lembeh Straits.  This was also the first time I used my underwater housing, so please bear in mind all these images are “first attempts” at underwater photography.  Here is a small selection of what I saw that turned out “OK” to give you an idea – and again, I couldn’t capture all the tiny stuff due to the limitations of my camera…

Lacy and weedy scorpion-fish…

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Giant frog fish…

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Gurnard …

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Wasp scorpion-fish – more commonly known as a leaf fish as it imitates rotting leaves to hide from predators.  Can you see it?

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Ok – so here it is swimming away – you really can’t tell the difference until it moves…

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This is a great little film about Lembeh Straits – billed as  “The Seas’s Strangest Square Mile”…

Muck diving is not for everyone, but those that do indulge are rewarded with observing some of the most amazing creatures in the most unlikely of places. If I have tempted you, here is a great map to help you decide and plan where to go.  Enjoy! Photo credit – Underwater Asia…

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