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Most people only think of North Sulawesi as having muck diving - but in fact there are spectacular reefs to be found surrounding all the islands in the region, and even Lembeh Straits has some spectacular reefs! While most people want to partake in muck diving, don't neglect the reef dives, as they are fabulous too!

The majority of Lembeh Straits' muck dives can be found on the western side of the channel, flanking the mainland shore, particualrly at the northern end of the channel. A series of indented bays, with small rocky headlands between as the norm. Most of the dive sites do look very similar; the bays consist of gently sloping sand, silt and rubble, often with small patches of coral dotted about. Small village communuties are found on each bay, and the children take great delight in splashing about in the shallows as you surface from your dive! Little do they know what treasures lie hidden beneath the waves! Most of the dives start in very shallow water, a few feet deep, and progres down to 70-80ft; simple easy diving with a safe profile, where you start shallow, go deep and then move horizontally along the seafloor and back up into the shallows again. Different dive sites offer different delights, but they all have a few common traits. Vast expanses of sand and silt cover the seafloor, and from this sprout small heads or coral or sponges, all patches of weed and sea grass. Anemones dot the sand here and there, and are home to a variety of clownfish, Bangaai cardinalfish and porcelain crabs. Any old bit of junk (usually a fish catching pot or similar) is festonned with algae, sponges and weeds, and home to lionfish, moray eels and pipefish. Look closely and you will find nudibranchs, stargazers, Ambon scorpionfish, snake eels and a wealth of other critters. Frogfish are hard to spot and are often found hiding amongst sponges and on old pieces of rope. Sea cucumbers and starfish will be home to commensal shrimp - lift them gently off the bottom and turn them over and you will often find them scuttling about. It's all close up and personal in the Lembeh Straits, so it is vital to have your bouyancy correct, and float just above the seafloor. Any over exuberant kicking of fins will stir up the silt and make visibility reduce considerably! Don't expect to see swiring schools of barracuda, sharks and other larger reef fish - they're simply not here!

Dive sites such as Hairball 1 & 2 are home to snake eels, stargazers, dragonets, frogfish, flambouyant cuttlefish and seahorses, that can be found nestling in the small patches of weed that sprout from the sand. Teluk Kembahu 2 has a flank of dead coral and rubble and in the early evening is a sure place to find the exotic rhinopias eschmeyeri, or paddleflap scorpionfsh, sitting on a rocky outcrop and gently rocking from side to side in the gentle current. Look amongst the rubble and you will find exquisite mandarin fish enjoying a love dance with their mates!

These are predominatly on the eastern side of the channel, flanking the shores of Lembeh Island. A steep coral drop-off flanks the shoreline, bedecked in a variety of hard and soft corals, sponges and seafans. Here the visibilty is much better than on the mainland side, often reaching 100ft. Schools of small reef fish such as snapper, fairy basslets and anthias swirl along the reef margins, and seafans are home to hawkfish and gobies.

Angel's Window is perhaps the most famous and beautiful reef dive on Lembeh Island. A twin-peaked pinnacle that comes to within a few feet of the surface, it has a large cave running through it which is covered in soft corals and seafans, home to red bigeyes. A sandy patch near the shallower entrance is home pygmy seahorses and orang utan crabs. The top of the pinnacle is festoned with anemones, full of clownfish and other critters. California Dreaming is another fantastic dive site. A seamount rising from the coral wall, the outer side is completely covered in soft corals and seafans, and is without a doubt the most colourful dive site in Lembeh. Amongst the corals can be found frogfish, boxer crabs, squat lobsters, harlequin shrimps, nudibranchs and pygmy seahorses. One of the highlights of this dive is solar powered nudibranch, a particularly ornate creature with large appendages that sprout from its back, in which photosynthetic algae live. The occasional pelagic fish can be seen cruising the open water; look out for eagle rays and tuna.

We're including here the dive sites of Bangka & Gangga Islands as well as the sites found along the far north-eastern tip of mainland Sulawesi. While there are a few muck dives, the sites here are predominantly reef dives; walls, pinnacles, shallo patch reefs etc. Here the visibility is greatly improved over that to be found in Lembeh, with clear, nutrient rich water welling up from the deep on both sides of the islands. Again, don't expect larger fish (though they do occasionally appear!), this is mainly reef diving and critters associated with them.

The most famous site is perhaps Batu Mandi (sometimes called Pulisan), on the mainland opposite Bangka Island. A large rock outcrop, offshore from a sandy bay, that breaks the surface at low tide, with a steep outer side, Batu Mandi is covered in a wealth of soft corals and seafans, hard coral formations and sponges. In the rubble at the top can be found anemones, blue-ringed octopus, a variety of scorpionfish, ghost pipefish, frogfish and large cuttlefish. The drop-off is a sure place to find pygmy seahorse, more frogfish, and at night, massive basket stars and fat juicey Spanish Dancers. You can also find Pontohi seahorses here, which are even smaller than pygmy seahorses and look like little bits of weed. This dive site affords underwater photographers the opportunty for both macro and wide angle photography. Just along the shoreline from Batu Mandi is Tanjung Slop, a small wall completely bedecked in sponges and soft corals. The shallow sandy area at the base of the wall is home to solar-powered nudibranchs, cuttlefish and anemones, while on the wall itself you will find a variety of nudibranchs, pygmy frogfish, crustaceans, and gobies. A macro photographers delight! To the east is Paradise Beach, a wonderful muck dive. Nestling in the sand you can find dozens of baby sting rays, mimic octopus, wonderpus, nudibranchs, scorpionfish, lionfish and anemones and their associated beasties. A jetty from the shoreline is a fantastic place to spot ghost pipefish, Ambon scropionfish, crustaceans etc. The visibility is never very good here, but the wealth of critters make up for it!

On the south coast of Bngka Island is Sahaung 1, a series of rocky outcrops that run out from a small headland. The soft corals on this dive are amazing, perhaps the finest in the area. Here you can find large schools of barracuda, jacks and beautiful four-line snapper, herds of bumphead parrotfish and out in the blue, rainbow runner and tuna. Amongst the corals can be found sea snakes, pygmy seahorses and nudibranchs. The week prior to my visit they saw a dugong! (Just my luck!) Nearby is Sahaung 2, a coral pinnacle that juts up 100ft from the sefloor to within inches of the surface. Here can be found orang utan crabs, pygmy seahorses, so enormous stonefish and a wealth of anemones, clownfish and procelein crabs.

On the east side of Bangka Island is Batu Gosoh, a series of large pinnacles with small caves and crevices, covered in sponges and corals. Strong currents often swirl along the reef slope, and can make the diving a little challenging at times! Visibility here is usually excellent and afords you the opportunity to enjoy wide ranging vistas; out in the blue you can foten see schools of barracuda, tuna and rays. Closer in, look out for cuttlefish, ghost and robust ghost pipefish, nudibranchs, frogfish and orang utan crabs.

Gangaa Island has an excellent house reef directly off the beach. Beautful hard coral formations of every description, but particularly staghorn corals, dominate the reef, but the best thing here is the multitude of anemone varieties and their associated clownfish; saddleback, tomato, Eastern skunk and Sebae clownfish, pink and clown anemone fish - they're all here! It's an easy shallow dive that is acessible from the shore! Round the corner on the western side of the island is a wide sand chute between two areas of hard coral that on the face of it looks like nothing in particular! But this area is probably the best place in the whole Manado region to find flamboyant cuttlefish, with their amzing pulsing colour schemes! You can see 5 or 6 grouped together on one dive!

In this section we're including the dive sites around Bunaken Island and nearby Manado Tua, Mantehage and Siladen. The Bunaken National Marine Park was set up in 1991 to protect the reefs and marine life of this area, and there are ongoing reef conservation projects to maintain the area. Bunaken itself is a low lying coral island surrounded by shallow fringing reefs and steep walls. Due to the surrounding deep water the visibility is usually excellent, particularly on the walls themselves, and here you have a good chance of seeing turtles, schools of barracuda, jacks etc, the occasional shark (but don't count on it!) and rays. The reefs themselves are home to all your typical tropical fish, from anthias and basslets to butterflyfish and anglefish. Look close up and you will find a host of the usual critters that make this area so famous, including nudibranchs, a variety of seahorse species, ornate ghost pipefish, frogfish of varying sizes and colours, snake eels, Mandarin fish, cockatoo waspfish, leaf fish etc. Anemones and their resident clownfish are particularly prevelant along the tops of the walls. Manado Tua is an extinct volcano and surrounded by a shallow fringing reef that then plunges sheer to hundreds of feet. Various dive sites are dotted along the reef, though they do offer similar experiences. Sheer walls are covered in sponges and seafans, disected by crevices, caves and cuts; nn the walls you will find well camouflaged scorpionfish, butterflyfish, anglefish, schooling triggerfish, morays lurking in holes and turtles sleeping on ledges. The wide angle photographioc opportunites here are excellent, and split shots with reef below and the volcano above are possible on calm days.


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