Lembeh Island (and the Lembeh Strait), or Pulau Lembeh in Indonesian Language is situated off the Eastern Tip of North Sulawesi Province (Propinsi Sulawesi Utara), on Sulawesi Island (formerly Celebes Island), Indonesia.

Lembeh Island itself is not of much interest to tourists, almost every tourist who visits here is interested in SCUBA Diving, more specifically almost everyone is interested in macro underwater photography.

NAD-Lembeh Housereef

People travel here to shoot photographs of amazing underwater creatures such as Mimic Octopus, Blue Ringed Octopus and Hairy Frogfish.  The Lembeh Straits are also very famous for Pygmy Seahorses and 4 different species have been spotted here in the past (H. bargibanti, H. denise,  H. pontohi, H. severensi).

Dives in Lembeh are typically nice long dives in the (usually) calm waters of the straits.  Here the substrate is usually Black Sand, especially in the bays.  On the headlands you also find rocky/coral divesites which provide wideangle opportunities for those interested.  Angels Window and California Dreaming are some of the more interesting sites to visit for non-mucky things.

The Lembeh Strait is also famous for people carrying pointing sticks, pokey sticks, Lembeh Sticks or whatever else you want to call them.  In the right hands these are invaluable tools for trained guides to coax unusual critters out of their hiding place for the divers to take photographs.  It is imperative that the animals are put back to where they came from to avoid stress (and the running off).  Animals that have been stressed move, so it is difficult to find them again on your next dive (People often want to revisit a site to get better pictures). Whichever Operator you dive with, in any muck dive environment; please remind the guides to ensure the critters are well looked after. 🙂

Photographic Etiquette is also an important thing on Muck Dives.  Often First Timers are so over-whelmed that they end up taking 200 photos on a single dive. A better way would be to take less photos, but better quality ones.  During your stay if you feel you are ‘machine gunning’ the critters with your flash please feel free to ask some of the staff / management for advise on how to get some better shots.  Excessive flashing has not been proven to kill critters, but it certainly cannot do them any good – with upto 9 boats a day hitting some sites, for sure the fish get a headache! So remember:  Stop, Look, Think, Shoot!  No one needs 10+ photos of the same frogfish in the same position using the same settings. 🙂

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Here are a few more Lembeh tips:

  • Black Sand / Silt is very annoying for photography when it has been stirred up, so try to keep a head down, fins up position when moving around between the critters.  Also, if you rest on the sand to shoot a photograph, please use your Buoyancy to get yourself back up into the water column (breathing/inflating BCD a little), rather than kicking.
  • Be nice to your Buddies! If someone is taking a photo and you want to take a look, by all means go ahead, but dont swim over the top and kick sand onto the subject (it sounds silly but you’d be suprised how often it happens!)
  • Photographic Etiquette also includes sharing the critters found by your guides, if you think you want to spend a long time with a subject, maybe take a few snaps so you have a record of the critter then let everyone else take some picture, and then return to finish off your set. This can be difficult if the animal is at depth, feel free to discuss your requirements with the Management or your guide in order to get the best experience you can.
  • A Grey Area – what if you found the critter and not your guide?! Finders Keepers? We’ll leave that one for you to discuss on the boat with your fellow divers!
  • There have been occasions when guides from another boat have been a bit naughty and encouraged a diver to leave his current critter and catch up with the rest of the group.  We do not believe in this practise and encourage you to hold your ground until you are finished (without hogging of course!).  If you are reading this and are thinking ‘hey, a guide from NAD did that to me!’ Then please contact us.
  • Non Photographers like to see things too!  Please give non photographers some time with the critters before taking photos – they have a short attention span and swim off to the next critter quite quickly.  Non Photographers are the strangest critters in Lembeh, they just swim around and enjoy watching the fish.
  • Lembeh has some beautiful Corals formations and Algae / Marine Plants.  Please encourage your guides to behave responsibly round them, and also mind your fins when in these areas.  Even boring algae serves a purpose on the top of the sand, it’s a place for newly settled frogfish to hide!

Diving and Underwater Photography is a really great way to meet new friends, these points above are not rules, just recommendations to help you get the best out of your holiday both socially and photographically.