Lembeh Island sits to the east of mainland North Sulawesi from which it is separated by a long, narrow stretch of water known as the Lembeh Strait. With nicknames such as “The Critter Capital of the World” and “The Twilight Zone” expectations of rare and unusual marine life are high. Lembeh’s black sand muck diving slopes are home to some of Indonesia’s weirdest and most bizarre looking sea creatures and it’s a macro photographer’s heaven. Above water and away from the Port of Bitung the banks of the Strait boast lush green vegetation and jungle packed rolling hillsides which cascade down to the water’s edge.
Nudi Falls – This is a true combination site which offers a shallow rubble reef top, sloping reef, a vast soft coral garden in the deeper areas and a vertical wall adorned with gorgonian fans. The soft corals are home to minute colourful cowries and rhinopias scorpionfish are also spotted here. Gorgonian fans are inhabited by pygmy seahorses, anemones host both anemonefish and Banggai Cardinalfish, giant frogfish perch on the wall and, as the name suggests, there is no shortage of nudibranch. Teluk Kembahu – More commonly referred to as TK1, TK2 and TK3 these are sloping, black sand muck diving sites for which the Lembeh Strait is so well known. The dives start at 5 meters on a shallow sand flat before sloping down to around 30 metres / 100 feet. Patches of rope sponges on the slope and small bommies in the shallows attract various marine life including hairy and painted frogfish, mimic octopus, cuttlefish, stingrays and ribbon eels. Almost anything is possible at TK! Hairball – This iconic Lembeh Strait dive site is a firm favourite with macro photographers. This is a black sand site on which you find occasional sponges and natural (and unnatural) detritus. Whether it is a tree branch or a beer bottle, inspect whatever you find as it is sure to be a hotspot of critter activity. Frequent sightings here include various frogfish and octopus species, cuttlefish, seahorses and look out for stargazers when night diving. Sarena West – This sand and rubble slope to the North of Sarena Kecil is home to an array of nudibranch and goby species. The rubble patches provide numerous critters with hiding places so go slowly and look carefully. Other possible sightings here include giant frogfish, plenty of shrimp species, pygmy cuttlefish, Banggai cardinalfish and even blue ring octopus. Police Pier – This site takes its name from the nearby pier of the police station which monitors Lembeh. Anything is possible at this sloping combination site which offers sand, rubble and soft coral patches decorated with bright orange sponges. Highlights of diving here include Banggai cardinalfish, spotted barramundi cod, painted frogfish, bigfin squid, harlequin shrimp and ghost pipefish.
Lembeh is all about critters and some of the most iconic species of the Strait include hairy frogfish, mimic, coconut and wunderpus octopus, pygmy seahorses, bobbit worms, stargazers, harlequin, tiger and emperor shrimps, ghost pipefish, a plethora of nudibranch species, mandarinfish and the endemic Banggai cardinalfish. Be sure to make a night dive to see the many nocturnal species too.
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The nearest airport is Sam Ratulangi International Airport in Manado (MDC), which receives flights from Singapore as well as Bali, Jakarta and other cities in Indonesia. The port of Bitung is around a one and a half hour car drive and from there you will travel onwards either by car or by boat depending on which side of the Strait you are staying. Diving is mainly resort based and most resorts offer airport pickups.