TRIP REPORT: NORTH SULAWESI - Digital Diver Network Trip, May 2006
by Nick Ferris
Photos of the trip can be found in Nick's Gallery
In early May 2006 nine CUPS members joined past acquaintances (mostly Digital Divers) for diving in northern Sulawesi, Indonesia. This was a two-part affair, with four full days of diving the Bunaken Marine Park south of Manado, and another four muck diving the Lembeh Strait.
First stop, Bunaken Marine Park
The Bunaken diving was from the Murex dive resort near Manado, which was adequate and with good food and service. Although the place could stand some repair and updating, the several streams which ran through it made it a unique experience. The long Indonesian dive boats, powered by outboard motors, took about an hour to get out to the dive sites on calm seas. The rides were pleasant, with lunch on board. Some days there were two boat dives, other days three. The house reef was pretty good. Basically, Bunaken is reef wall diving, and the walls have a great variety of sponges and corals in all colors. We did one semi-muck dive, and one real “introductory” muck dive right next to a mall being built in the city of Manado. Not bad, but the real primo muck is at Lembeh Strait.
Over to the Lembeh Strait side
We traveled by van across northern Sulawesi to the seaport of Bitung, home to rusty ships of all sizes, in various stages of submergence. A short boat ride across Lembeh Strait brought us to the Lembeh Resort, a very nice, clean place perched on and carved into a steep jungle covered hillside. Everywhere was up or down steps, but that’s the way life is on a hillside. If you need to carry an oxygen bottle with you, don’t go. If you do not need one, get one. The food and service are great. The camera work bench building is equipped with your favorite voltage, towels, and space. Digital divers need space for their cameras, lap tops, strobes, lights, tools, batteries, and charging devices for the assortment of batteries that run all that stuff.
Our group utilized three dive boats, as at Bunaken, so there was no crowding. Across the strait is the famed Kunkungen Bay resort. Most of our dives were on that side, although nowhere near the resort. Some dives were quite near the beach, not far from small villages. Ohers began a bit deeper, with groups of no more than four divers and divemaster swimming down the slope to maybe 70 or 80 feet, then back. Water temperature was 77 to 79 degrees, vis ranged from 20 to 40 feet, and the bottom was of black volcanic sand and silt mixed with white shell fragments, small sponges and corals, palm fronds, tree branches, wrappers, cans, bottles, and other evidence of human activity.
Strange critters abound
Trash harbors a variety of strange critters, so it’s worth a look. I noted four kinds of lionfish; bandtail and devil scorpionfish; hairy filefish, dragon sea moths, and cockatoo waspfish. My vote for ugliest of them all goes to the Spiny Devilfish. Much prettier were the weedy scorpionfish and the flying gurnards (no, not the Croatian acrobatic team of the same name). Large, flat, short-tentacled anemones lay on the sand and are home to big families of aggressive saddleback anemonefish. (John D. lost a fair bit of meat to one, but gallantly stayed in action to record an inquisitive sea snake.) The juvenile many-spotted sweetlips, perhaps the most colorful of reef fish, was in the muck too, along with banded sea snakes. And many kinds of nudibranchs. I could go on, describing the bejeweled Banggai cardinalfish, octopus and the tan, green, and orange frogfish, but that would just make me want to go back.