In November 2010, Jim and I made an intrepid trip to the Far East with a group of Hupsters from the Houston Underwater Photographic Society. Our last stop was Lembeh Resort. I fell in love with muck diving and Lembeh Resort. I swore I would return. Fast forward to November, 2011, and we stayed 17 days this time.
If you read my earlier post on Lembeh, “Creepy, Crawly Exotics: Diving Lembeh,” I talked about the world class muck diving. Lembeh is well known for being the muck diving capital of the world. And, that’s NOT a bad thing, it is a term coined to describe those small creatures that dwell in primarily black lava sand environments. Lembeh Resort is a Five Star resort, which means a lot coming from that part of the world. The staff and dive organization treat you like royalty, and the cottages are spacious, artfully decorated with fine wood, combined with Balinese-style open air bathrooms. I loved coming back from a night dive to shower with stars over head. And, the large, comfy king-size beds are to “die for.” For underwater photographers, the camera room is fully equip, with numerous charging stations, tables and shelves, towels tools, and plenty of room under the table to store camera bags or in my case, a large, yellow Storm cargo case. The dining room is beautifully arranged with a “happy hour” bar and a daily drink special. My only small, very small complaint was the food variety. Oh, the food was excellent if you like a foreign flavor, which most do. But for me and my stomach, I need a more placated pilate.
We embarked on this journey in style . . . we were lucky to get business class seats with miles. For these distances, our ages and my back issues, it was well worth it, albeit, going west in a roundabout way . . . Houston – Denver – Seattle – Narita (Tokyo) – Singapore – Manado (Indonesia). Our return was much easier Manado – Singapore – Narita – Houston. And the “flat bed” seats were a dream come true, at least for me. With ear plugs and an eye shield, I was able to get a reasonable good night’s sleep.
We land in Singapore at 11:55pm, Thursday, October 27, 2011. We overnighted at the Ambassdor Transit Hotel in the airport for some well needed rest. The Ambassdor Transit Hotel is a modern hotel, with variety of rooms. Our room had a 45″ flat screen TV, a nice, clean bathroom with shower, and an okay bed (not very comfortable). It was such a pleasure to awake, have a nice shower, get breakfast, and then board our Manado flight on Friday, October 28, at 9:20 a.m. With the flatbed airplane seats and the solid rest at the hotel, for once I didn’t feel like a train had just ran over me.
Our first stop is the Gardina Country Inn, which lies in the highlands of North Sulawesi, Indonesia.
Gardenia Country Inn
The resort was okay. The landscaping was beautiful with a view of the volcano, Lokon. Soon after arriving, we were told that Lokon had erupted, spewing mostly smoke. We were assured that this was a normal occurance and nothing to worry about. Still, a little daunting since there is just a heavily traveled two way road winding in the highlands to get out. The inn is located in a remote area of the highlands so its cooler, but far from any real attractions, therefore, hiring a car is necessary. It took approximately two hours to get there from the Manado Airport. Communications between Gardenia County Inn staff and guests was difficult. The food was terrible and the service was poor. It was an expensive place to stay given what your yankee dollar would bring in a land where the dollar is king. At best, the cottages were spartan but comfortable. I really would not recommend this place unless your plan involves a quiet, cool place to avoid the heat of Indonesia and your desire is to relax and read a book. It came recommended to us and it was fine for our needs since we were there to recover from the effects of jet lag, flying approximately 22 hours. Looking back now, though, because of our Business Class seats and our stay at the Ambassdor Transit Hotel, we were rested enough to get right into diving. Since returning from Indonesia, I have found a nicer place to stay if needed in Manado . . . the Sintesa Peninsula Hotel. I will utilize when we return in 2013.
Buyat Bay is part of the Lembeh Resort system but it is nothing like Lembeh Resort . . . far from it for that matter. It could easily be identified as a “scuba camp.” You see, it began with the closing of the Newmont Minahasa Raya (NMR) gold mine in 2004, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake . . . long lasting environmental damage and a host of health problems for the local communities. Local entities have filed suit and settled out of court. But, I digress, diving Buyat Bay is beautiful. The soft corals flow in the waning and waxing current due to tidal surges. It is a wide angle haven for the underwater photographer. We were driven to a dock on the southern side of North Sulawesi, there we loaded on a diving boat, and dove our way back to the camp. There are cottages scattered around the camp with a main dining area. The air con cottages have a bathroom but without soap and only one towel per person. Buyat Bay was not for me, but in all fairness, the other divers there and my husband loved it as well as the divers who had been before and were now at Lembeh Resort.
The only dive I did was beautiful, and I did get some nice reef shots with an abundance of feather stars, tiny reef fish, and an occasional Imperial Angel Fish. In the Indo-Pacific, feather stars are one of the most visible members of the reef community. They thrive where the reef is subject to periodic strong currents.
Diving Lembeh Straits
Lembeh Resort is under the management of Gizmo and Helen Guillermo. Upon returning for our second visit, we immediately noticed a pleasant change in the environment. A home away from home atmosphere where staff welcomes you with a huge smile and seems to remember your first name. The dining area has been remodeled and improved greatly with a nice bar for a happy hours. It just has that nice, warm feel. We were there for 17 days, and that feeling never went away.
Critters@Lembeh is the dive facility at Lembeh Resort, operated by Kerri Bingham and Hergen Spalink. I would have to rate this diving facility the BEST. Jim and I have been diving all over the world, and there has never been a dive operation run as professional, efficient and safe as Critters@Lembeh. I contributed that to the managers, Kerri and Hergen, and their dive staff and dive guides, who are friendly and very helpful. We were always greeted with a smile on their faces, and big “Good Morning.” I felt like an old friend who had just been away for a long time. When you first arrive, you are asked to fill out a diving information form, with a “wish list” of the critters you want to see and photograph and/or video. I mentioned that I was interested in snoot photography, and Hergen gave me a short but powerful presentation of how to do “snoots.” As Keri Wilk stated in his article, “Snoots are devices used to reduce beam angles from light sources in order to provide photographers with more control over the illumination of their subjects. In their simplest form, they can be no more complicated than conical or cylindrical pieces of tubing which attach to the front of light sources.” I like snoots to achieve a more creative effect.
When we were here before, I had written on my wish list that I wanted to photograph a mimic octopus. At the time, that wish was never granted. But, this time, on my last day of diving, I got the mimic. Towards the end of the second dive, Ramley, our trusted dive guide, found him. You see these guys bury themselves in the sand so they are most difficult to find.
Mimics are the master of disguise . . . if threatened they will take the form of other marine animals to scare off a potential predator. I’m watching “Fringe,” where they are in pursuit of a shape shifter. The mimic is a shape shifter. If it is being chased by a damselfish then the octopus would take the shape of a banded sea snake by changing its color black and white, retracting his six arms and using the other two in a straight line to resemble the snake. You ask . . . why a sea snake? Sea snakes are one of the main predators of a damselfish. What’s so cool about all this . . . the little octopi can “mimic” approximately 15 different species, such as the flounder, lionfish, sea snake, brittle stars, sea shells, giant crabs, stingrays, jellyfish, sea anemones and mantis shrimp.
All Cephalopods changes color and texture of their skin for camouflage. The mimic octopus, which was recently discovered in 1998, has the remarkable ability to impersonate other marine life. I have seen the mimic change colors, dark brown to white, in seconds, when he thought I was a threat.
Mantis Shrimp: The Thumb Splitter
Mantis are neither shrimp nor mantis. They get their name merely from their physical appearance. Their front claws and standing position is similar to a terrestrial praying mantis and their tail resembles a shrimp. All mantis shrimp are carnivores. They can reach a length of 12 in. (30 cm). Those large claws in the front are well suited to preying on a variety of crustaceans. The Australians call them ”prawn killers” and now they are sometimes referred to as “thumb splitters” — because of the animal’s ability to inflict painful gashes if you are not watchful of your hand. Our dive guide uses his fingers to entice them out but watch out because they can take out the thumb in a blink of the eye. It was so exciting to get a mantis with eggs. These are the strangest creatures, with their very large eyes that rotate in different directions much like the chameleon.
Froggie, the Flyfisher of the Deep
Frogfish have a stocky appearance, often covered with bumpy, bifurcated spinules. Frogfish live generally on the ocean floor around coral or rock at most up to 100 meters (330 ft) deep. The interesting thing about frogfish is their ability, almost, uncanny, way they hunt (fish).
The unusual appearance of the frogfish is designed to conceal it from predators and sometimes to mimic a potential meal to its prey. The camouflage is an important defense against predators as well as a way to ambush prey. They often resemble bits of algae or sponges. They lie in wait for a potential dinner to swim by. And, here lies their secret . . . much like the fly fisherman’s flies, they have a “lure,” which protudes from the frontal features. This lure often looks like a shrimp/bait. The frogfish wangles the lure to attract a fish. With a blink of the eye, the fish is gone, eaten by the frogfish. I have seen a video of a giant frogfish eating a full size flounder. Size does NOT matter.
Is It A Pipefish or a Seahorse?
Pipefish are a species of fish in the Syngnathidae family, which also is occupied by seahorses. As with seahorses, the male pipefish is equipped with a specialized “brood pouch.” The female will deposit her eggs in the male’s pouch, where they will be developed. The male will later give birth. Its interesting . . . what would it be like if human males were the bearer of children? I believe we would have much less people in the world?
In photography, I am always a “day late” as the saying goes. Let me explain myself . . . it took a long time to finally get to Indonesia, the mecca of underwater photography. So by the time I got my photos of the many species of marine life, everyone else had a notch up on me. When I got the mantis shrimp, everyone else got the mantis shrimp with eggs. This trip to the Far East, I was able to get the mantis with eggs, and the banded pipefish with eggs. So whenever I photograph something really cool, I find dozens of photos already posted on Flickr on the same subject. Its hard to find an angle/subject that no one else has photographed.
Since the flamboyant cuttlefish alluded me in November 2010, one of my goals was to photograph this elusive creature. The Pfefferi’s Flamboyant Cuttlefish is a subspecies of the Cepholopoda Class, sharing its pedigree with squid, octopi and nautilus. This small creature of approximately 3 inches is highly toxic. As a matter of fact, its saliva contains a bacterially-produced neurotoxins, much like the blue-ring octopus, and just as deadly. And, that is just another reason why it is so important to watch where you rest you hands/body on the sand. Actually, you should strive to practice good bouyancy control while diving in Lembeh, or any other place for that matter. To get that “notch up,” I was looking for the Flamboyant Cuttlefish eggs, in hopes that I could capture the hatching of these miniscule occupiers. The female is known to lay her eggs in abandoned coconut shells to protect her precious cargo from predators. The dive guide and myself must have looked under just about every coconut shell we could find. My new goal for 2013 when I return to Lembeh . . . you guess it . . . photographing hatching flamboyant cuttlefish eggs. Oh, and don’t forget the blue-ring octopus. I did manage to get a juvenile flamboyant cuttlefish with its mom.
Gallery of Exotics
I thought I would end this post with a gallery of some of the exotic creatures and fish you might find in the waters off Lembeh Straits.
And, here’s a short video by Jim Heimer about the mating of the coconut octopus.