For anyone who hasn’t dived in Asian waters you’d certainly be forgiven for never hearing the term ‘muck diving’ before and even more so for being hesitant about giving it a go (it doesn’t exactly sound inviting), but muck diving happens to be one of our favorite styles of diving here at Dive Safari Asia and we never miss the chance to take up the opportunity when we’re touring throughout the continent. From what I know there are two places which claim to be the official home of muck diving – the Lembeh Straits in Indonesia and Kimbe Bay in Papua New Guinea. Truth is these two destinations were both instrumental in developing the craze that is now enjoyed by both veteran photographers and newly experienced divers alike. All you need to appreciate muck diving is patience and a love for wildlife – that’s it.
So what do Lembeh Straits and Kimbe Bay both have in common? Well both are surrounded by volcanoes, both consist largely of black sandy bay areas and both enjoy plenty of fresh water run off from rainfall. What should also be noted is that these two locations are found in the heart of the coral triangle and have therefore enjoyed uninterrupted evolution for generations, the last Ice Age some 22,000 years ago did not effect this region now known as the coral triangle resulting in the region being the most species diverse on the planet.
It’s this combination of factors which results in the ideal conditions for muck diving. So what will you see? Firstly forget about colourful coral gardens and beautiful reefs, you won’t find them at muck diving locations, perhaps the odd coral bommie here and there but the best locations often appear baron and lifeless at first. Black sand bays often in relatively shallow and protected waters are typical, but give it time and follow your guide and things will start to appear. The result of thousands of years of evolution is that species have adapted to suit their environment in unimaginable ways, when predator and prey come up against each other it comes down to survival of the fittest and without places to hide in the reef species have had to evolve in order to stay competitive.
It could be through mimicry – for example the mimic octopus has the ability to change shape and appearance in a matter of seconds to take on the form of another species as a distraction. They can skate across the sand like a flounder which because of their shape would be very difficult for a predator to swallow, they can shape their tentacles to resemble the shape of a poisonous lionfish or simply dart into the sand and hide with only their eyes pointing out from the sand.
Nudibranchs are also commonplace whilst muck diving, these brightly coloured slugs can either be highly poisonous or at least pretend to be with incredible patterns and markings the results are still the same.
Giant frogfish can change the colouration of their skin to resemble sponges that they rest in, as ambush predators they wait still for hours at a time till an unsuspecting glass fish passes then sucks huge amounts of water throug it’s gills to consume the predator, lion fish included (see below) –
We are also very fond of species like the flamboyant cuttlefish which has incredible colouration and movement, dancing across the sand in disco like fashion, you’re also likely to see seahorses on muck dives, of all shapes and sizes. The pygmy seahorse is no bigger that a little finger nail is surely one of the cutest species you’ll find diving in Indonesia.
This is just a small sample of the the species which inhabit the waters found around muck diving locations and with patience you’ll often see them interact with one another, this is where the fun of muck diving really lies – seeing species compete as predator and prey is very exciting. Other muck diving locations include the north and east coast of Bali, Maluku in central Indonesia and many locations throughout the Philippines.