“Lembeh” is the name of an Island, off the north east coast of Sulawesi near the town of Bitung. It is also used for the area around the straight between the two islands. Lembeh strait is a usually quiet stretch of Indo Pacific Ocean, with warm temperatures (between 25-26°C in July and August and 28-29°C for October and March). Colder waters bring more critters, though there is plenty to shoot all year round.
Dive centres are located either in Sulawesi (a bit over 1.5 hours from Manado airport) or in Lembeh island itself, taking another half an hour by boat. These ones are usually nearer from the majority of the dive-sites and can be a plus, as it makes easier for the boats to arrive earlier. Dive sites in there are limited to a number of divers (12 if I remember correctly), so the later to come either wait or move. There are, however, over 30 dive sites in the area, so plenty to choose from. The dive site division is, as far as I understood, a mean to manage the divers and locations, as all area is, pretty much good for diving and critter hunting.
The Northern part is not always accessible due to currents but when it does, it has the most nudibranchs.
The dive centres located in Sulawesi allow you to do a bit of land exploration and photography (or even to buy cigarettes or anything else you need) so you don’t feel confined. I stayed on both sides and prefer these ones. Among them, I recommend Yos Dive Lembeh, which had competent guides, roomy accommodation and superb food (to the point I needed to refrain from eating all I wanted) at a good price/quality ratio.
It is also located very near some dive sites I particularly like.
Lembeh is famous for the Bobbit worms (though there is a slightly smaller version of those in Amed, Bali), Lembeh sea dragons, Galaxea pipefishes (I believe they exist also somewhere In Bali, but I have never seen those in there), Flamboyant Cuttlefishes (also in Anilao), and the biggest Mandarin fishes you’d ever find. (I’ve seen them in Pemuteran, Amed and Anilao, and all were considerably smaller and shyer). The overall list is almost endless – surely you won’t find them all, but still more than you can possibly shoot.
Dive sites are usually shallow, meaning, bellow 25m. There are a few rock walls, but it’s mostly either sand or muck slopes. On some places there is the problem of plastic, and overall rubbish. I’m quite used to dive on such environments, but it still makes me feel bad, every now and then. As a photographer, I’m conveying an image of a beautiful creature and not really documenting the overall nuisance of being surrounded by objects I wouldn’t even reach close, if they were in land.
“Bianca” the Mandarin fish site is among those. Unfortunately most of its habitat was destroyed by dragging cables and hoses, from the boats to mainland. I hope there are still some, left.
It is also possible to do Black water diving in Lembeh, but I only tried the “Bonfire” version. Overall, there were far less critters than Tulamben – mostly being squid.
For the ones willing to combing macro diving with a bit of wide angle, several companies offer a trip to Bunaken. I heard it’s mostly about walls and a diversity of tropical fish, but I never tried it myself.
Below, some of the highlights of my Lembeh macro dive trips.