Lembeh, Indonesia - many pics & report

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Posted by Jim Lyle on June 04, 2008 at 06:36:38:

More Muck – a return to Lembeh Resort – May 2008


"Bang, bang, bang"…the sound of metal against a dive tank reverberated through the water. The divers looked up to see what all the fuss was about. The normally sedate dive guides were vigorously motioning, come here, look at this! Finally, one of the rare octopus that we had come to see put in his/her appearance. The photographers adjusted their strobes, and took turns lighting up the bottom, trying to get that once-in-a-lifetime image. There are two, recently described, famous species of octopus in Lembeh Strait, the Wonderpus and the Mimic Octopus. We came halfway around the world to see them and all the other wonderful & weird creatures.

The mimic octopus often imitates other sea creatures when threatened. One such act involves pretending to be a flounder – hoping that whatever eats octopi won't eat flounders. At least that's the theory.

I know you would rather look at pictures, so I'll intersperse the text so you won't get bored.

The resort – 14 rooms in ten bungalows, situated above a picturesque cove. There's a restaurant, dive shop, camera room, and gear storage. The staff is friendly and efficient. Rooms are spacious, air-conditioned, en suite outdoor shower, no phone, no television. Wi fi is available for a modest fee – internet is slow, but sufficient for reading your email. (Just tell the boss, you will be out of the country and can't be reached.)

My Rig – Olympus E-330 dslr in an Ikelite housing with dual Ikelite DS-125 strobes, Zuiko lenses. I found the 50mm be the lens of choice for muck diving in Indonesia. Most of the critters are small and there are not a lot of opportunities for wide angle. A "Woody's diopter" was helpful for taking pictures of the really small.

Clark's anemonefish (Amphiprion clarkia)

Pink anemonefish (Amphiprion perideraion)

Juvenile star puffer (Arothron stellatus)

Juvenile brown-banded bamboo shark (Chiloscyllium punctatum()

This was our second trip to Lembeh. We were there last October for only one week; it wasn't enough. My photo mentor, RogerC, won a trip to Minahasa Resort on Sulawesi and was extending his stay with a week in Lembeh Resort. Deborah and I talked it over and decided to join them in Lembeh; we were going for two weeks! I called Sue Pantle at Uncommon Adventures and we were booked!


Previous trip report URL.
Click here.

Banggai cardinalfish (Pterapogon kaudemi). These beautiful cardinalfish are not native to Lembeh; they were introduced to the area when smugglers of illegal aquarium fish dumped them during an arrest. They are now common in the area.

Juvenile barramundi (Cromileptes altivelis)

"You can't see me!" Yeah, right.

Jim's underwater photo tip - In the Dark Age of Film, an underwater photographer could take no more than 36 exposures on a dive. Now, with digital cameras and cheap memory, you are virtually unlimited in the number of pictures you can take on a dive. If you should fill a memory card, you can even delete images on the fly. So, "shoot until your finger bleeds." – Even a blind squirrel finds a nut, now and then. It's better to be lucky than good.

Roger says, "…some say deleting images can cause failure of the card. Your camera is writing to a fat drive, but it doesn't have as robust a file system brain as a real computer does. Best to format the card in the camera at the start of every run; write your images to it read them in the computer, back them up in the computer, then start over and format the card and go again. Don't delete in the camera, even back on the surface.

Juvenile Batavia spadefish (Platax batavianus)

Bloch's bigeye (Priacanthus blochii)

Boarding the dog at our daughter's, leaving people to care for the horse, we locked the doors to the house. Scott (seniorweeb) graciously dropped us off in front of Tom Bradley Terminal at LAX for our midnight flight to Singapore. Once in Singapore, we took the free city tour, ate our fill of vegetarian Indian food, spent the night at the transit hotel, and flew to Manado the next morning. All our luggage was waiting on the conveyor belt when we got through the long immigration line (big grin). We were met by a representative of LR, who hustled our bags through customs and outside the airport.

Someone behind me said, "Hello, Jim!" Hey! It was Andy Sallmon! You've seen his underwater pictures on the covers of dive magazines! I want to be Andy when I grow up. He was on his way to LR for a few days before meeting a group for a trip on the live-aboard Pendito. It's a small world.

Andy's web site – www.seait.com

Juvenile yellow boxfish (Ostracion cubicus)

Intermediate stage yellow boxfish.

Box crab with eggs (Calappa Calappa)

Clown crab (Lissocarcinus laevis()

The van ride to the Police Pier in Bitung took a couple of hours, but seemed like minutes as Andy and we swapped dive tales. The boat from the resort transferred us and the bags across the Strait to LR. We filled out our registration cards, unpacked, and put the cameras together in anticipation of the next day's diving. We went to bed early, jet lagged, but were up before dawn. Coffee and breakfast were quickly consumed and we suited up for the dive briefing. A trio from Switzerland (Giovanni, Paola, and Rosella) joined Andy, Deborah, and me on our dive boat. Six divers and two dive guides, first class operation!

Boxer crab (Lybia tessellate(). Maintains small anemones on its claws for defense.

Longfin grouper (Epinephelus quoyanus()

The ugly

Stargazer snake eel (Brachysomophis cirrocheilos)

Whitemargin stargazer (Uranoscopus sulphureus) Lies buried in the sand, waiting for it's prey to swim by.

Napoleon snake eel (Ophichthus bonaparti()

Ambon scorpionfish (Pteroidichthys amboinensus) Bad hair day?

Cowries and allied cowries (Cypraea sp)

Egg cowrie (Calpurnus versucosis)

Cypreea vilelus

Crenavolva rosewateri?

Boat diving is scheduled for 8:00, 11:00, and 2:30. Shore diving on the house reef can be done at any time. Night boat dives and the guided Manarinfish dive are extra. Typically, there is one dive guide for every three divers. The dive sites are generally close to the resort, 5-15 minutes. The boat returns to the resort after each dive. Nitrox (EAN 32%) is available for a fee. Shore diving on the house reef is excellent.

Cowrie & shrimp. I didn't see the shrimp when I took the picture!

Phenacovolva rosea

Cypraea tigris


Jim's underwater photo tip - Get close; when you think you are close enough, get closer. The subject should fill the frame. The less water between the lens and the subject, the better, for lighting and clarity.

Stenopus hispidus

Trapezia sp

How many crabs can you find in this picture?

Crinoid shrimp (Periclimenes amboinensis()

Muck Diving

Lembeh Strait is famous for its "muck diving." It really isn't "muck," more like black sand. A typical dive starts in the shallows and meanders down a sand slope looking for little stuff – nudibranchs, crabs, frogfish, crustaceans, octopus, etc. There is some structure on the bottom, rubble, small coral heads, and even some nice coral reefs in shallow. What makes Lembeh special is the number of species. It is theorized that the last ice age wiped out many species further from the equator, but they survived in Indonesian waters. The tidal flow, in and out of the strait, brings nutrients to a whole host of very strange critters, some of which are found no where else.

Jim's underwater photo tip – Underexpose images that have open water in the background to give darker blue water. Adjust the f-stop/shutter-speed or preset EV to -2.0. [Images that don't have open water backgrounds will be lit by the strobe and EV should be ~0.]

Here are some images of Deborah mucking it up.

"Here it is!" "Very small."


The dive guides point out interesting critters for the divers while they look for new ones. The dive circuit, wanders back up the slope before leveling off in shallow water for a "safety stop." Bottom times are normally one-hour+.

Some dive sites are coral reefs, as opposed to black sand. Other sites have both coral and muck to explore.

Emperor shrimp on sea cucumber (Periclimenes imperator)

Flamboyant cuttlefish (Metasepia pfefferi)

Peacock sole (Pardachirus pavoninus)

Kai sole (Aseraggodes kaianus)

Many Frogfish (AKA anglefish)

Painted frogfish (Antennarius pictus)

"How do you say, papaya, in Indonesian?"
The dive guide, Paulus, grins and says, "Papaya."

Juvenile freckled frogfish (Antennarius coccineus) Very small!

"you can't see me."

Soft coral ghostgoby (Pleurosicya boldinghi)

Pleurosicya micheli?

Large whip goby (Bryaninops amplus)

Pink squat lobster (Lauriea sidgiani)

Jim's underwater photo tip – Don't be afraid of shooting "manual." In manual mode, you are in charge, not the camera's tiny brain. Review your images on the LCD and adjust the settings as needed. Remember, you can take lots of pictures.

Halimeda crab – "You can't see me!

Harlequin shrimp (Hymenocera picta(). These bizarre looking shrimp eat starfish. They are very photogenic.

How's the food? Wonderful - pretty much describes it. Breakfast is a buffet, with traditional Western offerings. Lunch is buffet style, often including spicy local dishes and unusual vegetables. While at lunch, you select your dinner choice from the menu. Dinner is served in three courses, appetizer, main meal, and dessert, lots of tasty choices.

Threadfin hawkfish (Cirrthichthys aprinus()

Jim's underwater photo tip – Nitrogen makes you stupid. Become familiar with your camera before you take it in the water.

Hermit crab (Dardanus sp)

Leaf scorpionfish (Taenianotus triacanus)

Common lionfish (Pterios volitans)

Panulirus versicolor

Mandarin fish – these colorful, little fish mate at night. The female selects a male from several suitors and they join together in a few brief seconds, floating motionless above the coral, before quickly releasing eggs and sperm into the water column and then dashing back into the coral. Last October we saw a lot of activity on our madarinfish dive and I got a few lucky images of the action. This trip, I was disappointed, only a few pairs put on a display for me and I was not quick enough to capture any useful images.

Mandarinfish (Synchiropus splendidus)

Mantis shrimp (Odontodactylus scyllarus()

With eggs!

Jim's underwater photo tip – Reread Jim Church's book on underwater composition before each dive trip; it's a classic and reinforces the importance of composition in good images (Rule of thirds, importance of eye focus, room for movement, negative space, etc.)

The famous Octopi of Lembeh, Mimic and Wonderpus.

Mimic octopus (Octopus sp)

They're not very big.

Wonderpus (Octopus sp)

White-eyed moray eels (Siderea thysoidea()

Mushroom coral pipefish (Siokunighthus nifrolineatus()

The "cute factor." Everyone loves Nemo.

False clownfish (Amphiprion ocellaris)

Not so cute. If you look closely in the following image, you can see a parasite inside the anemonefish's mouth. This may be a tongue-replacing isopod, Cymothoa sp. The parasite attaches inside the mouth, the fish's tongue atrophies, and the isopod attaches itself in same place, virtually replacing the tongue. Yuck!

…and seahorses.

Common seahorse (Hippocampus taeniopterus)

Thorny seahorse (Hippocampus hystrix)

Nudibranchs – " I confess, I am a nudiphile; I love nudibranchs, aka seaslugs. For those of us who love seaslugs, you can't ask for more than a place that has dive sites named, nudi falls, and nudi retreat.

Nudibranchs are often colorful; come in a variety of shapes and sizes; and have interesting sex lives. There's a very nice article in the June 2008 National Geographic magazine about nudibranchs, with great images by David Doubilet.

Chromodoris hintantuensis

Chromodris magnifica

Glossodoris atromarginata

Mexichromis multituberculata

Phyllodesmium crypticum One of the "solar nudibranchs."

Nembrotha purpureolineata

Most mornings, we were wakened by the Phut-phut bird (aka the "rain bird"). "Pu-pu-pu-pu-pu-pu-pu-pu." (Centropus bengalensis(). Sure enough, it would rain later in the day.

Chromodoris geometrica Note the orange protrusions near the gills; these are the eggs masses of a parasitic copepod.

Tritoniopsis elegans

Glossodoris cincta

Phyllodesmiun rudmani Another "solar nudibranch" – feeds on the soft coral it ressembles.

Nembrotha spp

Nembrotha kubryana

Chromodoris lochi

Armina sp Nocternal, eats seapens

Chromodris magnifica

Nembrotha sp

Halgerda batangas

Flabellina rubrolineata

Thorunna daniellae

"Two by two."

Risbecia tryoni

Chromodris magnifica

Jim's underwater photo tip – Shoot up; shooting down on the subject produces flat, less interesting images.

Nembrotha purpureolineata formerly Nembrotha rutilans

Ceratosoma trilobatum

Sex - Seaslugs are hermaphroditic, each animal is both male and female. The sexual organs are located on the right side of the head. To copulate, two nudibranchs align themselves alongside each other, facing in opposite directions.

Nembrotha purpureolineata formerly Nembrotha rutilans

Pteraeolidia ianthina

Risbecia tryoni

Ceratosoma trilobatum

Hypselodoris maritime?

Dive guides - these guys are amazing. They are unbelievably good at finding the critters you want to see and photograph. We dove with Paulus, Gayus, Opo, Semuel, Joni, Abner, and several others – all fantastic. If you tell them what you want to see, they will try their best to deliver; we would not have seen 99% of the critters without them. While Lembeh is a target rich environment for weird critters, many of them are hard to see, even when out in plain sight.

Dive crew – invisible…just there, doing their jobs. Water, fruit at end of each dive.




Robust ghost pipefish (Solenostomus sp)

Ornate ghost pipefish (Solenostomus paradoxus)

Three-spot squirrelfish (Sargocentron cornutum)

Jim's underwater photo tip – Don't waste time u/w deleting images from the card; you can do that later. Just take more shots. Remember, "shoot until your finger bleeds?" Of course, if you fill your card, you might want to make some more room.

Misc pipefish

Coryoichthys sp

Newly described pipehorse (Kyonemichthys rumengani) About 20mm long – looks like a thread.

Porcelain crab (Neopetrolisthes maculates)

"La, la, la, la…!" Puffer (Diodon sp)

Pygmy seahorses - several years ago, any picture of a pygmy seahorse would win any photo contest it was entered in. That was back in the day when they were first discovered and thought to be rare. Nowadays, they are known to be much more common and anyone who travels to tropical waters can take their pictures. The problem is pygmy seahorses are really tiny – some the size of a grain of rice (Roger says, "orzo."). Depth of field is very narrow when doing ultra macro many images will be out of focus. The pygmies are also shy and turn away from the camera. On this trip, I decided not to go for full frame shots that most people try to take, but to back off and show you what they really look like.

Where's Waldo?

Shrimpfish or razorfish (Aeoliscus strigatus)

Rhinopias eschmeyeri

Ribbon eel (Rhinomuraena quaesita() Male.

At about 85 cm, male ribbon eels change sex to become females (protandrous hemaphrodites). The females are rarely seen.

I never realized how long the ribbon eels are! This was a tough shot for the 50mm macro lens.

Shortfin lionfish (Dendrochirus brachypterus()

Jim's underwater photo tip – Become a good diver. Good buoyancy skills will make you a better u/w photog. When you leave a subject, do so slowly, rise above the bottom, move away slowly. Don't kick the reef or blast off creating a sandstorm for the next photographer, or, worse, blasting the little subject off the bottom.

Squat anemone shrimp (Thor ambionensis)

Periclimenes brevicarpus

Periclimenes kororensis "You can't see me!"


One morning before breakfast Deborah, Judy, and I were sitting on the veranda when everything began to shake. Being from Southern California, we unanimously shouted, "earthquake." It was quickly over and we speculated the magnitude – "Felt like a 4." "No, more like a 3." Roger was doing a shore dive. Later, when he emerged from the camera room, I asked him if he felt the earthquake. "Is that what that was?" He, very much, heard and felt the quake. He said it sounded as if a large boat had started up its engines over his head. Roger says, "no: a large ship, a supertanker. Barroooom."

After arriving home, Roger looked it up. The earthquake was magnitude 5.1 and was centered sixty miles east of our location.

Sea snake – Yes, they are poisonous. No, I'm not afraid of them; they have small mouths.

Blacksaddle snake eel (Ophichthus cephalozona) with a shrimp on its nose.

Commensal shrimp (Periclimenes soror) on sea stars

A baby reef squid – less than an hour old. Paulus found a detached squid egg that was open. Some of the eggs had already "hatched." As we watched, another squid was born. It was the same size and color of this one.

Patterns in nature. Starfish, up close.


"Stringbean." Some sort of vine snake outside our bungalow.

Juvenile sweetlips – always in motion, difficult to photograph

Crinoid shrimp (Periclimenes amboinensis)

My friend, Leslie Harris, is a marine worm researcher at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History. Leslie, these are for you!


Commensal polychaete worm on sea star (Asterophilic carlae)

Scale worm (Gastrolepidia clavigera)

Although resembling nudibranchs, the next three images are of flatworms.

Pseudobiceros sp?

Acoela - small flatworms on bubble coral. Leslie calls these pumpkin worms.

Jim's underwater photo tip – Don't chase the fish! You will only wind up with uninteresting fish-butt shots. Be patient, move slowly, take your first shots from further away and gradually decrease the distance between you and the fish, taking more pictures as you get closer. Did I mention, get closer?

Zebra lionfish (Dendrochirus zebra)

"You can't see me!" Xeno crabs on sea whips. (Xenocarcinus sp)

Commensal shrimp (Dasycaris sp)

Vir phillipinensis on bubble coral.

Zebra crab on a fire urchin (Astropyga radiate)

Jim's underwater photo tip - When you see something in your viewfinder that looks like a picture from "National Geographic," push the button!

Juvenile ornate ghost pipefish (Solenostomus paradoxus)

I want to go back!

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