Larry Smith -- A recent event, which was immense fun, was a return visit by our friend Larry Smith, who was staying for the last week of October. Having pioneered many of the sites in the strait and with his great enthusiasm, I give him full credit as the founding father of Lembeh diving as it has come to be known. Larry brought his great luck, put his sharp eyes to use and all present had a grand time as we experienced Progressive Critter Overload: ambon scorpionfish pairs at Air Prang and Jahir; two ribbon eels in the same hole and six painted frogfish (four orange and two black) at Police Pier; four solar-powered nudibranchs, a harlequin shrimp, three seahorses, zebra crabs (one w/eggs), stargazer by day, four scarlet, one painted and three hairy frogfish at Retak Larry; two giant and a clown frogfish on the same rock at Hairball Too along with a flounder eating a puffer; flamboyant cuttlefish at Pantai Parigi and Police Pier; a juvenile zebra batfish, various hues of ornate ghost pipefish, feeding stargazers by night and truly severe frogfish overload at Jahir; new (for Larry and the guides) nudis at Angel's Window and Police Pier, and the P.C.O. list went on and on. And next year's "Larry Week" will be even better!
Combo Packages -- We often see guests coming here after diving Bangka or Bunaken, or both with Murex. These three varied areas are providing an excellent all-around dive holiday in any combination, Murex Resort, Bangka Bungalows & Lembeh Resort. Of course I like Lembeh best, but it's great to have such variety easily accessible, so it's no surprise that Murex's combo packages are proving to be a hit. Bangka Bungalows, Dr. Batuna's current favourite handout, opened earlier this year and is located on a beautiful white sand beach, holds 12 divers. Divers have options to dive Bunaken Marine Park then boat transfer to Bangka / Pulisan then another boat transfer to Lembeh all in one trip and all diving under Murex umbrella.
Lembeh Resort Update -- Much to the delight of Lembeh Resort owners, the Rorimpandey family, the swimming pool was completed in early August. So guests who wish to remain wet as much of the day as possible can satisfy their aquatic urges by waterlogging themselves at will. And the lounge chairs are proving popular by sun worshippers between dives who need warming up or who merely wish to cultivate golden, leathery skin, though umbrellas are present, providing the option of shade. Lembeh Resort also has a new two-room building, which serves as the new and improved Library/TV room, as well as offering a billiards room (once the pool table arrives). The former TV room is now part of the expanded Lembeh Resort front office. And on the far side of the property, next to 1A/1B, there are two new stand-alone bungalows going up which should be ready in December. As well, the two quad rooms, 1A & 1B, have each had a door added to the front room for direct bathroom access, thus avoiding the inconvenience of any of the front room's occupants having to go through the master bedroom in order to get to the washroom.
New Dive Boat -- On the dive side, Murex second dive boat, the Alexa (named after Danny & Angelique's daughter) was put into action in August to compliment the Marisa (named after Semuel's daughter). The Alexa is a bit larger and the plan is to put on a third outboard and have her onboard toilet facilities completed in the near future in order to see use as a longer-range craft, running day-trips to the Bangka Island area along with trips to the north end as well as the outside of Lembeh Island for something a bit different. We have run a few trips to Bangka, but with the two-hour leg to Sahaung, the 3-dive day gets a bit long. The third engine makes quite a difference, cutting down the running time to just over an hour. We really enjoy our Bangka trips and a real highlight of these memorable trips is enjoying our lunch on the beautiful white sand beach at Murex's Bangka Bungalows.
More Flights to Manado -- Silk Air reinstated the third flight per week that was suspended for some time, so now there are Singapore-Manado-Singapore flights every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. There is a new Malaysian Airlines flight that runs an interesting route, flying Kuala Lumpur-Kota Kinabalu-Manado and return twice every week on Sunday and Thursday. So divers wishing to visit any of Sabah's decent dive destinations to compliment North Sulawesi can now fly directly, avoiding going through Singapore. And the flights to/from Jakarta are still great bargains - more abundant as well as cheaper than ever with a number of daily flights on six airlines.
Weather Trends -- The monsoon winds that traditionally blow from early June until early September actually began in April and just died out at the end of September, though this year they were not constant at all, and nor were they dry. This period during 2002 saw no rain for six months, while this year the 'dry season' has been anything but. Fortunately, the rain hasn't affected the water clarity; we have been getting, on average, better visibility than usual. Overall the weather has been quite goofy, so when folks send emails asking about predictions I have to admit that we can't depend on any forecast this year. Only the scuba diving is dependably great.
Diving -- How about the diving? Absolutely fabulous, as always! We've been suffering from severe critter overload over the past few months, which is not a bad thing at all. The winds bring in all sorts of great critters, building through June and July and the colder water in August brings a peak that lasts through September or October, when the water clarity increases, the water temperature rises, and the winds abate.
Water Temperature -- The lower visibility and colder water bring on yet more critters to see, but those conditions also cause complaints. For no matter how great the diving is, if a diver is cold, the quality of the experience is greatly reduced. So I will momentarily digress and put in bold type - A 5 millimeter FULL WET SUIT IS RECOMMENDED. Some guests dive in 7 mm. A well-fitting, relatively new 3 mm suit is often fine, and a hood makes a big difference in keeping warm. Our water temperature fluctuates between 25-30 degrees Celsius (77-86 Fahrenheit). Generally speaking we are 2 or 3 degrees colder than Bunaken. Visitors should plan for 80-82 degree water, which can be chilly on one's third or fourth dive of the day.
Creature Features -- A real landmark happened on August 1st when Semuel spotted the first Hippocampus pontohi (not yet the official name since it has yet to be described) seen in Lembeh Strait. This is the new species of pygmy seahorse discovered only last year at Bunaken that can be various colours and lives on vertical surfaces, actively moving around, holding onto hydroids, bryozoans and the like rather than residing on sea fans like other pygmies. Ronald found a second in the vicinity and it ended up that there were actually three at Angel's Window, all half yellow, half white, with a red "cap".
New Octopus -- Another relatively recent find was a really cool octopus. I was on a dive when Semuel found this new species of octopus at Pantai Parigi - a species he'd seen earlier only twice at Nudi Falls on dusk and night dives recently. It was a mid-sized sand octopus that looked somewhat fuzzy and while in its hole it could be mistaken for a veined ('coconut') octopus. But moving out in the open, on display, it was obvious that this was something new. The body was longer and somewhat different than usual (similar to a blue ring) and the pattern on the body and arms was at times a black and white dot pattern on burnt red stripes, changing colour to match the substrate. He disappeared recently (a guest reported seeing a large flounder eating an octopus near his hole, and on my first dive I couldn't locate our curious new friend), but we'll certainly try to learn more in order to be able to find this very cool critter more often.
Cephalopod Paradise -- I'll go back and give you all an arguably brief review of what we've been seeing since the early December soft opening here at Lembeh Resort. Normally December-January isn't the best time for Cephalopods, but for some reason, the strait was positively infested with cuttlefish and octopus from mid-December to mid-January. Pantai Parigi was the hot spot, though my log book attests to the fact I was finding up to nine cuttlefish per dive just about anywhere, from a number of species, and flamboyant cuttlefish were at all the muck sites. Pantai Parigi had five or more, in various stages of growth. Octopi were also well represented. Semuel even saw the legendary hairy octopus at P. Parigi, while waiting for a wonderpus to emerge from its hole!
Calling all Rhinopias -- The major event of the springtime was the white Rhinopias frondosa at Aw Shucks. Sadly, it moved shortly before I started here April 1st after I enjoyed two months away from diving, so I missed it. And since then nobody has seen any Rhinopias in spite of repeated dedicated survey dives at Nudi Falls, where up to three brilliantly red Rhinopias eschmeyeri were regularly seen over the last three years as well as a violet and a red Rhinopias frondosa that made brief appearances.
More Critters -- Once I moved over here, I started to try out neglected sites that I hadn't visited in years as well as survey for new sites. Of course it was hit-and-miss, but we found some cool stuff and started to regularly dive such sites as Pantai Kecil (great night dives, banggai cardinalfish, ghost pipefish, frogfish, …), Pintu Kolada (cleaning station, halimeda ghost pipefish, clown frogfish, stonefish, flame file shell, …) Pintu Kota (halimeda g.p.), Serena North (various frogfish, ornate ghost pipefish, mandarinfish,..), Makawide (halimeda g.p., a pair of black giant frogfish, pygmy seahorses, .. ) and Magic Crack (thorny seahorse, frogfish, ghost pipefish, …). All the sites in the strait have their great as well as not-so-great periods and some sites suffer from overuse by divers, so it's nice to make new discoveries and give some sites a rest.
The House Reef -- A very pleasant surprise was how great the Lembeh Resort House Reef is. We have probably the best mandarin dive in the Strait. With far more females than males, we regularly see threesomes and even foursomes rising off the bottom at dusk mating time. Our big pillar cleaning station, abuzz with various crustacean species, still has its resident pair of yellow leaf scorpionfish and the big stonefish that's there half of the time, all enveloped by a huge cloud of glassfish. Ronald found a pair of tiger shrimp, which were a first for me, and the female was the biggest he's ever found. They were on the house reef, at only 8 meters, for almost two months before moving off. We've seen wonderpus and even the new "fuzzy" octopus at Pantai Kecil, while it has been reported just off the beach on a few night dives since first spotted last year by Casey & Larry Smith. Plenty of saron shrimp and waspfish can be seen in our "lower" mandarin area at 10 meters. We get ornate, robust and smooth ghost pipefish moving through, and even the occasional frogfish, flamboyant cuttlefish, seahorse or yellow ribbon eel. It's not at all surprising that many guests dive right off the beach daily. Recently Semuel reported five bobtail squid right beside the boat mooring!
Mimic Octopus -- April provided regular mimic octopus sightings at a number of black sand sites. We saw three on a single dive at Jahir during that time. Only in late August through October were the numbers of mimic sightings been nearly so frequent. From mid-April through early June there were three resident blue ring octopus at Pantai Parigi for a few weeks. We could usually find one of them on any dive there. But after they disappeared, we've only seen bluerings rarely, at Nudi Falls and near the scenic wreck, Kapal Indah. April/May was also great for various crustaceans, with Ronald reporting some sightings of tiger and harlequin shrimps as highlights. Good nudi hunting as well, with both Semuel and Ronald finding species new to even them. But as fine as the diving was early in the year, it was to improve steadily through June, just getting better and better.
Frogfish Frenzy -- My personal obsession with frogfish is well established. This frogfish fever is a common affliction, affecting many who dive in this frogfish "hot zone". We've had guests who've seen frogfish on every dive for up to two weeks. Everyone's favourite species is the fabled hairy frogfish, Antennarius striatus or the newly-discovered variant species known as the "Lembeh" frogfish, which tends to be fuzzy more often than hairy in most cases (and many A. striatus can be found "bald"). From January to May, sightings were few and far between, but once the southeast winds kicked up, the hairies followed, beginning in mid-May. Oddly enough, our first "hairy reports" were from three different individuals, one per dive, one sighting only (one orange, one brown & one bald white) at Police Pier, where this species had never been reported before (since then we only saw another that far south only once, a black individual with white hair, just last week a bit further down the coast at Pantai Kecil).
More Froggies -- As I type, Jahir seems to be hairy central, with a rotating cast of a dazzling array of players who grew in numbers starting in mid-June and only receding recently. The brilliant yellow, the small brown and the bald black one have moved on, but the big brown female has attracted new suitors - a bald yellowish white male and then a small bald white one, with a hairy white one and small light brown one rounding out the display prowling about. And then there's the purple fuzzy lembeh frogfish, the two giant froggies (one green and one yellow with red markings) and the four painted froggies (two brown, one grey and one indescribably darkish). We usually see five or better, and the best part is that there seem to be new additions regularly. There's a sad orange lembeh frog at P. Parigi seen occasionally along with a smattering of smaller Lembeh frogs scattered across the same site as well as Air Prang. There are three A. striatus including a lovely pink and orange pair at Aw Shucks that seem to have recently disappeared and at least three at TK2 along with five at Hairball, including a lovely golden Lembeh frogfish that blends perfectly with the algae beds he frequents in only 2-5 meters. It doesn't get much better than this.
More, More Frogfish -- Normally painted frogfish, Antennarius pictus are the most common species seen in the strait. In July I'd regularly find six or seven A. pictus at Police Pier, knowing that I'd missed two or three more in the immediate vicinity as well as four or five more just 50 meters away around the ex-pearl farm. We find up to ten in total most days, but the interesting news is how the normally somewhat rare clown frogfish, A. maculatus, seemed to outnumber the A. pictus from July though October. The strait has been invaded by clowns, with regular sightings of new tiny juveniles, like the one Hengki (new 3rd guide, ex-KBR) pointed out under the boat recently at Nudi Falls following the four larger ones that I'd already pointed out. A month earlier at the same site we'd see up to eight froggies, from the numerous individuals that were in the area: two giants in succession on the same sponge, two painted "false clowns" (A. pictus that look like A. maculatus), a pink, a fuzzy orange and a nondescript painted as well as approximately six clowns, possibly more. Clowns were, and still are all over - up to three at ten different sites recently besides the high numbers at Nudi Falls; even muck sites Jahir, Hairball and Hairball Too had clowns. The one at Hairball was fascinating, changing its base colour from white to yellow in less than a week while residing on the same sponge. There's always something interesting to note.
Safe & Sound in Sulawesi -- Finally as it needs to be repeated let it be known that, despite tensions and threats of unrest that at times dominate the news emanating from Indonesia, the reality is that our corner of the world remains safe and calm. There seems to be constant concern and the various embassies keep issuing warnings. But as any of our past guests will attest to, there have been no negative incidents that could keep anyone from reconsidering their plans to visit or re-visit North Sulawesi.
Come See for Yourself -- Lembeh Resort looks forward to seeing past guests again, and welcoming new guests and showing off the best critter diving on the planet. Come and see it for yourself! Bruce Moore
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