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Diving the Lembeh Straits | Western dive sites | Sulawesi, Indonesia

The Lembeh Straits have become a given for scuba divers who are marine biology enthusiasts and underwater photographers. With Sulawesi to the west and Lembeh Island on the east, the narrow channel between these two volcanic land masses is fed by rich coastal nutrients supporting incredible numbers of rare and unusual marine creatures.

Most divers would regard the Straits as a single destination – and indeed, diving here is never restricted to one side or another – yet the narrow channel between Sulawesi and Lembeh Island divides the Straits into two zones with some noticable differences, those that border Lembeh Island and those that run along the Sulawesi coast.

No matter which side you stay on, the marine life is quite incredible. Divemasters have spent years watching their guests and know just what to supply. Don’t get in the water and expect to have to look for something – just keep your eye on the leaders and wait for them to point out yet another marvellous critter. They know where they live, track their movements daily and compare notes on what happens on dive sites.

Frogfish with lure extended
Lembeh Straits dive photo gallery Scuba diving features

Marine Life Banggai cardinalfish
Mimic octopus
hairy frogfish
Top dive site Jahir
Seasons All year
Visibility 10 – 25 metres
Water temperature 23 – 29º C
Deco chambers Manado
Flights to Manado then 1.5-2 hours transfer by car
Dive operators and accommodation: There is a selection of dive resorts on the coast above Bitung including Black Sands Dive Retreat. You can do also a twin-centre with one near to Manado. Eco Divers (above) have boutique style cottages near Bitung and are at Minahasa below Manado. Two Fish Divers are on both Lembeh and Bunaken Islands.

On the Sulawesi side of the Straits, the slopes of Mount Dua Saudara drop from 1350 metres into the Tangkoko Rainforest Nature Reserve, then into the small cliffs and bays of the coast. Underwater, the dark seabed reflects the volcanic geography above. The dive sites are generally less than pretty but this side of the Straits is not about lush corals reefs, rather the weird and wonderful animals that live on the rubble strewn sand. Descend to just five or so metres to spot cockatoo waspfish, the eggs of a flamboyant cuttlefish, mimic octopus, tiny stonefish, thorny seahorses, mating crabs and even snake eels free swimming.

Lembeh isn’t just about the small and wacky creatures so to explore the dives that are more typical of a tropical reef with soft corals and bigger schools of fish, pop over to eastern side of the Straits. Sites along Lembeh island's western shores are the ones more likely to have that.


For anyone with a deep interest in marine biology or underwater photography this is THE place to come. Since the Lembeh Straits were first discovered, they have become quite busy – there are now many new resorts of varying standards, which makes the area more affordable. Most operators cooperate with each other so if you never went in the early days you won't find it crowded, but for those of us who went before it became popular, the Straits seem rather lively.


Visibility is never brilliant and there can be currents and rough water but this is just about the best muck diving you will find and seeing all or most of the unusual animals that live here is pretty much guaranteed.

We first dived the Lembeh Straits well over a decade ago when it was an unknown dive destination – and we have to credit the area (and the great Larry Smith) as being the instigator of our interest in marine biology. Choosing between staying on the mainland coast or on Lembeh Island can only be a personal thing. The views from Lembeh looking west can be stunning, but sunrise from the mainland isn't half bad either.
Complete reports on this area are in
Diving Southeast Asia.
The digital edition is on iTunes.

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