BUNAKEN & LEMBEH
Bunaken and Lembeh, two islands off the coast of North Sulawesi offer two very distinctive diving experiences.
Bunaken is surrounded by a stunning shallow coral reef before a sheer wall drop off, the island has retained its fringing mangrove forest and this has helped to maintain the health and biodiversity of the reef. Stay at a range of resorts to suit every budget.
Lembeh is undoubtedly one of the finest muck diving locations in the world and a firm favourite with critter lovers everywhere, nowhere else can you see such an array of strange and wonderful creatures, mimic octopus, flamboyant cuttlefish, harlequin shrimps, skeleton shrimps, stargazers and innumerable nudibranchs and seahorses.
Bunaken National Marine Park in North Sulawesi was among the first of Indonesia’s marine parks. It was established in 1991 and has a still growing popularity because of its high biodiversity, clear waters and wall diving. The islands in the park are often referred to as the “Bunaken Islands”. For international guests the area is relatively easy to reach as the nearby city of Manado has good flight connections with Jakarta, Denpasar, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.
Bunaken National Marine Park was established because of the marine bio-diversity it supports, because it is a migratory route for protected animals and because it is of high economic value for fisheries and tourism. The park covers a total surface area of about 89,000 hectares and includes the five islands Bunaken, Manado Tua, Siladen, Mantehage and Nain and some coast north and south of Manado. Siladen is the island nearest to Manado (distance about 15 km), the island Nain is at a distance of about 35 km the furthest away.
A very rich coral ecosystem covers most of Bunaken National Park, dominated by fringing reef and barrier reef corals. There are about 390 species of coral recorded in the waters of the Park. A distinct feature is a 25-50 metre vertical coral wall which is inhabited by 13 coral genus.
Most dive locations in the park offer wall diving with beautiful drop-offs. Here you find fixed fauna with sponges and a large variety of corals. The number of different fish species is estimated at 2,000 among them being the Emperor Angelfish, Almaco Jack, Spotted Seahorse, Bluestripe Snapper, Pinkish Basslet and Two-lined monocle bream. The group of critters in the park include nudibranches, shrimps, crabs and pygmy sea horses. At the drop-offs you will find clouds of butterfly fish, parrot fish and napoleon wrasses. Further white and black tips sharks and turtles are often spotted. In addition to this huge biodiversity Bunaken is also a place where rare and endangered animals can be found such as coelacanths, dugongs and whales.
The Drop Off
Bunaken Reef Wall
The islands range from 1 to 7 km across and so are relatively small. Manado Tua is the most conspicuous of the islands, as it is a cone-shaped inactive volcano rising from the sea to a height of 655 m (some sources mention a height of over 800 m). The other islands vary from flat to hilly. Mantehage Island is comparatively flat and seems to be sinking into the sea. The island has extensive mangrove forest flats, partially separated by saltwater channels. Siladen is flat as well, but is a low-lying coral sand island. The islands of Bunaken and Nain are hilly. Their highest elevations are respectively 71 m and 139 m.
The waters around the islands are surprisingly deep. The deepest spot is around 1,360 metres (according some sources 1,840 m.) and is located between Manado Tua and Mantehage. Obviously there is no continental shelf in this area.
Situated on the eastern side of the tip of North-Sulawesi, the Lembeh strait (Selat Lembeh) runs between the Sulawesi mainland and Lembeh Island to the east and is 22 km long and 2 km wide.
There are over 60 dive sites around the Lembeh strait, most of them are either sandy areas or small reefs. Don’t expect spectacular walls or huge reefs, here you are doing so called muck diving – searching for the rare and the wonderful, all varieties of frogfish can be found, but it’s also a good place to see other shy critters such as the mimic octopus, the flamboyant cuttlefish, harlequin shrimps, wonderpus, skeleton shrimps and many nudibranchs. The fish at this place are also a collection of weirdoes: Ambon scorpionfish (Pteroidichthys amboinensis), stonefish, sea robins, stargazers, devil fish and even the weedy scorpionfish (Rhinopias frondosa). There are also beautiful seahorses at least 7 different species, pygmy and others), pegasus, ghost pipefish and the endemic Banggai cardinalfish.
But there is much more to Lembeh than muck diving, especially around Lembeh Island there are some small but very beautiful coral reefs and at the northern tip at Batu Kapal the currents attract large pelagics like mackerels and sharks.There are also four beautifully covered wrecks, two of them large and all within limits for recreational diving. Water temperatures range from, 26 °C, in July-August to around 28 °C for the rest of the year. Diving is good all year-around diving.
The main town, Bitung can be reached by car (1 – 1 1/2 hour depending on traffic) from Manado.