Diving in North Sulawesi (Manado, Bunaken, Lembe, Bangka)

According to Commit 4 Countries, Sulawesi Island, formerly known as Celebes, is located in the center of the archipelago, north of Flores and not far from the Philippines. Perhaps, it can be called one of the most beautiful regions of Indonesia, both on the surface and under water. The island took on its unusual shape three million years ago when a piece of land that had broken off from New Guinea and drifted into the sea collided with a volcanic island east of Borneo. The force of the blow was so great that the two islands were never able to separate.

As a result, Sulawesi was formed. Due to its unusual shape, there is no place on Sulawesi that would be more than 100 km away from the sea. Its coastline is a fantastic 6,000 kilometers! The island has 110 small coastal islets, most of which are surrounded by coral reefs.

The fact that the vast majority of dive centers and hotels are located in the northern part of the island of Sulawesi does not prevent tourists from diving in four completely different areas: the Bunaken Marine Reserve, the Lembe Strait, the Bangka Islands and the coastal waters of Manado.

Each of these areas is attractive in its own way: Bunaken is famous for its magnificent vertical walls, the islands of Bangka – for dumps and caverns, Manado and Lembe – for the wealth of the underwater world.

Reef type – vertical coral walls;
availability – from 45 to 80 minutes on the bot;
visibility is very good, on average 15-35 meters;
current – moderate, in some places up to 2 knots or more;
corals – excellent condition, varied, especially soft;
fish – in large quantities, varied;
the main advantages are the virgin walls, an interesting wreck, the diversity of the underwater world.

You will never hear words of disappointment from a person who has dived in the Manado area, be it a neophyte or an experienced diver who has traveled almost the whole world. The coral reefs that surround the small islands scattered along the coast of Manado really deserve the highest praise. The best part of them is the vertical walls, going down to a great depth and starting almost at the very shore. In good weather, visibility here reaches 40-50 meters. Local reefs can be called virgin, since human influence on them is practically not felt.

There are relatively few divers here, there are no fishermen with dynamites, and the fact that already in 1989 75 hectares of underwater space in the area of ​​Bunaken, Manado, Siladen, Montehag and Naina Islands was declared the territory of a national marine reserve. North Sulawesi and the Bunaken island group are washed by the Sulawesi Sea, the depth of which reaches 6 km. The depth of the Makassar Strait, a giant fault separating Sulawesi and Borneo, exceeds a kilometer.

Plankton-rich waters wash the local reefs, filling them with life and colors. No wonder Manado is famous for its fantastic variety of fish and other marine life. The surface of the walls is covered with hard and soft corals, sponges, stars and fan corals. At a shallow depth, flocks of pyramidal butterfly fish and black triggers scurry about. Sharks, barracudas, moray eels, rays and sea snakes – especially black and gray striped snakes – are also not uncommon.

The currents are moderate, the boats anchor right on the borders of the walls. Most dive centers try to work with small groups of four to eight people. There are about 20 dive sites in the Manado Tua area and the Bunaken National Reserve, accessible to divers of all levels.

Most of it is located near the southern and western coast of Bunaken – a low crescent-shaped coral island, surrounded on all sides by sheer reefs. Nearby is the island of Manado-Tua, or “Old Manado”, an extinct volcano of the correct cone-shaped shape, 822 meters high. In addition, the Bunaken group includes three more islands: tiny Siladen, flat Montehag and Nain, surrounded by a barrier reef.

The reefs around Bunaken, which is the central island in the group, deserve the highest praise. There are 13 dive sites on the 6 km long island, many of them suitable for night diving. If you look closely, you can find almost all types of coral fish found in Indonesia here.

In principle, all local dive sites are similar to one another, because they all include vertical coral walls with small caves and colorful schools of tropical fish of various sizes. Up to 40-50 meters the walls are covered with fantastic corals, at greater depths there are sharks, Napoleons and large rays. The currents are moderate, ideal for a slow, relaxed drift along the walls.

Recommended Bunaken dive sites:

Lekuan I, II & III (crenellated wall, napoleons, turtles, parrot fish, scorpions, lion fish, very good visibility),

Sachiko’s Point (tuna, turtles, caves at 30 meters, very beautiful corals, but quite strong currents),

Bunaken Timur (whitetip sharks),

Mike’s Point (beautiful corals, especially gorgonians, sharks, yellowtail tuna, all the fun at a depth of 30 meters and more, fairly strong currents),

Raymond (wall with beautiful healthy corals, many sea snakes, Napoleons, reef fish, fairly strong vertical and horizontal currents),

Fukui Point (the largest needletail rays in the reserve).

Recommended dive sites in Manado Tua:
Muka Gereja (sheer wall with vertical canyons, cave at 20 meters, good corals, sharks, barracudas, Napoleons),

Tanjung Kopi (reef whitetip sharks, barracudas, sometimes hammerheads, strong currents).

Recommended dive sites Montehag and Nain:
Bango (fall, beautiful corals, several caves, scorpion fish, Napoleons, sharks),
Gorango (sharks),

Batu Kapal (at 42 meters – a narrow canyon, going to a depth of 100 meters, tuna, giant napoleons, sharks, crocodile fish and parrot fish),

Tanjung Pisok (fall into the wall, blue eels, barracudas, squid and sharks).

Type of reefs – dumps, underwater peaks;
availability – about 80 minutes on the boat;
visibility is good, on average 15-20 meters;
current – moderate, in some places up to 2 knots or more;
corals – good condition, magnificent soft corals;
fish – in large quantities, varied;
the main advantages are sharks, barracudas, soft corals.

A picturesque boat trip to the island of Bangka will delight both divers and tourists alike. The island has a couple of sandy beaches, but most of it is covered with dense tropical vegetation that descends directly to the water. Rocks corroded by salt and wind stick out of the sea, the ragged outlines of which are easily recognizable under water. The corals in these places – especially soft ones – are simply fantastic, huge flocks of colorful tropical fish are circling on the walls. On almost every dive, there are decent-sized sharks, Napoleons, groupers and barracudas. The current is strong and visibility is good.

Lembe Strait
Type of reefs – dumps, underwater peaks;
availability – 5-30 minutes on the boat;
visibility – average, about 10-15 meters;
current – weak; corals are in very good condition, soft and black corals are especially impressive;
fish – in large quantities, extremely diverse;
main advantages – the wealth of the underwater world.

The busy trading port of Bitung at first glance does not seem like the best place for a dive center. However, to the north of the port, in the deep strait formed by the island of Lembe, there are some of the best dive sites in North Sulawesi.

As the Indonesian legend says, when the god created sea creatures, he was in a hurry and made mistakes, as a result, many ugly, ugly, strange-looking creatures were born that could not populate the beautiful coral reefs. So that no one would know about this failure, the god began to look for a place where the unfortunate creatures could be hidden, and, in the end, he chose the Lembe Strait. Here they lived away from everyone – until man invented scuba gear. Today, the Lembe Strait, teeming with strange and amazing underwater inhabitants, has become a kind of Mecca for underwater photographers and marine biologists.

The long narrow island of Lembe, which is of volcanic origin and lies parallel to Sulawesi, forms a calm natural channel, reliably protected from monsoons throughout the year. The local currents are extremely rich in plankton, and strong tides form a daily circulation of waters in the strait, as a result, the waters around the island are literally teeming with fish and other species of marine animals. Obviously, due to the abundance of plankton, visibility is not too high, there are also no snow-white sandy beaches and turquoise lagoons – the volcano covered the banks of Lembe with coarse granular sand of an unattractive black color, and the water almost always seems dark due to lava deposits.

But divers interested in rare underwater life – seahorses, mandarin fish, octopus and squid, sea spiders, serpentine eels, strange-looking crabs and shrimps – local dive sites will seem to be among the best in the world. Not surprisingly, in 1994, the National Geographic Society chose the Lembe Strait – Asia’s macro diving capital – to film a series of programs about poisonous coral reef dwellers.

Recommended dive sites:
Batu Angus (very beautiful corals, rare mandarin fish, colorful invertebrates).

Mawali Wreck (well-preserved remains of a Japanese cargo ship sunk during World War II, black coral trees, magnificent soft corals, huge schools of fish, moray eels, octopuses, scorpion fish, lion fish).

Kungkungan Bay (cuttlefish, eels, shrimp, crabs, sea spiders, octopuses, beautiful anemones and gorgonians, toad fish).

Diving in North Sulawesi