Diving pioneer Bob Halstead coined the term “muck diving” when describing the diving off black-sand beaches in Papua New Guinea. This unusual type of diving has become quite popular, and involves diving on sites with sandy or silty bottoms, slowly searching the area for the critters found there. Some of the top places for muck diving are volcanic areas and seagrass beds.
Anyone with a keen eye who enjoys hunting for tiny treasures, such as nudibranchs, cuttlefish, frogfish, sea moths, snake eels, blue-ringed octopus and waspfish will enjoy muck diving. It is highly addictive and much-loved by underwater photographers, especially macro photographers. Most of the world’s muck-diving hotspots are in Southeast Asia, and include Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and Malaysia. Here are a few of our top places for muck diving.
Lembeh Strait, Indonesia
This channel, dividing tiny Lembeh Island and North Sulawesi in Indonesia, is the world’s most famous muck-diving area, and for good reason. The black- and brown-sand slopes are home to a huge variety of critters. You can see pygmy seahorses, nudibranchs, stargazers, hairy and clown frogfish, blue-ringed and mimic octopus and the endemic Banggai cardinalfish here, among other species. Tell the capable dive guides at your resort what you want to see and they’ll make it happen.
The area has over 40 dive sites, including the famous Hairball and Nudi Falls. The latter was thusly named because bubbles from divers sometimes cause the nudibranchs to fall off the wall above and drift downward. Those who’d like to combine some muck diving with more traditional coral-reef diving can spend a few days in Lembeh and then move to Manado and Bunaken National Park, on the northwest side of North Sulawesi. You can dive Lembeh Strait year-round. One of the area’s best operators is Critters@Lembeh at Lembeh Resort.
Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea
Located at the southeastern tip of Papua New Guinea’s mainland, Milne Bay is the original home of muck diving. It all began at Dinah’s Beach. The coastline and surrounding islands offer a variety of muck and coral dives where you can find small critters alongside ocean giants such as manta rays, whale sharks and large pelagic fish.
Dinah’s Beach is a great place to search for many species of octopus, frogfish, batfish and scorpionfish. The pinnacles at Deacon’s Reef offer stunning underwater scenery and corals that are home to lots of invertebrates. Those looking for bigger species, such as mantas, should visit Wahoo Point. Observation Point is a photographic highlight, with seagrass, mangroves and seahorses. You can dive Milne Bay year-round with both shore-based and liveaboard options available.
Mabul and Kapalai Islands, Malaysia
If Sipadan in Malaysian Borneo is on your bucket list, don’t leave off nearby Mabul and Kapalai. While the diving in Sipadan offers lots of turtles, big fish and coral, Mabul and Kapali offer sandy, shallow reefs, perfect for macro treasure hunters. You may spot mating mandarinfish, frogfish, ribbon eels, as well as myriad nudibranch species.
Just a 20-minute boat ride from Sipadan, both Mabul and Kapali offer a great taste of muck diving without sacrificing the big stuff at Sipadan. You can dive Sipadan, Mabul and Kapali year-round.
Dauin, the Philippines
On the southern part of Negros Island in the Philippines, you’ll find our final muck-diving paradise. Dauin and nearby Dumaguete are well known for black-sand slopes and plenty of macro critters. Divers may spot pipefish, seahorses, sea moths, stonefish and myriad others. Just offshore is the marine sanctuary at Apo Island, which makes for a great day trip from any of the coastal resorts. Here you’ll find plenty of coral, turtles and larger fish.
You can dive the area year-round either via liveaboard or from a shore-based resort. One of Dauin’s best is Atmosphere Resort.