Lembeh Straits – living large and shooting small

July 17th, 2009 by Andrew Sallmon | No Comments »

Mating Mandarins-0602Lembeh Straits Trip Report – 5-13th June 2009

The Lembeh Straits once again lived up to it’s reputation of serving up hundreds of the oceans rarest critters. This place is like going to an underwater zoo! It has almost everything rare that you will ever hear about and oddly enough, can be found in a relatively small area. We photographed several species of frogfish, scorpionfish, seahorse, ghost pipefish, crabs, shrimp and lobster and even the infamous Bobbit worm, etc. over the 7 days of diving there. Every other night I gave a seminar and critique of the previous days images.

Everyone had a great time during the seminars especially since we did them in the bar. Nothing like watching the days images projected on the big screen with an ice cold Bintang or whatever cool drink you like. After the presentation each evening I would project 3 images from each person and analyze what they had done right, wrong or just give some overall tips on how to improve an already “good” image. I ran the presentations using Keynote, Apples version of MS Power Point. It’s an easy to use program and gave me exactly what I needed for both the lecture outline and example images. I’ll definitely use it again! For the critique images I tried something new and ran them in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, which worked extremely well because it allowed me to do cropping, tonal and white balance demos to the participants images in seconds….. showing how easily an image could be improved and the power of Raw image capture. So, with a little help from me and a lot of effort and commitment on the part of the divers, their images got better each day and by the end of the trip everyone was producing images that any professional would have been proud to call their own. For me it was a very rewarding experience to help so many people and to watch their excitement as they improved day by day. On the last night, during the critique, I held a surprise competition with prizes donated by Lembeh Divers and SeaIt.com (me) so it was also a rewarding experience for some of the group as well! Congratulations to all!

The Lembeh Resort         http://www.lembehresort.com/

Thanks must go to the fabulous staff of the beautiful Lembeh Resort. General Manager Glenn Knape has done a marvelous job and the folks there from the management team on down are the friendliest and some of the most experienced that you will find at any dive resort in the world. Their constant courtesy and charming smiles were there for us everyday. Our servers and bartenders, receptionists, hotel management and adminstrative staff, even the maids and gardeners made us feel welcome and as though we were relatives staying at their home. The Lembeh Resort is located on Lembeh Island across the Lembeh Straits near the port city of Bitung in Northern Sulawesi (fly into Manado). It is layed out with a fine set of rooms on either side of the central bar and restaurant. Each room is overlooking the Straits with it’s own balcony and Bali style bathroom. All paths are well lit and though there’s a few steps to contend with to get up to the hill side rooms (on the cliff side) the view is pretty spectacular and worth the hike. Rooms were well equipped each having the basics like air conditioning and ceiling fans. They also have a small refrigerator with beer and sodas and a water cooler/heater to quench the thirst or for hot coffee or tea in the morning before breakfast. The bathrooms were spacious and “Bali style” which means partly outdoors. They have walls for privacy of course and a partial roof over one shower but the bathtub is “under the stars”. The balconies offer the guest a place to sit and enjoy the sunset at the end of the day with a cold Bintang or during the sunrise in the early morning hours with a coffee or tea. The restaurant is staffed with a fulltime chef who with the help of his staff prepares all kinds of different meals including many Indonesian dishes. Meals were buffet for breakfast with an “egg station” and a chef there to make your favorite omelette. For Lunch and dinner each day there is a 2-choice menu that offers Indonesian and other specialty style dishes.

Lembeh Divers at Lembeh Resort

All of the diving operations at Lembeh Resort are supported by Lembeh Divers, owned and operated by long-time ex-pat Danny Charlton. Danny has been in Indonesia for many years and his wife Angelique is the daughter of Dr. Hanny Batuna, one of the pioneers of Northern Sulawesi and Bunaken diving. Dr. Batuna and his wife and family started the famous Murex dive resort on the Manado side of Northern Sulawesi, where Danny and Angelique met and worked for many years before going on to start their own company Lembeh Divers. The facility is onsite at the Lembeh Resort and occupies the waterfront area. It has a well stocked dive shop full of unique dive products and marine life books and lots of dive gear. One of my favorite amenities is the huge photography room for divers to setup their underwater cameras and to charge their batteries each night. This has to be one of the best and certainly largest photo rooms that I have ever seen. In front of that and nearer the dive boats are the dive briefing rooms where the dive equipment is kept and where the dive briefings are conducted. Lembeh Divers is fully staffed and managed by onsite dive operations managers that live at the resort and are there all the time to help the guests. Irwin Filius, the dive operations manager is originally from New Zealand and has lot’s of experience including cave diving from all over the world. Nora is a dive Instructor originally from Europe, (Germany I believe) and assists Irwin with the dive staff and daily operations and is definetely the prettier of the two. Both were a delight to work with and they saw to my groups every need.filetunicate-0208

The Dive Guides and Boat Crews

These ladies and gentleman deserve my utmost praise. Without them we would never have found 90% of the marine life we saw and photographed. They are the heart of the matter when it comes to success and every one of them does a fantastic job and all really work well together and seem to be having fun while doing it. The boat Captains put us right on the dive site every time and then would pick us up right as we surfaced. The crewmen would assist us back onto the boats and then give us a nice warm dry towel and serve us a glass of water and some fresh fruit to chase away the dry mouth after the dives. The dive guides are nothing short of incredible! They have what I call “muck critter radar” MCR and are constantly tapping you on the shoulder to show you their latest find. It’s very cool to see such people enjoying what they do so much. Their names are too numerous to mention here but if you go to the Lembeh Resort website under dive team they are all there. www.lembehresort.com

One of the greatest benefits of diving with Lembeh Divers is that they dive in small groups of only 3 divers per guide. This allows them to concentrate on finding marine life and not having to constantly “collect” divers. The guides located so many rare animals for us during each dive that at times we would pass by some of the more common ones that anywhere else would have caused great excitement. On one dive in particular I was very proud of myself for finding a small orange warty frogfish and had just begun to settle in to shoot it when my dive guide Opo came up and showed me a thorny seahorse right next to me. I didn’t even see it! I probably would have swam away after I was done with the frogfish. Oxcin my other guide showed me a place where there are two of the very rare and very tiny Pontohi pygmy seahorses. I’d have never looked there because it was in only 3 feet of water! The guides were constantly amazing us as they spotted things we couldn’t even see. There were so many sightings everyday of the rarest critters and the more we enjoyed seeing and photographing them the more our guides enjoyed finding them. Lembeh Straits is such an amazing place. I can barely wait to go back!

Thank you to everyone from my group (all 17 of you) that accompanied me during this wonderful week and especially to the men and women of Lembeh Resort and Lembeh Divers. Terima Kasih!

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