On the north end of the Indonesian island of Sulawesi is a resort that specializes in small critter diving. Kungkungan Bay Resort (KBR) sits in the Lembeh Straits, whose rich water supports a diverse and intensely colorful population of both invertebrates and fish. Divers have known for years that the coral reefs of the western Pacific have spawned the most diverse marine ecosystem on earth. Indeed, the reefs of Indonesia, in general, and Sulawesi, in particular, will impress and overwhelm the most well-traveled diver. Amidst all of the superlatives, the diving around Kungkungan Bay stands out as offering the most unique and photogenic collection of critters that were ever packed into a small area.
The walls within a 20-minute boat ride of the resort are chock full of color—hard corals, soft corals, sea fans, and an assortment of delicate fish such as the spot-fin anthias. Hiding amongst the sea fans is perhaps the ocean’s cutest fish, the pygmy seahorse. These are tiny animals, perhaps 1/8 inch tall and are either red-and-white or orange-and-white depending on the color of their fan. Pygmy seahorses are truly hard to find, but the guides at KBR are expert at it. In fact, the guides encourage you to fill out a “wish list” of your favorite critters and take a great deal of pride in being the one who finds them for you.
While the coral reef diving around KBR is great, it is the “muck diving” that draws photographers. Adjacent to the coral reefs are areas of black sand and muck with critters that seem more likely to have come from another planet than from the sea. Typical of KBR’s “muck diving” is Nudi Falls. The site is flanked by a steep and shallow coral wall that begins at the surface and drops down 20 feet or so. Here begins a gently slopping “muck” bottom that runs out to more than 80 feet. Along the shallow wall we found a dozen species of nudibranch, huge scallops, and what the locals call “flashing scallops.” These are file clams (Lima sp.) and have a habit of flashing a white line along their red lips.
In the muck were several species of frogfish—some orange, some yellow, along with the multicolored warty frogfish. One of the most interesting and deadly creatures in the sea also lives here—the blue-ring octopus. When at rest this octopus looks like so many others, but when annoyed it flashes its blue rings in defiance.
Here divers will find the flamboyant cuddlefish, whose ability to flash an array of colors is simply amazing. Divers will also find reef cuddlefish, pygmy cuddlefish, and a horde of shrimps and crabs. Look for emperor shrimp among the gills of Spanish dancers, and other large nudibranchs. And, there is the rare Rhinopius scorpion fish. Well, you get the idea.
If there is a place in heaven for macro photographers, they could no better than KBR. Kungkungan Bay Resort is conveniently reached from California by flying through Singapore. Sulawesi’s Manado airport is a short drive from the resort. For more information, check out www.kungkungan.com on the web.