WHERE ARE WE GOING?
Today we are muck diving in Tulamben, a small fishing village on the north-east coast of Bali, in Indonesia.
WHY ARE WE MUCK DIVING IN TULAMBEN?
Lots of avid divers love nudibranchs. They are so colorful and have different forms and sizes. The smallest could be as small as 3mm. Most nudibranchs live in a not pretty environment. They live in a muddy, mucky and sandy area. Usually, divers who just started diving, are not interested in this kind of environment as there is very little colourful soft coral reef. It’s considered a boring area. However, this is what we call MUCK DIVING.
Divers who love taking pictures of nudibranchs and other interesting critters, such as frogfish, rhinopias fish, bobtail cuttlefish, all kind of shrimps, etc., know that muck diving is so much fun. They can dive with no end in sight and not get bored at all.
Indonesia is a heaven for muck diving. It has three famous muck diving areas; Lembeh Strait in North Sulawesi, Laha Strait in Ambon, Maluku and Tulamben in Bali.
Now, let’s go to Tulamben.
Tulamben is a heaven for underwater macro photographers. There are so many critters in this black sand sea bottom. A lot of nudibranchs range from a 10 cm long to a just 2 mm in size. Frogfishes, crabs, shrimps; such as harlequin shrimp, skeleton shrimp, bobtail cuttlefish, and many more. Before coming to Tulamben, be ready with your underwater camera with a big volume of memory card!
Besides all the macro muck diving sites, there are 3 dive sites, suitable for a non-macro diver; USS Liberty Wreck, Drop Off and Coral Garden.
USS Liberty wreck is the most famous wreck in Bali. Divers who come to Tulamben should not miss to visit this wreck.
HOW DO WE GET TO TULAMBEN?
Ngurah Rai International Airport is the gateway to entering Bali. From the airport, you can take a taxi to Tulamben, which is about 3 hours ride. Suggest to grab something to eat at the airport before the car ride or make a stop for a meal on the way to Tulamben.
A pick-up service is usually available from your dive resort in Tulamben, provided you make the airport pick-up booking with them.
MUST-SEE DIVE SITES FOR MUCK DIVING IN TULAMBEN
USS Liberty Shipwreck
The USS Liberty Wreck is the famous dive site you must visit. The ship sunk in 1961 and was left unexplored for a few decades, which means that nearly all of the wreck is covered in stunning colorful soft coral (even the cannon!). With a good camera strobe and wide angel lens, you will be able to shot beautiful photos of the shipwreck. A lot of fish live in and around the wreck. You may encounter schooling sweetlips or travally fish.
Usually, the wreck is very busy and full of divers. But not at this pandemic time. When I was there, we were the only diver group underwater.
I highly suggest to do at least 2 dives here, mixing up an early morning dive, day dive, or even a dive night!
If you were lucky, on the early morning dive, around 5:30am – 6am you may catch a schooling Bumphead Parrotfish. They are big, and can grow up to 1.3m (4.2ft) long!
Pay more attention to the wreck, and you will be surprised to find some nudibranchs, white scorpion leaf fish and probably a pink one, too!
This is a macro dive site. My favorite site with a black sandy bottom, covered with thin mud.
A few years ago, after the eruption of Mount Agung, an active volcano, this site was closed as the sandy bottom was covered by mud. This year it is open, as the mud is thinning, washed up by the current and waves.
Now Batu Niti is full of nudibranchs and critters. Goniobanchus Fidelis, Polycera Sp1, Hypselodoris Infucata, Unidentia Sandramillenea, Trinchesia Yamasui nudibranchs are just some of the names I know. There are still some critters that I have not identified yet. We also found 7mm tiny frogfish, ghost pipefish, baby emperor angelfish, cleaner shrimps, the donald duck shrimp, tiger shrimp, and many more critters.
For macro lovers, Sidem is a dive spot you must visit.
Shore entry with rubble on the beach.
We found pompom crab, mantis peacock shrimp, orangutan crab, frogfish, seahorse, ghost pipefish, and a lot of nudibranchs, such as Cyerce Elegans, Halgerda Willeyi, Siphoteron Tigrinum, and many more.
When we stumbled across some Spanish Dancer nudibranch eggs, we were 80% sure that we would find the Spanish Dancer nudibranch on a at night dive. And Sidem is the place for a night dive!
Melasti is another famous dive site for macro diving and macro photography.
There are tons of nudibranchs living here, such as Stiliger Oratus Ehrenberg, Theracera Sp. aka Pickachu, Eubranchus Sp., Mexichromis Multituberculata, Doto Greenamyeri, Costasiella Sp. aka the cute and famous Shaun the Sheep, and many more. On top of nudibranchs, we also found several kinds of shrimps; skeleton shrimp, whip coral shrimp, harlequin shrimp and mantis peacock shrimp. Also, cowrie, lady bug and pipefish.
Try a night dive at Melasti. You will find incredible critters around.
Some people call this site Big Tree.
I dived here three times one day. You can explore the left side, front of the beach, and the right side. At one spot, we found a range of critters, from nudibranchs, crabs and shrimps just next to each other. It was like coming to a party for me, and I got busy taking photos of them! Kwanji is also an interesting spot for night dive.
Seraya is another dive site you should not miss.
A lot of nudibranchs and other critters.
The other dive sites you may like to visit are Cantik Point, Batu Ringgit and Bulakan.
(Editor’s Note – I have dived here before and the macro life blew my mind! I may have even gone into deco as I got so distracted by the nudibranchs….ooops).
TELL ME MORE
In Tulamben, each dive spot has its specific nudibranchs and critters. Therefore, if possible, try to visit all of the sites. However, due to the pandemic, some of these spots were still closed.
There were also times when we could not visit a dive spot due to a religious activity at the temple close to the beach, so plan accordingly.
The critters found in Tulamben depend on the season. One time at one dive site a number of frogfishes were found, other time, none of them. But instead, there are nudibranchs around so you never know what you’re going to see!
The best way to plan for your muck dive, is to depend on your dive guide who would have recently dived these areas. They are highly knowledgeable about knowing where and what can be found at that specific dive site. Communicate directly to your guide on what you wish to see, and he will suggest which dive site to visit. He will also check around with other guides to find your wish.
DO I NEED ADDITIONAL EQUIPMENT FOR MUCK DIVING?
Water temperature in Tulamben is about the same year around, which is about 28 – 30°C (82.4 – 86°F).
A 3mm wetsuit is sufficient. Some divers who are used to colder water, only uses a rash guard. However, during the month of August/September, the water temperature can drop to 26°C (78.8°F), with windy conditions above water.
Read More: Use our Wetsuit Temperature Guide
An underwater camera with a good macro lens and a light are a must to bring along when muck diving in Tulamben. Without a camera diving in Tulamben could be boring. Remember, most dive sites are only sandy bottoms covered with mud and not much coral to see.
As the objects to capture are small, a light of a simple torch would be sufficient. Of course, a good flash or underwater strobes can also enhance the photo result.
WHAT LEVEL CERTIFICATION SHOULD I BE?
Most of the critters are located below 18m / 60ft so an Advanced level certification would take you to their location. Plus, a nitrox certification will give divers more bottom time to take that perfect photo. Some dive centers will provide nitrox at no additional cost.
Good buoyancy is required for muck diving. The critters are small and very small. One wrong move from a diver, could blow them away or kick up the sand and mud clouding the water’s visibility. This will make it difficult to photograph them or they may have gone away.
Read More: How Do Divers Go Up and Down?
WHAT ARE THE CONDITIONS?
All dive sites in Tulamben are shore entry with rubbles on shore.
Water temperature at these dive sites are about 27-30°C (80.5-86°F). However, during August – September, the water temperature can drop to 26°C (78°F).
HOW MUCH WILL I SPEND?
Diving in Tulamben is reasonable. One fun dive costs around USD 20-35, depending to the dive center.
Some dive centers will offer dive packages with a certain number of dives at a lower cost. Directly communicating with the dive center may give you a good price. It’s also worth checking to see if they provide nitrox for free or at an additional cost.
For more economical dives, there are also freelancer guides offering their services at a lower cost compared to a dive center. Some of them have a website or contact details that you can find online or through word of mouth. Usually they will also be a licensed instructor which means they are able to give you a diving course and certification. Be sure to check their credentials and insurance is up to date though!
If you do not bring your own dive equipment, you may rent them at a reasonable additional cost. Inform your dive center before you arrive as they will prepare it for you. This will avoid hassle before your first dive.
WHAT TYPE OF ACCOMMODATION IS AVAILABLE?
Sea view or garden view dive resorts are available along the main road of Tulamben. They range from 2 to 3 stars accommodation. If you are on a tight budget, garden view will cost you less money.
The difficult pandemic time means a lot of dive resorts and villas in Tulamben are currently closed. However, the Indonesian Government has just allowed tourism activities to operate; so resorts and villas are reopening and welcoming guests.
A number of domestic and foreign divers from Sanur, Jakarta and other cities within Indonesia, are starting to come and dive in Tulamben. With a limited number of guests and a lot of accommodations available, the owners are offering a big discount. Check with them directly and you will be surprised at the price they quote.
DESCRIBE YOUR PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
I was in Tulamben this early September, when the Indonesian Government was just reopening tourism activities. Accommodation is cheap, diving is cheap. Though a number of dive resorts are still closed. The dive sites are empty and we had the whole dive site and the sea just for us. It was heaven!
WHAT DO WE DO ON SURFACE INTERVALS?
Usually, we do two dives at one dive spot when muck diving in Tulamben. We have the surface interval on the shore. There are local warungs (a small stall selling drinks and snacks) available at most dive spots. You can have hot coffee, tea or carton juices along with snacks before going back to the water.
After the second dive, we can have lunch around Tulamben or Amed or back to your resort.
At Kwanji dive site, upon order, the Ibu Warung can cook lunch of a fresh mahi mahi barbeque. The fish comes with steam rice, vegetables, sambal (chilli paste) and kerupuk (crackers). It was delicious and a perfect lunch after muck diving. You will need to order before you hit the water of your second dive, as Ibu Warung needs about an hour to prepare the food. It is highly recommended!