Sometimes more experienced divers begin to get a little bored of the pretty corals and the colourful reef fish, and start looking at the smaller, stranger things that inhabit our oceans. If this sounds like you, then you really need to head out and try some muck diving! Although it may not have the most appealing name, muck diving is exactly as it sounds.
Muck diving takes place in waters where the bottom is mainly black sand or silt with lumps of dead corals, debris or detritus. Usually muck diving takes place in areas near river mouths, or where there may be (or may have been) volcanic activity. The fresh water/salt water mix produces brackish water, and the volcanic lava and ash is high in minerals. Both of these things are unfavorable for marine life to prosper. Generally visibility is low, so don’t expect to see thriving coral reefs. At this point many divers might ask “if conditions are so unsavory, what is the point?” Well, because conditions are so unfavorable, the creatures living there must either adapt or die. Muck diving spots host an incredible array of some of the rarest and strangest critters that live on this planet!
It all started back in the 1980s in Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea. A group of divers were on a liveaboard trip when they decided to just jump into the water after the boat had anchored. The crew advised them against it due to the silty bottom and bad visibility, but the divers just wanted to see what they might find. What they discovered was a whole new world of crazy colourful critters that chose to inhabit the muddy bottom. This was the beginning of a whole new type of diving, and soon new world class muck diving locations were being discovered all over the world.
Diving in the muck requires expert buoyancy skills. Because of the silty, muddy bottom composition in muck diving areas, one misplaced fin will kick up a cloud of silt that will take a long time to clear. This is an easy and quick way to ruin the dive for everyone down there.
Many divers choose to carry a metal rod with them, which is NOT to be used for poking or harassing the critters, it should be used for either; helping you remain motionless by pressing it into the sand, or to point out some of the crazy things you may see to your dive buddy.
Having a good guide is essential to good muck diving. It may feel like you are descending into an area where there is no life, but soon your eyes will open up to all the critters that are down there. There is no rush while muck diving. Some divers choose to spend an entire dive in an area no bigger than a king sized bed. Many creatures down there have very impressive camouflage, so the closer you look, and the more patient you are, the more amazing things you will find!
Most of the world’s best muck diving can be found within the Coral Triangle. These tropical waters include Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. Indonesia’s Lembeh Straight is considered by many as the best muck diving spot in the world. Here there are over 30 muck spots, all within a short distance from one another. You can expect to see Pigmy Seahorses, Anglerfish, Flamboyant Cuttlefish (pictured above), many types of Ghost Pipefish, as well as nudibranch galore! The island of Mabul (near world famous Sipadan) offers some great muck dives, so perfect for when all the tickets to Sipadan have sold out.
If you have not already tried a muck dive, you should seriously consider taking a trip to a muck diving hotspot. If you are not yet fully convinced, go somewhere near a world class mucking spot that also has world class reef dives. Because of the amazing variety, muck diving is the last type of recreational diving where you might be able to discover a new species, or at the very least, see things that you have never seen before. Just make sure to put your macro lens on your camera!
Check out our video showing the weird and wonderful critters that can be spotted when muck diving in Lembeh Strait, Indonesia:
‘The Strange World of Muck Diving’ was written by Mike