May 2012: The Seraya Slope, Tulamben, Bali, Indonesia

Tuesday May 1st 2012

When I first heard the term Muck Diving, I certainly wasn’t imagining vast coral reefs and deep blue seas.  This kind of diving does literally involve diving in muck, or rather sand, silt and detritus, with slightly poor visibility and perhaps a rotting tree, other vegetation or garbage like fishing nets close by.  In these conditions it is almost impossible to come across rich vegetation or colourful fish.  Such dive sites begin in the shallowest waters as you enter the sea, and there is too much sand and silt for reefs to grow and flourish.  The best muck diving is said to be in river mouths where a combination of seawater, freshwater and currents can be an ideal habitat for many small critters and where a steady flow of water can bring in rich nutrients.  Muck diving is done at a very shallow depth, usually 3 – 8m, and involves scouring the floor with your face inches from the seabed.  It is a great way to practice buoyancy and fin kicking, and the perfect dive for someone who enjoys exploring and finding weird and wonderful creatures in some less obvious places.

Volcanic lava and ash are rich in minerals that can help marine life grow and regenerate.  They are also said to provide some extreme conditions in which animals must either adapt or die, and this can lead to sightings of some unusual creatures.  In this sense Bali, with its nutrient-rich black sand, is an ideal place for muck diving, and I was able to experience one just north of Tulamben at Seraya Slope.

Our dive began with an easy shore entry.  After gearing up near the beach we walked the few steps towards the water.  Conditions were very calm, and we swam down the gentle slope of black sand.  The bottom of the slope went down gradually to around 9m, and the black sand soon mixed with a range of rock formations, tiny pieces of coral and small sponges.  After diving over the Liberty Wreck, my first impressions of the area were not particularly overwhelming, and at first glance there was no clue to the rich marine life further below.  But eventually we reached a bare, brown and sandy bottom where we came across an artificial reef.  A metal structure had been unintentionally left or deliberately placed in the sand and was teeming with soft coral and tropical fish.  Known as the dome-shaped Seraya artificial reef, we swam around it and spotted Moorish Idols, small frogfish, blennies, brain coral and tiny crabs and shrimps such as the mantis shrimp and Colemans shrimp.  With visibility between 5 – 20m, it really was a photographer’s paradise with plenty of areas for some good shots.  Generally it is a very easy to site to navigate and dive in.

Beyond the artificial reef, Seraya is a sandy slope that continues to go down and down into the dark depths of the ocean with no end in sight.  The deeper areas between 9 and 35m are called Deep Secrets and are home to octopus and seahorses, cuttlefish, mimic octopus, striped catfish and large frogfish.  We spent just over 50mins hovering over the sand instead.  I was very relaxed and calm so my guide and I made it down to a little over 20m, and found even more nudibranchs, crabs and shellfish to observe.  Some creatures obligingly posed for photos, while the nudibranchs were so small that I had to strain my eyes to take a proper look at what my guide was pointing at.  One main attraction in Seraya is the Harlequin shrimp of which a fellow diver took an excellent photo.  The shrimp is shy and tends to hang out in dark areas, but its distinctive shape, bright colours and big eyes make it a very special creature to spot, almost like finding a bright flower underwater.  Its main diet is starfish, and it’s often been seen preying on them, attempting to flip them over before dragging them away.

I had never thought much about muck diving.  Indeed when I first came across the term it didn’t appeal at all, but having experienced it I can understand the satisfaction of finding something special in more obscure areas or indeed something you would not encounter on a regular dive.  It is an underwater treasure hunt, and the key is to slow down and take your time adjusting to the dive and getting used to the area.  After all, the marine life is most definitely out there.

May’s dives

Dive 1: Seraya Slope: depth: 21.5m, dive time:52mins, water temp: 30C, entry time: 11:05, exit time: 11:57, average depth: 12.95m, used an 11.1L aluminium tank, 6kg weight belt and 5mm wetsuit.  Saw mantis shrimp, Colemans shrimp, Harlequin shrimp, nudibranchs, frogfish, blennies and soft coral

Dive 2: Tulamben Dropoff: depth: 14.0m, dive time: 56mins, water temp: 30C, entry time: 15:13, exit time: 16:10, average depth: 10.14m, used an 11.1L aluminium tank, 6kg weight belt and 5mm wetsuit.  Saw a Napoleon wrasse, parrotfish, sea slugs, nudibranchs, shrimps, cuttlefish and starfish

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