It doesn’t sound pretty and I’ll admit I was skeptical at the beginning of my first muck dive. On my Indonesia dive vacation I back rolled off the boat into black sand for as far as I could see. Not a piece of coral was in sight. This did not seem like it was going to be a good dive at all, in fact, it looked like a sandy wasteland. But before I had time to reconsider my diving choices my dive guide banged on his tank and summoned me closer, pointing to the sand. I got closer and still didn’t see anything but then I stopped and focused right on the place he was pointing. It was a tiny seahorse with its tail wrapped around a small leaf. Wait, what? Seahorses? Okay, I decided I’d give it a chance.
Continuing the sandy dive it turned into a treasure hunt of the wild and weird, with mostly my dive guide pointing out the treasures and me squinting to figure out what extremely tiny animal he was pointing out. A baby frogfish the size of my pinky finger nail, a peacock mantis shrimp scurrying along the bottom, and so many nudibranchs! (Nudibranchs are beautiful slugs with bright colors and patterns that are often very tiny.) On a whip coral he pulled out a magnifying class and showed me a shrimp that blended in perfectly and was just a few centimeters long.
What is muck diving?
Muck diving usually refers to a dive looking for small marine life at dive sites that may be a little “mucky.” They may be mostly sand and the visibility might not be ideal, but that’s okay because you’ll have your nose to the bottom looking for critters. Sometimes the dives are shallow and just off the beach or under a pier. Other times they can be deeper and sometimes you find lots of muck creatures in areas that have some coral too.
Night dives at muck sites can also be amazing with a whole different set of unimaginable creatures coming out like the stargazer, which buries itself in the sand except for its eyes and mouth that look up out of the sand like something out of a horror movie.
Muck diving has become a favorite type of diving for underwater photographers, especially those who like the little stuff. Not to mention, the little stuff doesn’t always move very much, or very fast, making it ideal for improving techniques and getting great images. Plus the creatures are so interesting. Other amazing creatures to look for include several species of cuttlefish such as the flamboyant which is brightly colored and are many types of pipefish, eels, shrimp, crabs, octopus and more.
Tips for muck diving
- Follow your guide – You’ve heard this before, but especially on muck dives local guides usually are far better at finding the incredible animals living in the muck. Some muck creatures are mostly stationary, so your guide might know the exact sea fan to find a pygmy seahorse or a pile of rocks where a frogfish is usually living.
- Don’t stir up the silt – This is a big one, whether the bottom composition is sand or thicker sediment or even sea grass, one big kick with a fin directly towards the bottom can create a sand storm that will ruin the visibility or even send an unsuspecting seahorse or frogfish flying. It will upset your dive buddies if you are messing up the visibility or displacing the marine life.
- Don’t touch the critters – Don’t touch, poke, move, harass, or harm the marine life in any way. I’ve seen offenders do so much as pick up a frogfish and move it to a more photographic position and someone pick up a boxer crab to show their buddies. Don’t do it. Don’t touch or harass anything underwater.
- Tools of the trade – Muck sticks are long metal rods that can be used to point out critters (but don’t touch the animals with it) or to balance yourself in the sand (look before you stick your pointer). Those small pocket magnifying glasses are great for helping to see the tiniest of tiny animals. Make sure they are glass; the plastic ones usually won’t work underwater. Bringing a flashlight can help light up the critters and make them stand out (they are also great for pointing out stuff to your buddy). A slate can be useful to make a list of what you see or to ask your dive guide or buddy what something is.
- Patience – Go slow, look carefully, and if you can’t find anything, look closer. Learning about the muck creatures before the dive can help you find things too. For example, certain nudibranchs only live on certain sponges, so sometimes if you can find the sponge (which is much bigger) you can then find the nudibranch.
Where to go muck diving & best muck diving destinations?
Indonesia is in the middle of the Coral Triangle which is the most biodiverse region of the Earth’s oceans (this means it has the most different types of species in one place). It has some of the best muck diving in the world both in black sand and white sand. Some of the top spots in Indonesia include Ambon, Banda Sea, Komodo & Lembeh Strait.
The dive liveaboards All Star Aurora and the All Star Velocean both have muck diving as part of their itineraries (traveling by dive liveaboard also gives you the chance to have reef dives each dive trip too, so you get to sample a lot of different diving that Indonesia has to offer).
Indonesia dive liveaboards – two great choices one great destination. Choose between the traditional charm of a pinisi dive liveaboard All Star Aurora or the ultra-luxury scuba diving liveaboard All Star Velocean.