When we first reached the jetty that was the gateway to Lembeh, we were taken aback. Wooden fishing boats crammed the water's edge, oil sheens colouring rainbow outlines around their hulls. At the boundary between sand and sea, discarded plastic bags washed back and forth in the lapping waves. Garbage floated on the surface of water that was an unnatural murky black; it was impossible to tell what lay beneath.
Muck diving. It is the appreciation of the weird and the ugly, and the often hard-to-spot. Even the name accorded to them reeks of oddity: critters. Roll in around in your mouth and say it out loud.
Doesn't it sound like something that would have a million little legs, six eyes and the ability to make your skin crawl?
It is the abundance of such grotesque animals that catapulted Lembeh into international prominence as the capital of muck diving. And what better a backdrop than the gloomy waters of these straits?
On every dive we discovered critters ranging from bobtail squids to sea-dragons. Octopuses were a dime a dozen. Leaf fish, scorpionfish, frogfish, ghost pipefish, ribbon eels, mandarin fish, a multitude of differently coloured shrip and nudibranchs... I don't think it's possible to quantify the variety of things we saw.
Scientists reckon up to one million species call the ocean home - and that's despite the fact that 95% of the world's oceans still remain unexplored. It took sixteen dives at Lembeh but I now fully appreciate why. There is so much life out there, even in the places you least expect it to flourish in. Creatures smaller, weirder, hardier than you imagine - and yet so perfectly adapted and intricate in every way.
And then, of course, that begs the question - how much more is there that we don't know about? And how can we find out if we don't even know what we're missing?
I won't forget how the dive guide parted an innocuous bunch of seaweed - something I must have passed by a thousand times when diving - to point out a Lembeh sea-dragon, so small that you couldn't see its eyes unless you knew what you were looking for. It wasn't till the sea-dragon turned its head in the current that I realised what it was.
And that's the magic, isn't it? To get a tantalising glimpse of the wonder of Nature, and know there is so much more out there - not waiting for us to discover, because who are we to them? - but just being, testament to how well the sea keeps its secrets.
All the beautiful underwater photos taken by Jason!