Muck Diving in the Philippines ~ Photos of Wild and Wooly Creatures in the Sea

All Macro. All the Time.

My First Muck Dive

We were first introduced to the concept of muck diving way back in 1996 during a trip to remote Papua New Guinea. It didn’t sound very appealing to me, I’ll admit. I had a vision of low vis and well….muck… slimy, ooey-gooey, harbor sludge. What fun was that and what kind of stuff lived there?

It was explained to me that muck diving was actually diving in dark, rich volcanic sand and I was told that some pretty zany critters lived in that environment. I was game to give it a go. We took the small zodiac from the mother ship we were traveling on and headed for an overgrown shoreline with dark gray, almost black sand, the remnants of the long ago outpouring of a volcano. We stopped about 10 feet from shore to my bewilderment and it was announced that we were at the dive site. Hmmmmmm.

We spent the next hour and a half in just 20 feet of water, carefully scanning the sand inch by inch for new gifts from the sea. That first muck dive proved to me that it was, in fact, an incredible habitat full of creepy crawly, bizarro critters that even James Cameron on hallucinogens couldn’t dream up

We did a number of muck dives on that trip and I came home with an appreciation of yet another wild and wooly habitat of mother ocean.

Muck Diving VS Yuck Diving~You Need To Know The Difference

As muck diving became more popular throughout the diving community, something else popped on the radar, something I called “yuck diving”. Dive resorts were picking up on this new term and decided that any place with sand, rubble and dead coral they would term “muck diving”. What a great way to promote your crappy dive sites! Come on over to XYZ dive location with our fabulous “muck” diving. Oops, I meant yuck diving! I have since been on many a “yuck” dives marketed as “muck” dives, complete with well….nothing. The only weird critters on these dives were the gullible, paying guests searching the rubble and sand frantically for something other than Pringles cans and other trash run off from the local islands. If it’s not true black, rich, volcanic sand you won’t find the plethora of cool critters buried there.

Yes, my friends, true muck diving is something really, really special and a far cry from yuck.

Muck Diving in the Philippines

The Lembeh Straits in North Sulawesi, Indonesia have long been regarded as the premier destination for muck diving in the world and it deserves its title. But look out Lembeh because here on Negro Island in the Philippines, the list of muck critters is long and distinguished!

We arrived here in the town of Dauin about an hour plane flight south of Manila to see if the growing buzz was true. At the base of a beautiful, lush, shield volcano, the dark, molted sand beaches looked like a perfect coastline to host freakish critters with names like ghost pipefish, devil scorpionfish and even wonderpus. We would soon find out.

On our first foray into the coastal diving we found the exact environment we were looking for. We looked at each other, gave the double “okay” sign and plunged in. We were immediately rewarded with the wackiest critters on the planet. If you are not a diver and even if you are, you are most likely not at all familiar with the list of characters in this wonderland.

The best way to describe them is to show you. Check out some of most outlandish critters in the sea!  And here’s the kicker.  All of these creatures can be found in less than 20 feet of water within spitting distance of the shore.  How cool is that???

Fish name: Stargazerabout 1 foot long buries in the sand to ambush prey, very hard to find!

Fish name: Stargazer
about 1 foot long buries in the sand to ambush prey, very hard to find! Eyes and mouth are located on top of the fish to assist in hunting.

Fish Name: Wonderpusa small very well camouflaged octopus until he shows you his true colors.  His cousin, the mimic octopus can imitate the shapes of stingrays, snakes and other creatures to fool predators.

Fish Name: Wonderpus
a small very well camouflaged octopus until he shows you his true colors. His cousin, the mimic octopus can imitate the shapes of stingrays, snakes and other creatures to fool predators.

Fish Name: Juvenile Painted FrogfishThis 3" fish sits completely still and uses a lure on his head to attract prey.  He has the quickest strike of any fish 1/26 of a second.  If you can't find him, he's the spotted black dude and he's facing left

Fish Name: Juvenile Painted Frogfish
This 3″ fish sits completely still and uses a lure on his head to attract prey. He has the quickest strike of any fish 1/26 of a second. If you can’t find him, he’s the spotted black dude and he’s facing left

Fish Name: Striated or Hairy FrogfishThis is an adult about 6" sitting very well hidden out in the open.  He is facing you.  Can you find his eye and the lure in the middle of the frame?

Fish Name: Striated or Hairy Frogfish
This is an adult about 6″ sitting very well hidden out in the open. He is facing right. Can you find his eye and the lure in the middle of the frame? If you look closely you can also see his mouth turned up to the right of the eye

 

Fish Name: Pygmy SeahorseThis little guy is about the size of your thumbnail.  He doesn't live in the muck but in the branching gorgonian soft corals.  Only known to science about a decade ago and you can see why, he's very hard to see underwater and well hidden.  The camera pops him out a bit.  He is facing right in the middle of the frame

Fish Name: Pygmy Seahorse
This little guy is about the size of your thumbnail. He doesn’t live in the muck but in the branching gorgonian soft corals. Only known to science about a decade ago and you can see why, he’s very hard to see underwater and well hidden. The camera pops him out a bit. He is facing right in the middle of the frame

Fish Name: Ambon ScorpionfishThis is an adult about 4" long.  He is SO well hidden, it's hard to even find him in the photo.  He has a long protrusion on the top of his head and is facing right.  He also has wide "fins" at each side of his mouth.  He's very "spiny" and quiet poisonous like all scorpionfish

Fish Name: Ambon Scorpionfish
This is an adult about 4″ long. He is SO well hidden, it’s hard to even find him in the photo. He has a long protrusion on the top of his head and is facing right. He also has wide “fins” at each side of his mouth. He’s very “spiny” and quiet poisonous like all scorpionfish

Fish Name: Orange Banded PipefishThis is a gorgeous little fish about 6" long and lives cryptically under ledges.  Note his amazing paddle tail.  I like to describe the pipefish as unrolled seahorses.  This was a new species of pipefish for us here in the Philippines.

Fish Name: Orange Banded Pipefish
This is a gorgeous little fish about 6″ long and lives cryptically under ledges. Note his amazing paddle tail. I like to describe the pipefish as unrolled seahorses. This was a new species of pipefish for us here in the Philippines.

Fish Name: Pegasus Sea MothI decided to help you out on this one.  I was filming a cuttlefish when I found this guy just underneath me only about 2" long and obviously impossible to see.  Only rarely see this fish!!  I think this is the third time ever!

Fish Name: Spiny Devil Scorpionfish
I decided to help you out on this one. I was filming a cuttlefish when I found this guy just underneath me only about 2″ long and obviously impossible to see.

 

Add to the fabulous muck diving the warmest friendliest people on the planet here in the Philippines and you have a combo that can’t be beat!

Have you been muck diving? What’s the most bizarre critter you’ve seen?

 

, , , , , ,

No comments yet.

Be Adventurous and Join the Conversation! Leave Your Comment Here.