The Dirty Dozen The Best Places To Go Muck Diving

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 What are best places to go muck diving? Here is our dirty dozen:

  1. Ambon, Indonesia
  2. Anilao, Philippines
  3. Dauin, Philippines
  4. Izu, Japan
  5. Lembeh Strait, Indonesia
  6. Milne Bay, PNG
  7. Gangga Island, Indonesia
  8. Gulen, Norway
  9. Mabul, Borneo
  10. St Vincent, Caribbean
  11. Secret Bay, Bali
  12. Tufi, PNG

Lurking in the wastelands away from coral reefs, often literally in garbage dumps, live some of the most astonishing creatures to be found. These may not be scenic dives, but they more than make up for the lack of colourful vistas with the sheer bizarre wonder of the fish, cephalopods and crustaceans that can be found.  Here's DIVE's round-up of the best muck dives to delight macro photographers…



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One of the extremely rare and only relatively recently discovered endemic psychedelic frogfish 

One of the very best places in Indonesia for muck diving, the small, isolated,  island in the Banda Sea is blessed with an astonishing diversity of marine life. A Dutch marine biologist in 1863 documented 783 species of fish just in the sandy flats of Ambon Bay. Today many, many more have been added to the ultimate checklist for macro photographers – paddleflap scorpionfish, hairy frogfish, bumblebee shrimp, mimic octopus, robust pipefish, flamboyant cuttlefish…

Best time to go: Year-round  Best beasties psychedelic frogfish. 



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An anemone crab

On the northern shore of the Verde Island Passage is the 13km Calumpang Peninsula, better known under the general name Anilao, It is only a couple of hours drive from Manila and has seen tremendous development over the past 40 years. However,  it is arguably the most biodiverse region in the whole country and has some excellent muck dives on rich, black sands.

Best time to go:  November/December  & April/May  Best beasties blue-ringed octopus.



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A warty frogfish

Each April a veritable army of frogfish descend on Dauin down the coast from Dumaguete on the island of Negros Oriental. Gently sloping black sands, seagrass meadows and patches of reef are home to lots of other critters from flambos (flamboyant cuttlefish) to the perfectly named stargazers, an ever-patient ambush predator.

Best time to go:  dive season runs from October to early June - but April has the frogfish  Best beasties frogfish and  flambos.




A nudibranch showing off its rhinosphores

The Izu  Penisula just west of Tokyo is washed by the Kuroshio Current  - the Black Tide, that starts in the Philippines and flows northeastward past Japan, where it merges with the easterly drift of the North Pacific current. It is similar to the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic Ocean. The current supports a stunning array of marine life such as nudibranchs, gobies, seahorses, frogfish, anthias, squids, moray eels, and shrimps in muck diving sites such as Osezaki located in West Izu.

Best time to go: While the summer is warmer, the viz is better in winter.  Best beasties lots of wonderful nudibranchs.



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A much sought after cuckatoo waspfish  Ablabys taenianotus

The global epi-centre of muck diving - a strong selection of resorts catering for the avid macro photographer, first-class dive guides and a whole host of wonderful critters. The sandy sites are scattered with patches of reef or sponges and you can start your dive at 20m and slowly move from subject to subject found by the laser-eyed guides. The shallows are brimming with exotic juveniles. Everything from cuckatoo waspfish to pegasus sea moths can be found. Awesome!

Best time to go: Year-round, but it can get busy so consider the rainy months of December to February as the viz is more than acceptable  Best beasties you name it, they can find it.



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Lacy scorpionfish Rhinopias aphanes

This vast bay offers the full range of diving delights from manta rays to airplane wrecks, and nearby some of the best muck diving going. The north coast is the spot for critter hunting with sites such as Dinah's Beach or Tawali House Reef.  Technically these sites aren't actually in the bay rather on the coast facing the Solomons Sea. But they are commonly serviced by the liveaboards running Milne Bay itineraries.

Best time to go: Avoid the rainy season from May to August as it can reduce viz  Best beasties rhinopias including the lacy scorpionfish.



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Courting mandarinfish Synchiropus splendidus

Not far from Lembeh (in fact, you can visit on a day boat), but far enough away to avoid the crowds and still enjoy unparalleled muck diving. The house and nearby reefs swarm with seahorses, frogfish, shrimp, octopus and nudibranchs. There is also the opportunity to take an evening trip to see the charming mating ritual of the mandarinfish at Lihaga Island just a short boat ride from the island.

Best time to go:  May to October   Best beasties mandarinfish. 




Eubranchus farrani is one of the 85 species of nudibranch that have been identified in the Norwegian fjord

The best muck diving in Europe. More than 80 different species of nudibranchs have been identified on the house reef at the Gulen Dive Centre. They hold a nudibranch safari each March in the extremely beautiful fjord.

Best time to go: Spring   Best beasties nudibranchs.



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The blue-ringed octopus - one of the most venomous animals on the planet

Divers first came to this island as a base to visit nearby Sipidan Island and soon realised that underneath its jetty and garbage dumps lay a host of wonders. Lots of cephalopods including blue-ringed octopus and bobtail squids. Giant, painted and clown frogfish. Crustaceans galore including hairy squat lobsters and porcelain crabs. Plus flying gurnards and devil scorpionfish. World-class muck diving.

Best time to go: Year-round, but January to March can be unsettled. July and August peak conditions   Best beasties cephalopods.



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The brightly coloured flamingo tongue snail Cyphoma gibbosum

St Vincent is the critter capital of the Caribbean giving some of the macro hotspots in the Pacific a run for their money. This Windward Island is home to seahorses, frogfish, lots of eels, flamingo tongues, anemone shrimp and peacock flounders.  Orca Point, a dive site near Young Island Resort, is a treat. Start at 30m plus and slowly work your way up enjoying the awesome array of marine life. You can enjoy a leisurely safety stop at 5m with large schools of fish at a stack of boulders near the surface. 

Best time to go: January to June.  Best beasties flamingo tongues, spoon-nose snake eels.



pipe The ornate ghost pipefish or harlequin ghost pipefish, Solenostomus paradoxus

Tufi is located on the remote Cape Nelson, a peninsula on the north coast of the main island of Papua New Guinea.  It is one of many rias, or drowned river valleys in the area, locally referred to as 'fjords'. Between the dive centre jetty and the nearby public wharf is a scruffy area where stuff has been dumped for years, but it also home to an astonishing array of bizarre and beautiful creatures from pipefish to rare nudibranchs. The very best time to go is at the end of the dry season (October & November) when the water cools slightly and a strange mix of animals come up from deeper water. Don't miss a night dive.

Best time to go: July to November.  Best beasties dumpling squid,  ornate and ghost pipefish.




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A bobbit worm Eunice aphroditois

Made famous by the Japanese underwater photographer Takamasa Tonozuka, this wonderful site is tucked behind the busy ferry port town of Gilmanuk on the west coast of the island. The shallow bay is fed by the plankton-rich waters rushing through the nearby Bali Strait. Visibility can be excellent on a fast incoming tide. Expect lots of frogfish and plenty of rare nudibranchs, ghost pipefish,  dragonets, mimic octopus, stonefish, even the Ambon scorpionfish and every sort of shrimp. 

Best time to go: Year-round.  Best beasties bobbit worms and dragonets.










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