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105

GL BAL TREASURE

INDONESIA

104

Lembeh Strait

Kingdom f the World’s Strangest Critters

wo American ladies went on a cruise with Billy Martindaz, aka the Elvis of North Sulawesi.

They fell in love with North Sulawesi, and leased a plot of land on Kungkungan Bay, to develop a resort for their American friends. They handed over the ‘fun’ part of the game plan to one of their sons, Mark Ecenbarger. (oversee the construction) Mark got bored with the contractors and went diving around the bay. He found living jewels among the black sand and the rest as they say, is history. I frst explored Lembeh Strait with Mark one morning in 1993 and was immediately obsessed.

Between the northern tip of the North Sulawesi peninsula and Lembeh Island, lies a 16-kilometre long strait. By now, there are over 45 sites for observing a rich array of marine critters, found on rocky patch reefs but mostly on black sandy slopes. This is a universe of the weird and wonderful. Expanses of reefs are found in a few spots in the northern end of the strait where soft corals, sea fans and hard coral coverage are prolifc. Critters such as the mimic octopus, wonderpus, coconut octopus, hairy frogfsh, famboyant cuttlefsh, harlequin shrimp, blue ring octopus, bumble bee shrimp and skeleton shrimp are predictably

present. The assemblage of “out of the ordinary” creatures at Lembeh is impressive: Ambon scorpionfsh ( Pteroidichthys amboinensis ), stonefsh, sea robins, stargazers, devilfsh and even the weedy scorpionfsh ( Rhinopias frodosa ) are often found. Seahorses (pygmy and others) are numerous and the Pegasus, ghost pipefsh and the endemic Banggai cardinalfsh are also prolifc.

Nowhere else in the world exists an array of weird and wonderful critters in such variety and density. By comparison, at Milne Bay in Papua New Guinea, you may sometimes fnd the mimic octopus, frogfsh or pygmy seahorse, and at other times, you may fnd a harlequin shrimp, ghost pipefsh, skeleton shrimp and weedy scorpionfsh (the Holy Grail of fsh), but it would be most unusual to fnd all of these weirdoes and oddballs at the same time. However, on my last visit to Lembeh Strait with Benny Sarindah of Lembeh Hills Resort, I saw them all in just two-and-a-half days! Serious naturalists and photographers should bring along a ‘shopping’ list when visiting Lembeh Strait. In most cases, wishes are 100 percent fulflled with bonus!

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