Snorkeling Lembeh Strait, Indonesia – Famous for Rare Muck Critters, But Also Has Great Reefs

We were recently (2023) snorkeling Lembeh Strait, in Indonesia, which is famous for rare and unique critters in black sand “muck”. We were not sure if we would enjoy muck snorkeling. Could you pick a less appealing word? But it ended up being a great experience, and we did find a lot of unique little creatures in a short period of time, including many seahorses, a frogfish, other rare fish in the reefs.

Snorkeling Lembeh Strait - with Cockatoo Waspfish
Cockatoo Waspfish – Seen while snorkeling Lembeh Strait
Cardinalfish and corals at Lembeh Strait
Cardinalfish seen while snorkeling Lembeh Strait

Where Is Lembeh Strait and What Makes It Unique?

Lembeh is a small island close to the northeast tip of North Sulawesi in Indonesia.

The water channel between Lembeh and Sulawesi is not very wide, and it gets shallow in the center. Because of that restriction, ocean currents flow strongly through the strait, bringing lots of nutrients along with it, which is ideal for healthy sea life, and why snorkeling Lembeh Strait is so interesting.

Lembeh Strait Snorkeling Map

Snorkeling Lembeh Strait – What Is Muck Snorkeling?

It really does not sound great does it? Snorkeling in muck sounds like something you would want to avoid, not intentionally seek out. So what is this muck business all about? The beaches and sand around Lembeh are black, from volcanic rock. And for some reason, lots of rare little critters really like hanging out in this mineral-rich black sand, particularly in the shallow sandy areas, without much reef.

Anemone and fish in black sand in Lembeh Strait
Fire urchin in Lembeh Strait

And unfortunately the creatures also seem to like hanging out next to bits of trash from the local villages, like plastic bottles, tires, or other items. So now we are snorkeling in a barren, mucky, black sand area, with a good amount of human trash littered around the floor. Starting to sound even worse, right?

It’s Worth It!

Lembeh is considered the “critter capital of the world”. So if you know what to expect, this muck snorkeling business can be really rewarding. Because in a short period of time you have the chance to see some of the rarest and most interesting critters in shallow water, anywhere in the world.

In just a few hours snorkeling Lembeh Strait our group found several seahorses, most of which appeared pregnant. We found a frogfish, some really cool snails, what was likely a coconut octopus, many unusual lionfish, waspfish, dragonet, and many other creatures. This is where you can see a mimic octopus, if you are lucky.

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Seahorse seen while snorkeling in Lembeh Strait
Sea snail in Lembeh Strait
Longspined Porcupinefish in Lembeh Strait
Zebra Lionfish in Lembeh Strait

Blurry Fish, Rotten Colors, Garbage Pictures

That does not look like what I saw! See our snorkeling camera pages for tips on selecting a good snorkeling camera, and how to use it for great pictures.

Snorkeling Lembeh Strait Reefs

Thanks to the strong currents in Lembeh Strait, there are also beautiful reefs. In fact, on each side of the black sand muck beach we snorkeled were some fantastic little patch reefs just packed with beautiful life and unique corals, like the one below.

Anchor Coral in Lembeh Strait
Anchor Coral

Lembeh Strait Snorkeling Video – Banggai Cardinalfish

We had the good fortune to see many Banggai Cardinalfish, which only live in a few places in the world, and are an endangered species. Our video below is full of them.

We also snorkeled a few other spots in the strait, right in one of the narrowest areas. We snorkeled around some small islands, just south of where the famous arch used to be (it had recently collapsed). And we also snorkeled along a wall on the Sulawesi side, once again in the narrowest spot in the strait.

Snorkeler near small islands in Lembeh Strait
Nicole snorkeling around small islands in the middle of Lembeh Strait

Both of these spots were some of the best snorkeling sites we have ever visited in our lives. They were just packed with interesting fish, nudibranchs, pipefish, corals, crazy tunicates, and other creatures, in shallow depths perfect for a snorkeler. Check out some of what we saw while snorkeling Lembeh Strait below.

Lightbulb Tunicates
Lightbulb Tunicates
Lettuce coral field at Lembeh
Lettuce coral field
Beautiful fan coral and sponges on a wall in Lembeh
Pipefish at Lembeh
Scorpionfish on a coral in Lembeh
Bubble coral at Lembeh
Bubble Coral
Spinecheek Anemonefish and Banggai Cardinal fish with anemone and long-spined sea urchins in Lembeh Strait
Spinecheek Anemonefish, Banggai Cardinalfish and Long-spined Urchins

How to Snorkel Lembeh Strait?

We joined a liveaboard trip that was organized by our trips partner, which they are not currently offering. They are offering another wonderful liveaboard itinerary that includes Lembeh Strait, along with snorkeling the remote Togian Islands National Park. Check out that trip here.

There are also many diving resorts in Lembeh Strait that you could stay at, although we don’t know if any of them focus on snorkeling spots. You would have to do some research and talk to the resorts.

Snorkeling Sunburns Suck!

Check out the snorkeling rash guards, wetsuits, and reef safe sunscreen we use to protect ourselves and to protect fish and coral from sunscreen chemicals.

More Indonesia Snorkeling Tips