That’s a giant jellyfish, I thought while drifting through the warm waters of Lembeh Straits, Indonesia. Paddling closer, my heart raced as I worked to keep track of my dive buddies. Most, like me, were girls scuba diving in Indonesia for the first time. But my excitement was soon crushed as I discovered that the floating white mass was actually a plastic bag. It bounced in the current as I came near to spear it with my pointer. A swift twist later it collapsed and I shoved it into my BC vest pocket. Over the next five days, that pocket filled again and again with plastic garbage recovered while diving.

Tradition collides with the present

One afternoon our small group rinsed gear along the dock at the Lembeh Resort. While emptying my pockets into a trash can, one of the girls scuba diving with me asked, “What do you think they’re going to do with the garbage?”A cold fear flushed through me, as I realized it was going back into the sea.
Like many struggling island nations, North Sulawesi has a pile of infrastructure challenges. Traditionally islanders cook in and eat off abundant green leaves. Then they toss the used greens into stream beds to be flushed away during monsoon season. It’s an age-old tradition that’s shifted as tasty and tempting fast food options in all their plastic packaging are now choking the ocean.  The garbage is ubiquitous, cluttering roadsides, beaches, and ravines with plastic wrappers. Cheap packaged food is found in even the tiniest village markets.

Hope for a better future is rising with the tides, but first a bit about diving here…

Boat ready for scuba diving girls and their buddies at Lembeh Resort

Boat ready for scuba diving girls and their buddies

Lembeh for girls scuba diving and underwater photographers

This is one of the world’s top spots for underwater photographers and divers seeking strange creatures. The narrow strait between the seas is famous for muck diving, a rough and mottled sand bottom that’s full of nutrients and shelter for the startlingly unique sea life. It’s also easy to dive the shallow depths and most dive sites are less than ten minutes from the many resorts dotting the coastline.
Tea time at Lembeh Resort for girls scuba diving and their buddies

Tea time at Lembeh Resort

The Lembeh Resort is luxurious without feeling imposing. Scuba diving girls and anyone traveling with gear will feel secure in the gated grounds. There are 14 Deluxe Ocean View Cottages, 6 Garden View Rooms, a Spa, as well as a wonderful swimming pool and oceanfront deck. Locals from nearby villages work at all levels of the family-owned destination. The dive facilities include a dedicated, temperature-controlled equipment room and bays where each diver can set up.
There’s lots of assistance too. It’s easy for boys and girls scuba diving and novices like myself to concentrate on working our dive skills. I had help getting into my heavy gear and positioned to jump in. Also, it’s tiring to spend 3 or more hours underwater daily. The eager and strong dive masters reached overboard as we surfaced to draw our tanks and weights out of the water instead of us lifting all that soggy gear up the ladder. That’s a luxury for anyone, scuba diving girls and guys of all ages!
Strange dive creatures in the muck of Lembeh Straits

Strange dive creatures in the muck of Lembeh Straits.  Photos – Elaine Masters

But best of all were the transcendent revelations underwater. I’ll never forget circling my dive buddies as they set up shots in the different areas. I had a camera but with my novice device bored quickly and wandered until my exasperated dive master cautioned me about staying with the group. While most of the divers hauled cases of gear, lenses, and batteries for the opportunity to capture pictures of the rare creatures I was pretty pleased by the few shots I managed to get.
One morning, the girls scuba diving with me gathered to ride up into the hills to search for Tarsier Monkeys – tiny, endangered marsupials with big eyes. A guide from Safari_Tourtso drove us into the Tongkoko Nature Reserve. I’d doused my limbs with mosquito repellant and wore long sleeves and pants in the dire heat. It was a futile effort to avoid stinging plants and the tiny mites that seek warm skin to feed. Rain fell hard as we arrived and tromping through the thick growth made an umbrella useless. Soaked from sweat and pelted with rain, I worked to keep from getting distracted and stay with the group.
A Mandarin Fish, Tarsier Monkey and Electric Clam in North Sulawesi

A Mandarin Fish, Tarsier Monkey and Electric Clam in North Sulawesi

Tarsier Junction

All that discomfort faded when we finally stood at the base of a large tree to view our reward. I could just make out tiny creatures blinking into the fading afternoon light from a shadowy cleft. Our guide lifted a husky, skewered grasshopper towards their lair, and one by one, a trio of adorable creatures emerged to check it out. The Tarsiers are losing habitat quickly. It was sobering to realize that the tree I peered up into was one of only five they favored that remain in the vast jungle preserve. We soon turned to return to our van but before leaving watched an indigenous Crested Black Macaque preening himself and our guide tried to spot the rare birds we could hear in the dense jungle.
Tidal fishing near the Lembeh Resort

Tidal fishing near the Lembeh Resort

The Lembeh Resort has grown since I visited several years ago. That bodes well for the environment inside the property and for the community as the Resort is one of the first to acknowledge the need for better garbage systems:
“Here in North Sulawesi the local community are not educated about reducing plastic and almost all items are sold in plastic bags. Among other strategies, we now use large crates for transporting goods to the resort, eliminating the need for plastic bags.”
– Lembeh Resort Website
Along with limiting plastic as much as they can, the resort has ditched styrofoam in favor of paper bags for dive lunches, and cocktails are served with stylish, glass straws. The bungalows have new water-saving faucets, solar energy, and green materials. Reef and beach cleanups are being organized too.
Family in the Bitung market

Family in the Bitung market, Photo – Elaine Masters


The future looks good for scuba diving girls and guys in Lembeh

The Resort is close to the Tasikoki Wildlife Rehabilitation and Rescue Center which works to stop illegal trade and trafficking through the port in Bitung. Learning about the incredible natural environment and how to protect it is an important part of the work the Center does, as well as organizing and funding trips for local children to visit Tasik Oki. The Resort also donates to the effort in the name of each guest.
Hopefully, these efforts and tourism throughout the region will lead to more sustainable jobs, fewer plastics in the ocean, and less mining, clear-cutting, and poaching across the region.
Here’s more about how to avoid my novice, scuba diving girls experiences and health challenges on the trip.
Safe and sustainable best girls diving pin