When thinking of scuba diving most people imagine colorful coral reefs surrounded by even more colorful fish. However, many experienced divers and underwater photographers, me included, started to appreciate a completely different style of diving looking for the weirdest and most fascinating small creatures in sand – muck diving.

 

What is muck diving?

The expression has first been used in Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea (PNG) by Bob Halstead in the 1980’s to describe the diving over black sand looking for exotic creatures.

Muck diving is an expression now used to describe any diving over sand, silt or mud (muck) with dead coral, garbage and small coral patches looking for small, unusual critters.

muck dive site

This type of diving is mostly appreciated by divers with cameras interested in macro photography.

 

So is it the same as macro?

No, it is not, even though the expression is often used interchangeably with macro diving. Muck diving is one kind of macro but it rather describes the environment than the size of marine life to be found.

 

What can I see there?

All kinds of weird little creatures like
loads and loads of different types of nudibranch and sea slugs

backpacker

 

shrimp (skeleton, tiger, harlequin, mantis)

peacock mantis shrimp

 

cephalopod (flamboyant cuttlefish, mimic octopus, wonderpus, coconut octopus, blue-ring octopus and bobtail squid)

cephalopod

 

scorpionfish (ambon, spiny devil, rhinopias and juvenile)

devil scorpion fish

 

frogfish (many types, the most famous to find in those sites might be the hairy frogfish)

hairy frogfish

 

seahorses, pipefish and pipehorses

pipefish

 

snake eel

snake eel

 

bobbit and other types of worm

fireworm

 

juvenile fish

juvenile boxfish

 

Do I need a camera?

Muck diving is mostly appreciated by underwater photographers but I have met some people without a camera still enjoying searching for critters in sand without the aim of taking pictures. They are able to cover a larger area but it might be better not diving with photographers as they will stay in the same place a long time trying to get the perfect shot!

small nudibranch

Some of the very small critters might be hard to see by eye so it is a good idea to bring a magnifying glass.

 

What makes muck diving different to other types of diving?

There is no pretty scenery. The whole dive is about searching for exotic critters. While diving in a coral reef or along a wall it is about the ambiance, all special fish or creatures are a plus. The low visibility over black sand with rubbish is not nice to look at and the dives are very slow to allow time to find the small critters.

 

Do I need to be an experienced diver

In my opinion experienced divers will enjoy muck diving a lot more. Looking for small critters you want be diving close to the mucky ground which is stirred up easily. Good propulsion techniques and buoyancy are essential. To make sure not to destroy everyone else’s experience and cause backscatter in their pictures by producing a cloud of sediment, it is important to not touch the ground with the fins while swimming and to use frog kicks. Other propulsion techniques might cause silt to be stirred up even without touching the ground.

muck diving

good vs bad practice

 

Divers who have not mastered their buoyancy yet should stay further away from the ground and only go close to take a picture. After finishing the picture remember to go up again before starting to kick.

 

How do I best position myself to take a picture?

You always want to be as low as possible to take a picture. However, do not lie in the sand. Many divers stabilize their body while taking a picture by fin pivoting which works fine. I prefer to stabilize myself with one elbow after checking if nothing is underneath the area I will use. My feet stay up in the water stabilizing my position by small movements with my fins. Alternatively this technique or the fin pivoting can be assisted by a muck stick or pointer.

 

Do I need special equipment?

Stiff fins like jet fins are best for muck diving to avoid stirring up the sediment. Many people use muck sticks to stabilize themselves or to aid the photography. I don’t like those as I see too much bad practice such as poking around or using it as a “walking stick”.

walking stick

For your camera you might want to use a diopter to allow photography of very small creatures and to use a good light. Snoots have been a trend lately which makes really nice shots with only light on the critter itself. Another trend is to produce a white background which can be achieved by using a slate behind the subject.

 

Where is the best muck diving?

In the volcanic areas of Southeast Asia like Indonesia (Lembeh, Bali, Ambon, Alor), Philippines (Anilao, Dauin), PNG (Milne Bay), Timor Leste and Malaysia (Mabul, Kapalai)

 

 

Please let me know in the comment section below if you have any additional questions or remarks and share your experience with this kind of diving