The term “tropical” diving generally conjures images of crystal clear, warm water flowing over beautiful, lush coral reefs teeming with colorful fish. “Muck” diving is a different experience altogether! Basically, it means rummaging around in sandy, muddy, murky areas among discarded bottles, old tires, pizza boxes…all manner of garbage, in search of the oceans tiniest, most weird and wonderful creatures.
Many areas are particularly known for this type of diving. The term “muck diving” is descriptive of a particular environment. The oceans substrate is covered with fine sand and silt, currents are mild and visibility can be poor. Patches of sand, sea grass, volcanic areas, and oddly enough, areas with a lot of rubbish can be great for muck diving. Many of the oceans strangest residents make their homes in these places, utilizing them to their best advantage. What a treat it is to see, for example, a coconut octopus scurrying around gathering pieces of cardboard which he uses for protection.
Muck diving can afford one the opportunity to see and photograph some of the oceans most unique and amazing critters. Most subjects will be well camouflaged or entirely hidden in the sand, but with the knowledge and well- trained eyes of a good dive guide, the weird and wonderful will be revealed! On a recent dive day in Lembeh Straits, Indonesia the following critters were spotted: a baby painted frogfish, blue ringed octopus, wunderpus, algae octopus, halimeda crab, ambon scorpion fish, fingered dragonet, calamari squid, zeno crab, female ornate ghost pipefish with eggs, painted lobster, zebra batfish, snapping crinoid shrimp, decorator crab, soft coral crab, minute filefish, and a variety of nudibranchs and sea slugs. This would be a fairly typical sighting list for a day in Lembeh. Muck diving is about the critters, period! Muck diving can be a very rewarding and enlightening experience, especially for the underwater photographer.
Muck diving tips
• Be a responsible diver, don’t poke or prod subjects. The environment is very fragile.
• Good buoyancy and proper weighting is a must. Make sure you are not over weighted.
• Avoid grabbing anything with your hands to stabilize yourself.
• When weighted properly, kicking should not be necessary to maintain a stationary position.
• Good muck diving technique involves two basic principles. Keep your head down, eyes on the bottom looking for critters and fins should be up to avoid kicking up the sand, mud, and silt.
• While kicking, water turbulence and fin tips can cause damage to creatures and reduce visibility.
• Try using a frog kick to avoid disturbing the substrate, and occasionally look behind you to make sure you are not leaving an unintended, unwanted wake.
• Be aware of your surroundings at all times.
Muck Diving Destinations
• Lembeh Strait, Indonesia
• Anilao, Philippines
• Ambon, Indonesia
• Mabul, Borneo
• Dumageutte, Philippines
• Bali, Indonesia
• St. Vincent, Caribbean
• Blue Heron Bridge, Florida USA
• Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea
Muck Diving Photography Tips & Techniques
• Plan your dive. Muck dives are typically done in shallow water allowing longer bottom times.
• Get close to your subject and then get closer.
• Eliminating the amount of water between you and your subject is the key to producing colorful and sharp underwater images.
• Approach your subject slowly and cautiously.
• Have your strobe and camera settings pre-set before going in for the shot.
• Muck diving can reward you with many wonderful macro opportunities. To fill the frame, use a diopter, teleconverter or extension tube to add magnification.
• When adding magnification your depth of field tends to become very shallow, making it difficult to focus. Try rocking the camera back and forth to achieve proper focus.
• Focus on the eyes. When shooting an animal, if only one thing is in focus it must be the eyes.
• Use a snoot to isolate your subject from the background.
• If you want more of your subject in focus, keep the subject parallel to the camera.
• Be considerate and respectful of the critters you are photographing.
WORDS AND PICTURES by Beth Watson