Magic in the Muck – Muck Diving

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For many people, the term ‘muck’ doesn’t hold much appeal, so when the newly adopted phrase ‘muck diving’ came into play it was easy to understand why many divers were hesitant to explore what this odd-sounding activity actually entailed.

Muck diving was a fairly recent discovery by divers in Papua New Guinea who decided on a whim to dive right off the shores of a sandy beach and were rewarded with sightings of rare and fascinating creatures unlike any reef or blue water dive they had ever experienced. Since then, muck diving has become a popular activity for many divers all over the world.

Just read on to see why it’s so much more than just diving in muck:

Table of Content

What Is Muck Diving?

Let’s jump right in by asking the question: what exactly is muck diving?

Although the term conjures up unpleasant images of dirty water complete with a dark, silty ocean floor adding to already-poor visibility, some of the best muck diving locations can be found in the crystal clear waters of the Coral Triangle in places such as Indonesia, the Philippines and the Solomon Islands. Muck diving is usually done in shallow waters off the shore where the ocean floor has a sandy or pebbly composition. Many of the best muck diving locations feature black volcanic sand, and hidden amongst the stray tree branches, rocks and all sorts of other nooks and crannies is where you’ll find some of the weirdest and wackiest creatures in the ocean! As with any dive site, each unique location will have its own varying visibility levels, but dives are generally shallow with the possibility of long bottom times, an added bonus when you consider how much there is to see on a muck dive.
Although the term ‘muck diving’ is fairly accurate for what it is, the fascinating creatures that can be found amongst the sandy, silty bottoms of the ocean floor are certainly worth giving muck diving a try. The critters found in these habitats are some of the world’s weirdest and most wonderful creatures and will astound even the most experienced of divers. As the millions of muck diving enthusiasts will be sure to tell you, muck diving is less about diving in muck as it is about embarking on an epic treasure hunt to discover some of the world’s strangest treasures.

What is there to see on a Muck Dive?

In short, an infinite list of creatures both big and small.

Underwater photographers and macro-life enthusiasts be warned – you’ll need plenty of space on that memory card to capture all the fascinating macro life available on a muck dive. This type of diving boasts an abundance of small, interesting-looking creatures such as brightly coloured and wildly patterned nudibranchs which stand out in fantastic contrast against the black volcanic sand of an ocean floor. There are all sorts of seahorses to see, from the tiny pygmy seahorse no bigger than a fingernail to the larger Pacific seahorses which can grow up to 6 inches tall. Can you imagine finding a skeleton shrimp no larger than a hair? How about a stunning flamboyant cuttlefish with its unique display of flashing yellows and purples? Muck diving presents an array of incredible creatures just waiting to be discovered, each one unique and each one most certainly picture or film-worthy too.

If octopuses are in your top 10 creatures to see, a muck dive is unlikely to disappoint – if you can spot them of course! These kings of camouflage are so much more than just 8-legged invertebrates with disproportionately large heads – they are some of the smartest underwater creatures scientists have studied to-date. Take the mimic octopus for example: a highly popular sighting especially for underwater photographers, this small but significant creature is able to bend its body into mimicking other creatures such as flounder fish, sea snakes and lion fish and can also blend into its surroundings using its fantastic camouflage capabilities. The blue ring octopus might be tiny, but it is mighty too – mighty deadly. Just one of its many harmful neurotoxins has been measured to be around 10 000 times stronger than cyanide – so keep your distance from this one. The wonderpus, coconut octopus and the poison ocellate octopus are also on the infinite list of critters to see when muck diving as well as the algae and hairy octopuses.

If you’re still looking for more reasons to try muck diving, consider that you may also be able to spot the beautiful harlequin shrimp, the aptly named Donald Duck shrimp and a variety of cuttlefish including the tiny pygmy cuttlefish and the broadclub cuttlefish too. But muck diving is about so much more than just teeny tiny critters. Larger creatures often choose to make their homes in the muck, such as the elusive frogfish which can grow to the size of a baseball glove yet still be almost impossible to see thanks to great camouflage. A variety of large eel species can also be seen including blue ribbon eels, garden eels, snake eels, snowflake and zebra moray eels.

When to Go Muck Diving

Muck diving is possible during the day and at night, with different things to see at the different intervals. A sunset muck dive may present you with the opportunity to watch the stunning mandarin fish perform their mating display, with vibrant colours and a beautiful dance that definitely needs to be ticked off your diving bucket list sooner rather than later. Night dives make for an even more exciting treasure hunt as many of the hiding critters are easier to spot when illuminated by an underwater light. Night-time hunters such as stonefish, scorpion fish and eels are more likely to be seen on a night muck dive. Also keep a look out for the star gazer, a sneaky critter that buries itself under the sand until only its eyes and mouth are visible.

How to Muck Dive

Since visibility is key in spotting tiny, well-hidden critters, ensuring that you have perfect buoyancy when diving on sandy bottoms is extremely important. Critter sticks are helpful tools that many muck divers use to hold themselves up in one position above the sand without disturbing or stirring up the bottom and reducing visibility. These metal rods can also be used to point out amazing sightings to your fellow divers, but should never be used to harass the marine life.

If you are relatively new to muck diving, or even if you’re an experienced muck diver diving in a new location, a knowledgeable dive guide can add a great deal of value to your experience. Local dive guides can help to find the treasures of the muck diving treasure hunt as they will have an idea of where to look for certain creatures and can help to point them out to other divers. Don’t be alarmed if you’re not able to see some of the critters at first, it can take some time for your eyes to adjust to treasure finding!

Top Muck Diving Destinations

Some of the best muck diving sites are in the biodiverse region of the Coral Triangle including the regions of Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, the Solomon Islands and of course the place where it all seemed to start, Papua New Guinea. Two of the most popular locations amongst muck diving enthusiasts are Lembeh Strait in Indonesia and Milne Bay in Papua New Guinea, but there are plenty of places to explore. In fact, many of these locations offer fantastic reef diving as well as nearby muck diving opportunities, so do a bit of research and reap the rewards. Who knows – you might even discover a brand new species!

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