The wonderfully colourful mantis shrimp.
Appreciating the little things in life is important, and macro diving is all about enjoying the tinier critters that call the ocean home. Diving with manta rays and sharks is definitely thrilling, however some of the most astonishing animals are also some of the smallest. You’ll find yourself questioning if the tiny bizarre alien-like creatures you’re seeing are from this planet.
Because of their size, most of the animals you’ll spot macro diving are wonderfully camouflaged so they blend in to their surroundings and aren’t gobbled up by a predator. The pygmy seahorse is normally no more than 2cm in length and often looks just like the soft coral or gorgonian sea fans they inhabit. Frogfish look like lumps of soft coral with tiny legs, and these fish walk rather than swim. They move incredibly slowly until they come across their next meal, when they will strike unbelievably quickly (usually in as little as 6 milliseconds!). The colorful mantis shrimp is unbelievably strong, and use their claw to deliver a punch to their prey with impact that is equal to the acceleration of a .22 caliber bullet.
While ‘macro’ may actually mean ‘large-scale’ the term macro diving refers to the kind of lens underwater photographers use to capture smaller marine life. Macro lenses allow divers to capture the intricate beauty of the small species they encounter. Macro diving tends to be in shallower water, in conditions with minimal current and close to shore. However macro life can be found everywhere, you just need to look for it! Some macro species can be highly poisonous, so it’s best to wear gloves and use a reef stick to sift through the sand. Your liveaboard dive guide will have extensive knowledge of the different species and where to find them, so sticking with them underwater will allow you to uncover the best of the macro world at each individual dive site.
Macro life can be spotted in the nook and crannies on coral reefs and along rocky outcrops, but destinations renowned for ‘muck diving’ are the best for anyone who loves macro diving. Muck diving is essentially diving in areas of sand (the ‘muck’) and looking for the vast amount of life that thrives in this environment. Some of the best muck diving sites are located in Southeast Asia, where the nutrient rich, warm water and volcanic sand makes a perfect home for plenty of macro marine life. Below we’ve rounded up our top three macro dive destinations.
Indonesia is a macro divers paradise. To be honest, it’s any kind of divers paradise. The 17 000 islands that make up the Indonesian Archipelago offer no shortage of dive sites for every kind of diver. Places like Lembeh Strait have a handful of dive sites well suited to muck diving, with a whole myriad of macro creatures hiding in the shallow black sand. Here you can find the Banggai Cardinal Fish, which is endemic to the area, along with mandarin fish, pygmy seahorse, stonefish and ghost pipefish. Bali also has plenty of fantastic muck diving sites, with the muck dive in Beang Abang rating high on any macro divers list. The Banda Sea, Raja Ampat and Komodo also offer a variety of wonderful muck dive sites which can be explored by liveaboard.
The best thing about muck diving from a liveaboard is you’ll experience a variety of dive sites and see the best the area has to offer. One dive you will be exploring pristine coral reefs covered in larger marine life, and the next you’ll be searching the volcanic sand of Maumere for seahorse and frogfish.
Belize may be rewnowed for the 124 metre underwater ‘Blue Hole’, but the variety of macro marine life you’ll see diving along the reef walls is just as exciting. Hiding amongst the pristine coral of the reefs scattered throughout Belize you will find tiny arrow crabs, moray eels and spiny lobsters. The coral formations that cover the vast, sheer walls that are the Painted Wall, Half Moon Cay Wall and Quebrada make excellent habitat for the tinier life of Belize!
Mimic Octopus and Wunderpus Octopus are some of the most fascinating macro critters. Living up to its name, the mimic octopus changes it’s body shape, colour and pattern to ‘mimic’ predators and other local species. Both of these amazing species of Octopus can be spotted in the Philippines, along with a seemingly never-ending array of pipefish, mantis shrimp, gobies, nudibranch and scorpion fish.
‘The Cars’ in Dauin is a fantastic muck diving site located in the Philippines. The dark sand slopes down towards two sunken Volkswagens, which are now covered in coral and a resident school of lionfish. Hidden in the sand is an assortment of macro species. Keep an eye out for the mimic octopus, more than likely pretending to be another creature!