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What is muck diving?

Why would you want to dive in muck? Don’t you like coral? These are some of the questions that many divers are asked when they bring up muck diving in conversation. Some people are turned off by the idea simply because of the name without actually realizing what muck diving is.

To us here at Atmosphere, muck diving is an absolutely amazing game of hide-and-go-seek where there is always something new to see or experience. You can dive the same site twice in a day and see completely different critters, so it’s always a good idea to bring extra camera batteries and memory cards. Instead of only diving huge coral reefs, you have to seek out these critters in the muck and look carefully at every little rock, clump algae, or piece of trash because you never know what might be hiding there.

Muck diving with cuttlefish, ghost pipefish and seahorse

In what environment do you find it?

Muck diving gets its name because of the environment of the areas where it is most common. A lot of these sites consist of dark volcanic sand or sediment, which resembles ‘mud’ or ‘muck.’ There are usually not many corals, but there can be a lot of man-made structures such as fishing line and nets, mooring blocks, sunken boats, car tires, shipping containers, even cars. Within the realm of muck diving, the dive sites can be completely different because muck diving isn’t exclusive to a volcanic sand environment – it also includes sea grass beds, fields of rubble or small rocks, and strangely, places with a lot of garbage. Depending on the time of year, algae coverage can transform a dive site and with it the creatures that you may find.

What do you see?

If there is not much coral, then what do you see? That’s usually the next question that we are asked, and rightly so. At first glance, a dive site may look like a barren wasteland, but that’s not the case. One of the reasons we love muck diving is that the critters we find and search for usually rely on camouflage or mimicry to survive. For example, we love frogfish, which can be any color, practically any size, and are nearly impossible to see with an untrained eye, especially when they become covered in algae. Luckily, we have some pretty amazing dive masters who can see things that most other people would miss. You can also find many types of octopus, including the blue-ringed octopus, mimic octopus and the wonderpus, as well as nudibranchs and flatworms, cuttlefish (including the flamboyant cuttlefish), wasp fish, seahorses, stingrays, stargazers, flying gurnards, many species of ghost pipefish, snake eels, garden eels, and different kinds of scorpion fish. There are also a lot of crabs, shrimps, and many schools of fish including barracuda. Here in Dauin, many sea turtles even rest on the sandy slopes and are a nice surprise while hunting for small critters. If you’re extremely lucky, you might even have a whale shark cruise by during a drift dive at Main-it.

Muck diving with nudibranchs, halimeda ghost pipefish and frogfish

Where in the world?

Muck diving might not be for everyone, but it’s a sure way to see some of the most bizarre critters in the ocean. Some of the best places to go muck diving other than Atmosphere are in Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, and the Philippines, especially here in Dauin. There’s even a muck diving site in Florida under the Blue Heron Bridge that has a maximum depth of eight meters where you can find eagle rays next to hairy frogfish and colorful nudibranchs. Many macro photographers (people who photograph very small critters) love muck diving because of the amount of these small critters hiding in the sand, as a lot of them aren’t found in other areas. Critter lovers also flock to Dauin because of the regularity and consistency of ‘weird stuff’ that can only be found in the Indo-Pacific, like some of the frogfish and octopus species. Everyone has their own preferences. A really ugly stargazer to one diver might be a dream photo for another, and one of the smallest seahorse species in the world, the Pygmy seahorse, could be the number one critter on your dive buddy’s list, even if you can’t see is! Next time you hear someone talk about muck diving, don’t think of mud, but think of a giant game of hide-and-go-seek where you are always it and the critters are hiding everywhere just waiting to be found.

Your Marine Biologist /Daniel

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