Diving in Tulamben II – Black Water

Mar 22, 2020

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Tulamben has great potential for blackwater diving, though it hasn’t yet been conveniently explored. Ocean floor drops deep very quickly and there is the Lombok straight current bringing many critters into these waters, which surface at night.

It is not so easy as Anilao or Lembeh, as the shore is not that protected, but it can be equally rewarding.

As you may know, blackwater dive is done mid water, or close to surface, at night. The idea is finding the ocean dwelling critters that ascend from the sea bottom, to the surface, to feed.

It can be done in two ways:

– Bonfire: meaning, around a cable, anchored to the bottom, and signalled by a float with several torches hanging, both at surface and at different deptths (maybe at 10 and 20 metres).

– Drift: with a weighted downline, hanging the same torches, either attached to the boat, or a float.

Larval lionfish.

This second one is both more challenging and rewarding. Challenging because you must absolutely have everything clipped and secured (whatever falls from your hand or pockets will be lost); you must control your buoyancy and direction, often with no visual reference, and decide when to follow a critter and when to leave it.

In Tulamben, drifting is the one which works the best, as bonfire can be stricken by strong tidal currents. I’m not the scary type of diver but I got a bit anxious once I was about to lose all equipment during one of those. With convenient planning, that should still be safe, though.

For drifting, people usually rent a jukung (traditional wooden boat with two bamboo stabilisers). It’s better to find an experimented skipper and preferably, a dual engine boat, for increased safety.

A DSLr camera usually performs better than a mirrorless, in these dives, due to the superior accuracy and speed of phase-detection autofocus. 60 mm (FF equivalent) or less is what proves to be the best lens choice, with a reasonable Depth Of Field, and small minimum focus distance.  Some people shoot with continuous light only, though I’m not a particular fan. I prefer small, manual strobes and two focus lights with the beams set in a 90º angle to increase contrast and make it easier on autofocus.

Wet lens can be used, if attached to a flipping system, but a week to medium magnification (INON UCL165 – +6, or equivalent) proves to be the most rewarding. I often use AOI UCL-09 on slow moving critters, but I still struggle with shooting distance and focus.

Below, some of the samples from Black Water Diving in Tulamben:

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