Taken quite literally, the name muck diving is diving in the muck at the bottom of the ocean. If you just stop there, you probably won’t want to try it. Who would want to dive to the bottom just to poke around in the mud and sand in potentially low visibility?
But, if you just take the name and stop at it, you are missing out on an incredible world of colorful and sometimes rare aquatic life. If you are an underwater photographer, you for sure will be missing out on some of the best macro photography opportunities in the world. So, let’s take a closer look into what muck diving is as well as how you can get started. After that, we’re going to examine the top ten best places in the world for muck diving.
What Is Muck Diving?
As we said in the introduction, muck diving quite literally means diving in the muck. You are diving down to the bottom of the ocean to dig through the sediment. This is mostly composed of sand, silt, dead coral, and debris. Why would anyone want to do this?
Because, there are tons of species of marine animals that live down there. Many of these species you will never be able to see anywhere else. Oftentimes, these animals are so small that you have to examine each piece of debris and sift through the muck like an archeologist. The reward for doing this is that you can see some incredible and rare ocean life.
Many new divers may be turned off by this because it does not have the same allure as reef diving or similar spots. With reef diving, the entire area is full of colorful coral. You can look all around and see beautiful and colorful fish species. There is something to see all around you. With pinnacle diving, you get the same. Colorful pinnacles and giant pelagic fish swimming all around.
Muck diving isn’t the same. It’s a slow process of swimming over silt and sand, straining your eyes for the tiny critters that hideout from the currents and predators. Or, looking for tiny eyeballs sticking out from a fish that has buried itself in the sand. It just doesn’t have the same allure for new divers. But, once you learn a bit more about the ocean and the creatures which inhabit it, you can really appreciate what muck diving is all about.
Muck Diving Tips
The great thing about muck diving is that you don’t need extensive specialized training to get started. You can begin as soon as you are open water certified. This is in contrast to other diving activities such as wreck diving, cave diving, technical diving, and so on.
There are no classes that you need to take in order to understand muck diving. Unlike mixed gas diving, you don’t have to learn a bunch of complex formulas. Also, you don’t need lots of expensive equipment to do it. Unless, of course, you are doing it for the prospects of amazing underwater macro shots. Then you will need to get a good camera and a macro lens. But, that isn’t necessary.
The only thing you really need to get started with muck diving is your open water certification and a natural curiosity for exploring the ocean. Having a bit of patience can also help as muck diving is often a slow process.
Even though you don’t need a lot of specialized training or equipment, there are a few tips that can help. We’ve got five tips that will significantly help you when it comes to enjoying your first muck diving experience.
1. You Need Perfect Buoyancy Control
As we stated above, you don’t need to take a bunch for specialized courses in order to get started muck diving. That being said, there are a few easy to do courses which will help you to perfect your diving abilities and translate well into muck diving. At the top of this list is your buoyancy control.
You will be hovering just above the ocean floor when muck diving. One wrong move and you risk disturbing silt and sand which can make visibility extremely poor. Remember, silt takes longer to settle than sand so if you disturb it there is a chance that you will have ruined the dive for yourself and anyone you are with. You need to be able to hover over the bottom without touching the floor and disturbing things.
We highly recommend that you take a course on buoyancy control. For PADI certified divers, this will be the peak-performance buoyancy specialty course. If you are certified with SSI, you will need to take the perfect buoyancy specialty course. Regardless of which course you take, improving your buoyancy is going to help you with diving by helping you to use less air and move more precisely in the water.
2. Learn Different Finning Techniques
You may not know this as a new diver, but there is more than one way to move around in the ocean using your fins. This is the reason cave divers can move through silt covered caves in narrow passageways without disturbing the sediment. In fact, for cave divers, their life oftentimes depends on this ability.
The stakes aren’t as high when it comes to muck diving. If you don’t kick right and disturb the sediment at the bottom, the worst you are going to do is annoy your fellow divers. Not a life-threatening problem but one you want to avoid. Learning different finning techniques can help you to do just that.
Remember what we said above, you need perfect buoyancy to hover over the ocean floor. But, if you have perfect buoyancy, yet you are wildly kicking your fins to move around, you will still disturb the sediment. So, we recommend you learn how to move your feet in such a way as to avoid this.
One of the best techniques you can learn is how to do a frog kick with fins. This will propel you forward while directing the force behind you as opposed to downwards. Using this technique, you will move forward using the least amount of energy while avoiding stirring up the muck below you. Here is a video showing how to properly frog kick.
3. Avoid Touching Anything
This is sound advice when doing any type of diving. But, when it comes to muck diving, this is especially important. Some of the creatures which burrow into the muck are venomous. Oftentimes, you will not be able to immediately see these creatures as they blend in well with the sand and silt and rocks. Such is the case with the stonefish. Watch to the end of this video to see how hard these can be to spot.
You may try to touch the bottom in an attempt to stabilize yourself and touch one of these creatures. At best, you may experience minutes to hours of excruciating pain. At worst, muscle tissue death, paralysis, and in extreme cases cardiovascular complications. Rarely, but possible, these stings can be fatal.
Instead of using your hands, even with gloves, you want to use a steel rod. You have probably seen one of these being used by your divemaster or instructor before. Usually, they use this to poke around the bottom or to help stabilize themselves against rocks. These steel pointers allow you to poke and dig into things such as sand or rock without touching it and without causing damage.
We recommend the XS Scuba Divemaster Pointer.
Also Read : Our Guide On Best Dive Knives.
4. Slim Your Equipment
You want to minimize anything hanging from your body or your BCD. This includes hoses, octo, dive knives, and other accessories. These items can drag the bottom and disturb the creatures or the sediment. Just as the force of your fins can stir up the sediment and cause poor visibility, so to can objects dragging the ground.
You want to make sure that your hoses are all tucked into your BCD. If you have a dive knife make sure that it is strapped to your thigh or attached to your BCD in such a way that both the bottom and the top are secure. If you are carrying anti-fog, which we often do, put it in the pockets of your BCD instead of hanging it from a D-ring.
Check Out : Best BCDs For Women
You don’t want to have anything hanging off your body. This is a good rule to follow with all types of diving. For wreck diving and cave diving this is especially important as you don’t want to snag on anything.
5. Watch Your Flash With Underwater Photography
Remember that muck diving is often lower light than areas where there is perfectly clear visibility. Many of the creatures which you will come across when muck diving are used to this lower level of light. So, repeatedly flashing light at them can disturb them. It is always good to keep your camera flash to a minimum.
If you are doing macro photography make sure you are planning your shots well. If you are an experienced photographer, you already know this. But, if you are just getting into underwater photography, it helps to frame everything and have all your settings ready to go before you just start snapping away.
What Are The Best Places To Muck Dive?
Now that you are familiar with muck diving and have some helpful guidelines for getting started, where do you go? Realistically, you can go muck diving almost anywhere in the world. But, Asia tends to be one of the best places due to the extreme biodiversity. Especially, Indonesia, which is known for the largest amount of marine biodiversity in the world.
Asia isn’t the only place that’s good though. So, to help you out, we’ll look at the four best places in the world for you to go muck diving.
As we mentioned above, Indonesia is one of the best locations for diving in the world. Over 17,000 islands make up this nation spread throughout the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. This, combined with the unbelievably wide variety of aquatic life, wrecks, caves, and more, make it a great place for a variety of diving activities.
This is a great place for beginner muck divers. There are a large number of dive sites throughout the islands good for divers of all levels. Also, since there is so much life, there are ample opportunities to see colorful and interesting critters. Make sure you bring your camera and macro lens for these dives.
Where to Dive
Lembeh Strait – the strait separates the islands of Sulawesi and Lembeh. This is one of the best places in the world for muck diving due to the abundance of sea slugs and other tiny critters.
Bali – Bali is known for just about every type of diving imaginable. It is one of the most famous tourist islands in South East Asia and has opportunities for divers of all skill levels. Muck divers and macro photographers will be happy to know there are a few very good sites around the island
Ambon – you can find some amazing macro life here to photograph on par with Bali and Lembeh. This is a great place to spot different types of scorpionfish. The island is located Southwest of Raja Ampat, one of the best places for wide-angle photography in the world. Bring your macro and wide angle lenses and head to Raja Ampat after to complement each other.
What to see
There are many amazing critters to find all around Indonesia. Some of the more common species to find when muck diving include:
- Crinoid Shrimp
- Harlequin Shrimp
- Mantis Shrimp
- Snake Eels
- Mandarin Fish
When to Dive
The best months for macro diving are between December and February.
Like Indonesia, the Philippines is a country made up of many different islands. Over 7,000 to be exact. This makes it another outstanding country for diving of all types. You can do everything here from wreck diving to cave diving and tech diving. But, the macro diving here is also world-class.
The waters around the Philippines stay a comfortable 26°C – 28°C (78°F – 82°F). You will be able to dive in comfort. Visibility is outstanding so you can get amazing photographs of the tiny creatures which inhabit the sands around many of the dive sites.
Where to Dive
Anilao – this is the Philippines equivalent to Lembeh in Indonesia. You can find almost every species of fish sought after by macro photographers and muck divers. This includes rare species such as Rhinopas. It is one of the more famous places in the world for muck diving and macro photography and a great place for beginners to get a start. Anilao is located south of Manila and can be reached by either land or sea.
Dumaguete – you can get here via plane from Manila or other major cities. Dumaguete is located on the island of Negros and on the Southeast part of the island. This is a good place for a wide range of diving and a great place for macro photographers and muck divers.
What to see
The Philippines is quite similar to Indonesia due to the large volume of creatures that inhabit its sediment covered floors. These include:
- Hairy Frogfish
- Bobbit Worms
- Mimic Octopus
Here is a more complete list of all of the creatures that can be found by muck divers around the Philippines.
When to Dive
October to May is the best time for diving in this area of the Philippines.
Also Read: Best Dive Locations In Thailand
3. Papua New Guinea
This may not be the most popular tourist destination, but it is one of the best places in the world for muck diving. In fact, Milne Bay, in the southeast, is where muck diving first began. There are a wide variety of creatures here easily accessible to divers of all skill levels.
The waters around Papua New Guinea stay warm throughout most of the year. November through February tends to be the warmest months of the year. In contrast, water temperatures begin cooling down significantly between July through October.
Where to Dive
Milne Bay – the black sands along the coast of the bay are where muck diving was originally founded. Bob Halstead, a major contributor to scuba diving, dove into the waters of Dinah’s beach against the advice of fellow divers. Many thought this area was unsuitable for diving due to its poor visibility and muck covered bottom. But, after searching around, they began to find amazing colorful creatures living among that muck that no one had previously seen. Thus, muck diving was born.
This is still one of the best places for muck diving. The waters are warm throughout most of the year and the visibility is good enough to capture some truly amazing macro photos. It is a great place for divers who are a bit more adventurous.
What to see
As the first place in the world where muck diving occured, you can bet there are a ton of amazing creatures to be seen. Some of these include:
Here is a more complete list of the critters that can be found when muck diving. Most of these can be seen when diving in Papua New Guinea.
When to Dive
Diving is best between the months of July through October.
Note: Papua New Guinea is regularly ranked as one of the most dangerous non-combat zones in the world. Their crime rate is one of the highest in the world. It is especially dangerous for women with a number of foreign women having terrifying experiences.
This does not mean you shouldn’t go here for diving. But, you need to be fully prepared for the experience. You should never go out of designated safe zones without a guide and you should take proper precautions anywhere you go in the country. Other risks include malaria.
4. United States
The United States has thousands of miles of coast with a host of diving activities available. It is one of the best places in the world for interesting activities such as kelp diving. You can also find whales, sharks, and other sought after marine animals all along its coast.
Depending on where you are, the temperatures can be quite cold during certain parts or throughout the entire year. The best sites for muck diving tend to be around Southern California and Florida. Though, other sites can be fruitful.
Where to Dive
Blue Heron Bridge, Riviera Beach, Florida – this is one of the most famous scuba locations in Florida. You can find tons of marine life swimming around the bridge supports and around the small wrecks. It is a great place for divers of all skill levels as the depth only ranges between 2m and 6m (5ft – 20ft). Two important considerations are the tide and boats. The best time to dive is during slack high tide as this is when the tidal flow is most suitable for diving. Also, there is a boat channel that runs through the middle of the bridge which you should avoid. You are required by law to use your dive flag at all times.
Redondo Beach, California – this area is known as one of the best places for muck diving in all of California. The best place to dive here is via Veterans Park. There is a canyon in front of the beach which drops to around 30m (100ft). The waters around Redondo Beach are colder than you will be used to in tropical dives. Make sure you are wearing an appropriate wetsuit.
What to see
The United States is a popular spot for photographing a wide variety of nudibranchs. But, there are many creatures you can find in the muck, including:
- Juvenile Gray, Blue, French, and Queen Angelfish
- Arrow Crabs
- Banded Coral Shrimp
- Spiny Lobsters
- Banded Jawfish
When to dive
You can dive any time of the year in Florida and California. As mentioned before, the waters in this area are naturally colder than the other tropical locations on this list. Make sure to wear the appropriate wetsuit for comfort.
Read : Best Diving In Florida
Wrapping Up Muck Diving Tips
What do you think about muck diving? Many divers can be initially turned off by the terminology but once they get their first taste are addicted. Especially, if you are already into underwater photography, this is a great hobby to pick up.
Do you have any experiences muck diving? Make sure and share with us. We love to hear from divers just like you. If you can share any tips that have helped you out, or if you know any cool destinations you think we should know about, let us know in the comments.
This page was last updated on 2022-01-20. Affiliate links and Product Images are from Amazon PAAPI