Maluku Mumblings

Muck Diving Experience by Marty Snyderman

Marty Snyderman is an award winning underwater photographer, author and photography instructor, specializing in the marine environment. It was a great pleasure to host Marty when he visited Maluku Divers earlier in 2016 season, he writes here about his experience ‘Muck Diving’ on the famous dive sites in Ambon Bay.

Get Low, Go Slow, And Pay Close Attention

While the term muck diving is one that would probably not pass a smell test with the marketing gurus on Madison Avenue, it is a featured attraction of diving throughout the Indo-Pacific region referred to as the Coral Triangle, an area that includes the water surrounding Ambon Island and Maluku Divers Resort. This part of the world’s oceans is considered to be the center of marine biodiversity with more species occurring in this area than in any other similarly defined region in the world.


If you are new to diving you might not be familiar with the term muck diving, but don’t let your lack of familiarity or the unappealing name turn you away. The term “muck diving” was first used to describe exploring areas where the bottom consists of black sand, mud and silt in places that are often influenced by some current flow and a source of freshwater. Over the years the definition has expanded, and in a broader context the term muck diving is often used to describe dives around structures such as a pier or dock where the pilings along with discarded tires, bottles and other man-made objects combine to provide habitat and hiding places for all kinds of creatures.


But it is not just the nature of the sea floor or number of species that one might see that has made muck diving so popular. It is the fact that many of the encountered creatures are so bizarre, amazing, different, and well adapted for their life style and their chosen habitat that they routinely leave divers in awe of what Mother Nature has to share. Creatures such as ornate ghostpipefish, skeleton shrimp, decorator crabs, stargazers, gurnards, frogfishes, cuttlefishes, seahorses and snake eels are daily fare in muck sites. In short, muck diving can be crazy good!


The Muck Diving Experience

The main focus of muck diving is usually to search for a variety of creatures that make their home in the muck biome. In many muck sites it is extremely easy to stir up the bottom and reduce the visibility with a single kick of a fin or the loss of buoyancy that causes a diver to crash into the sea floor. It is best to keep your kicking and all other movements to an absolute minimum, and to achieve and maintain neutral buoyancy.

Marty Snyderman

After that, it is GET LOW, GO SLOW, AND PAY CLOSE ATTENTION as you scour the bottom and any structure whether a soft coral, sponge, discarded bottle or can, or other debris on the sea floor for the creatures that call the muck home. Many creatures that live in muck areas are superbly camouflaged and others bury in the substrate or reside in burrows of their own making.Marty Snyderman capturing sea critters

For many divers the first time they look around after entering the water at some highly acclaimed muck diving site, their heart sinks as the surroundings do not bring the term beauty to mind. Drab is usually more like it, and upon first consideration most muck diving sites look boring. But you’ll be selling muck diving short if you judge this book by its cover. Just trust those that brought you to the site, and go see what there is to see. Odds are you’ll be absolutely amazed.

Marty Snyderman diving in Ambon Bay

While some excellent muck diving sites are as deep as 50 feet or deeper, many of the most highly acclaimed sites are only in the neighborhood of only 20 feet deep. Being so shallow means bottom time is usually not much of a limiting factor, and dives of 100 minutes or longer are commonplace. Time underwater is a great luxury. As a photographer time gives you more freedom to look, think and experiment. Those are wonderful advantages.
Marty Snyderman Ambon Bay

But what many experienced muckers really enjoy most about diving in the muck and in other off the beaten track types of sites is that because you have to move so slowly and deliberately you will likely look more closely. And when you come across a good subject you will probably have the luxury of being able to spend more time with it. Spend time watching, and you are bound to learn.


Muck Diving Technique

When diving in the muck look closely for a movement or a shape that doesn’t seem to belong, and take two looks at the slightest aberration while studying sea fans, wire corals and soft corals. Find something that looks just slightly different than its surroundings, and the odds are that you will be looking at some critter like a decorator crab, crazy looking shrimp, dragon sea moth, seahorse, or frogfish etc. You might also discover creatures such as bumblebee, Coleman, emperor shrimp and zebra crabs that live on sea cucumbers and other animals. Making those types of discoveries is great fun!

Marty Snyderman muck diving

Be patient with yourself as you learn “how to look”. Divers that are new to muck diving almost always swim past subject after subject without spotting them. And they are amazed by the animals their dive guides spot. It is like the guides and new divers are diving in different oceans.Marty Snyderman

The key to the guides’ success is that they know where and how to look. No doubt, their experience is a huge advantage. But when you ask them how they do what they do, they are quick to tell you they GET LOW, GO SLOW, AND PAY CLOSE ATTENTION.


For the team at Maluku Divers, it is always a pleasure to hear people so enthusiastic about muck diving and the rewards that can be found searching for the critters that our guide team is experts in finding. It’s great to see more divers embrace this unusual niche diving, so we can see more and more incredible photographs like the ones taken by Marty Snyderman, of the unique critters that make their homes on our slopes.

Check back for more insight from Marty Snyderman in future. Alternatively, come and dive in Ambon with Maluku Divers yourself, see what Marty Snyderman was talking about! Make your booking today!