Most divers look for variation in their diving, and muck diving is something that provides just that. If you are looking for more than pretty reefs or pelagics, try your hand at muck diving, as these apparently 'baren' underwater landscapes are home to an endless supply of critters and unique marine specimens.
Muck diving is the common term given to diving in an area with an apparently 'barren' sea bottom, comprised of silt or sand, even 'mud-like' substrate. Top muck diving areas include Dauin in the Philippines; the Lembeh Straight in Sulawesi, Indonesia; Milne Bay in Papua New Guinea and St Vincent in the Caribbean.
If you are new to this experience and wanting to try it, here are our top tips for muck diving that will make both yours and your buddies' dives more enjoyable and worthwhile.
Good buoyancy is key
Due to the silty nature of the bottom topography of muck dives, good buoyancy is vital to ensure that your visibility remains as good as it can be and that the critters remain undisturbed, so you can observe and photograph as you wish. Hovering without touching the bottom is an important skill, and it's important to remember to never touch anything with your hands or feet. This is not only to keep the visibility, but there are also all manner of venomous creatures on muck dives that you would rather not touch!
If you are struggling with your buoyancy, you might want to consider taking a Peak Performance Buoyancy course or the Advanced Open Water course. You could also practice in a pool or on other blue water dives before going to muck sites to make sure you feel completely confident with your buoyancy.
Linking to this, we would suggest you purchase a tank pointer or 'muck stick.' When properly used, a 'muck stick' can help you reduce your impact on marine life and keep you off the bottom. They are also great once you are done looking at the subject, as you can use it to lightly push yourself away, rather than finning back.
Proper finning technique
When muck diving, you will want to be using the frog kick, rather than the traditional 'flutter kicks' you may have learned in your open water course. Not only is the frog kick more efficient (so you may as well learn this for future diving anyway) it is much more appropriate when travelling above the sandy and silty bottom. Using this method, you will not stir up the bottom, even when nearer the sea floor, not to mention the visibility remains unaffected and your buddies are happy that you've not spoiled the experience for them by stirring up the bottom! Many creatures live in the sand, so even if you can't see them, you should not sit or lie at the bottom on a muck dive.
Spatial awareness and approaching critters cautiously
Before bombarding in on top of what the guide has pointed out, make sure to observe the situation and ask yourself some questions: are there obstacles that prevent me getting close? Are there other divers wanting to look first? Do I want to photograph this subject?
If you are wanting to take photos, try to adjust your settings before heading to the subject, take a test shot and then go in. Make sure you're not flapping and finning, and make sure you can exit the scene with minimal disturbance so that other divers can see the critter as well.
Also think about how close you are to the critter and consider whether you will be making it uncomfortable with your lighting or by being too close. It might go and hide if you are too aggressive in your approach.
Muck diving is all about taking your time and your experience can be greatly enriched by not rushing and going slowly over the spots. Look out for your dive guide; they know the site and area better than you and will know what to look for, so pay attention and follow them to ensure you get the largest critter haul. Relax and remember that it is not a race. Muck dives can last a long time as some of them are not even particularly deep, so observe and enjoy!
Images by Emily Chappell