There has been an ongoing discussion on some specialised websites and FB pages about which is the better location for macro & muck diving: Lembeh Straits or Anilao? We had the pleasures of diving both locations. Making several hundreds of dives in Anilao and about 100 + now in Lembeh. I think comparing them and ranking them would do injustice to one of the two sites. In my eyes they’re completely different. We are suckers for nudibranchs, they were the reason we started doing macro, why we invested in good macro photo gear, why we keep going to places like Lembeh, Anilao, Dauin... First thing we say to a local dive guide before we start the dive is: “you don’t have to point out every shrimp, but don’t skip a nudi!”Anilao is nudi heaven and they still find new ones on an almost weekly basis. You get some other stuff but I would go just for the nudibranchs. In Lembeh the variety of critters and the sheer number is breathtaking. You get more of everything and then some nudis. Plenty of them around but no way near what you get in Anilao.
So both are truly really great macro sites. And I wouldn’t want to have to choose between the two of them.
One thing that gives Lembeh this little extra for me over Anilao would be that the local dive operators treat their business capital (the environment) with much more respect in Lembeh than they do in Anilao. I was and am still shocked by the nonchalance of the Anilao (or the Philippines in general) boat and dive crews. The dive boats keep throwing anchors (most of the time just an iron hook weighed down by a big stone) on top of the corals, so when you come up after your dive you can see yet another trail of broken coral left by the anchor dragging several meters through the top of the reef. How hard can it be, after all these years and the thousands of divers every year who make or break Anilao to have permanent anchor lines away from the reefs? And yes, I know that photographers can do terrible things under water to get their photo. But when the dive guides themselves do plenty of damage breaking off coral, digging out subjects etc either to find the critters or to make them available to photographers there’s never gonna be any change. Touching and moving the subjects around to get them in a better position for their clients. I saw them tearing off feathered stars’ arms to get at the shrimp or the clingfish inside. I’ve seen divers who obviously skipped the class about buoyancy control, literally “walk” through the corals on their fins without a word from the dive guides. Gloves are still allowed. There’s no limit to the number of divers or boats on one dive site at any given moment and so on and so forth. Anilao is an awful catalogue of everything that is wrong with this obsession by some for this ultimate macro photo to post on their FB page or to get a nomination or more “likes” on UWMP or National Geo.
Luckily it can be different: Lembeh is the example. Kudos to the dive operators over there. There’s still divers doing damage to the reefs but less so than in the Philippines. All in all it’s much more disciplined. They’re on the right path.
So if I would have to rate them, Lembeh would get my vote because of the more respectful attitude towards nature and sustainability and disciplined dive operators who don’t hesitate to discipline their guides and clients. It’s not perfect yet but way better than in the Philippines. I have a better feeling after a dive in Lembeh than in Anilao where, after almost every dive, when I get out of the water I feel like really hurting a few of the other divers - or some of the guides for that matter...