Hailing from Maluku in Indonesia, Ben Sarinda is one of the region’s most in-demand dive guides. His spotting abilities and knowledge and understanding of marine life behaviour would impress any diver, and that’s before they even take one look at his amazing underwater photos. Ben has spent most of his time exploring the waters of top macro destinations like Lembeh and Anilao. Today, we find out what his journey has been like and what he has to say about some of his favourite dive sites out there (photogs, take notes!).
Q: How did you manage to start out as a dive guide and then get into underwater photography?
A: I actually started out as a landscape supervisor at Kungkungan Bay Resort (KBR) in Lembeh, Indonesia, years ago. When management realised I could speak a little English, they transferred me to the dive department, where I became part of the boat crew and helped with various tasks, from managing the scuba compressor to being boat captain. Four years later, management offered me something else: a dive guide position. So from 2002 onwards, I worked as a dive guide and had the opportunity to dive with personalities like William Tan, Leandro Blanco, and Stephen Wong and Takako Uno, and these famous underwater photographers and videographers inspired me so much that I wanted to learn more about underwater photography. So I did!
Also read: 5 questions with William Tan
Q: What’s the most challenging thing about being a dive guide?
A: When you end up diving with a number of very serious and professional underwater photographers, all of whom have a long list of critters they hope to see. It’s also tough multi-tasking; not only do I have to find the animal, but I also must do my best to assist these photographers when they’re shooting the creatures. As a dive guide, it’s all about good planning, and having great instinct and skill is a must.
Q: What has been the most difficult thing to spot in Lembeh and Anilao?
A: That would have to be the Melibe colemani nudibranch. Some people call it the ghost nudibranch because it’s transparent. These critters are the kings of camouflage and you need really sharp eyes to find them.
Q: What are some of your favourite dive sites in Lembeh and Anilao?
A: Lembeh – Nudi Falls for its beautiful seascape (it’s a mini wall with a sandy bottom, lots of rubble as well) and macro life like hairy octopus and Rhinopias; TK 1, 2, and 3 for its sandy black slopes (it’s easy for photographers to shoot here) and calm waters where there’s almost zero current. You can also find the mimic octopus here if you look hard enough. My third favourite dive site for Lembeh would be Pante Parigi, which features a healthy coral reef and is full of life. Expect to see mating cuttlefish, clownfish with tongue-eating parasites, and mouth-brooding Banggai cardinalfish.
Anilao – There’s Coconut, which takes anywhere from 10 to 25 minutes to reach by boat from mainland. Lots to find at this black sandy bottom dive site – flamboyant cuttlefish, frogfish, Tozeuma shrimp, yellow goby, mimic octopus, wonderpus, just so many critters! Sunview is another great dive site – it’s full of soft coral and you can find stuff like Rhinopias, pygmy seahorse, skeleton shrimp, and warty frogfish.
I also really like Bahura and Anilao Pier. Bahura is a mini wall and aside from macro subjects, you may also see big creatures like barracuda, jackfish, and turtles. As for Anilao Pier, to me it’s one of the best muck dive sites in the area; it’s very shallow (only five metres) and there’s something on virtually every patch of the seabed. It’s very good for night dives. Bobtail squid, octopus, bobbit worms, frogfish, snake eels… too many to name.
Q: Do you have any words of advice for dive guides out there?
A: About 80 percent of divers use a camera when they go on a scuba trip, so you have to know that as a dive guide, it’s very important that you make an effort to learn more about underwater photography. Find out how a camera works, understand its different settings and modes, and focus on key things like angle, lighting, and composition. Also, you should study the behaviour of the marine animals you often spot; by letting guests know more about how these creatures act, it makes it easier for them to get the shot they want.
For more of Ben’s work, follow him on Facebook.