Jakarta-born Catherine “Dimpy” Jacobs travelled to icy Norway, becoming the first Indonesian marine biologist to explore these intriguing waters
I’ve come a long way from selling phone “pulsa” in Manado, Indonesia, to pay for my university education. A chance meeting 11 years ago with Danny Charlton, the owner of Lembeh Resort in Sulawesi, Indonesia, changed my life. I went on to complete my degree at UNSRAT University (University Sam Ratulangi) in Manado and work my way up through the ranks of diving certifications. I’m now a PADI Diving Instructor as well as an avid underwater photographer. I work full-time as a marine biologist, head of marine conservation projects at the resort, and train up a lot of the dive guides working in Lembeh.
In May 2016, as part of the inaugural International Critter Shootout, an underwater photography event in which a team of photographers in Lembeh went head-to-head with a team from Gulen, Norway, I was given the opportunity to travel to this little corner of Scandinavia. Despite never having left Indonesia and never having dived in cold water before, I decided to “dive in” and make the epic journey.
Upon arrival, I was amazed by the scenery, and despite the cold I was excited to arrive in Bergen. For those of you who don’t know so much about diving in cold water, it’s not the same as slipping on a short wetsuit and jumping in. I had to start by undergoing training in how to dive in a drysuit, and get used to the large amount of weights I needed. After a training session in the pool though, I was ready for the ocean.
Once I got underwater, my marine biology instincts took over and I became fascinated by this strange yet familiar underwater world. I began comparing the marine species in Norway to those I’m used to studying back home, and it wasn’t long before I forgot that the water was just six degrees Celsius.
There were so many startling differences! One of the most profound was the size of the species that can be found in both hemispheres. The amphipods in Norway are huge compared to the ones in Lembeh; even though I’m so used to seeing them back home, it was like encountering alien life forms!
The nudibranchs are also very similar, but far larger in Norway. I think the presence of these common species in both cold and tropical waters must be linked to the availability of food. These creatures feed on hydroids, which are also common in both areas. The number of individual nudibranchs in Norway far exceeded those in Lembeh, but the variety of species was less. While we have fewer individuals in Lembeh we have a much wider diversity of species, which is why Lembeh is so famous.
I felt both excited and hugely privileged to be diving where no other Indonesian had yet explored. The highlight of the trip had to be the moment I found a baby lumpsucker, a species we don’t get in tropical waters and one that is a rare find even in Norway.
I was told that Norway is not only rarely, if ever, visited by Indonesians, but it’s also a place that doesn’t attract that many female divers. Apparently, the extreme temperatures are to blame. I am so happy that I had this incredible opportunity and enjoyed every minute, but it’s also very nice to be back home at Lembeh Resort, diving in warm water in my wetsuit amongst all the unique critters that we have here in north Sulawesi. But should another extreme adventure beckon, I’m ready to go!