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Tree and Coral Planting in Sabah

tree planting

Even children know trees provide oxygen and mitigate global warming. Saving the World is a noble goal but it sounds so ambitious to us. Don’t worry. I’m not going to ask you to be the Captain Planet. You only plant tree for yourself and your family. For example, having two mature trees next to your house can provide enough oxygen for a family of four. Plant one more tree and the shade of three trees, if strategically positioned, can reduce the need of air-conditioning by up to 50%. Good deal huh?

Misty rainforest of Borneo

Misty rainforest of Borneo. “Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

Parents always set aside of their personal desires and give the best to their kids. They accumulate wealth for their offspring so they will enjoy a better living. But how many parents will invest in better environment for future generations, so they can enjoy fresh air and clean water in future? Even fishes need clean water and watergrass in their aquarium to live happily. Ton of money in bank account won’t guarantee our children to have a quality life in an environment without clean air and water.

Imagine if trees gave off Wifi signals, we would be planting so many trees and we'd probably save the planet too. Too bad they only produce the oxygen we breathe.

Malaysians have been taking clean air and water for granted. But these things can go away and it’s happening. The crystal clear stream, where I used to fish during childhood, turns into a smelly drain. I see less and less tree shades around my neighborhood, and people complain about the heat almost every day.

Tree planting by local community

Tree planting by local community. “If every individual should plant a tree in their life time, the world will be full of trees.” ― Lailah Gifty Akita

Mother Nature lets us choose between hell or heaven, depending on how we treat her. Tree always appears in the drawing of your kids about dream home. Let’s materialize it.

Logging truck

“Each generation takes the earth as trustees. We ought to bequeath to posterity as many forests and orchards as we have exhausted and consumed.” -Julius Sterling Morton

59% of Sabah is covered by forest, so Sabahans overseas always miss the greenery here, especially those staying in big cities such as Kuala Lumpur, where the car population is far more than trees.

Need money for my family in the rainforest

The following are the tree planting programs that individual, company, and organization can participate in Sabah, to increase the quality of our environment. Not all trees are the same, every tree type has its roles for upkeep of a healthy nature.

1. Rainforest

Plant rainforest tree for fresh air, clean water and starry night. Rainforest is also a Disney Land for birds and wildlife. Every tree you plant will produce approximately 260 pounds of oxygen annually and absorb about one ton of Carbon Dioxide in its lifetime.

Tree planting in homestay

“The Best Time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The Second Best Time is NOW.”

By shading our houses and streets, tree can lower the temperature of city and shield us from excessive exposure to harmful UV. This makes our places safer for outdoor activities. That’s why forested park such as Tun Fuad Stephens Park is a favorite place for joggers.

Jungle lodge in the forest

Jungle lodge in the forest

Tree also absorbs pollutant gases (e.g. sulfur dioxide, ozone) and filter particulates out of the air by trapping them on their leaves and bark. Your home will be filled with cleaner air and less dust. The more trees you have, the more stars you can see at night.

Forest on riparian of Kinabatangan River

Forest on riparian of Kinabatangan River. “A people without children would face a hopeless future; a country without trees is almost as helpless.” – Theodore Roosevelt

During rain storm, trees act like big umbrella, slowing down the runoff and prevent flash flood. Large area of trees can form a wall to block hazardous strong wind. Sabah is experiencing more flood and stronger wind nowadays, as a consequence of deforestation.

Orangutan feeding on the tree

Orangutan feeding on the tree. “Plans to protect air and water, wilderness and wildlife, are in fact plans to protect man.” ― Stewart L. Udall

A forested riparian is a good “braking carpet” to reduce large quantity of soil and pollutants being washed into the river by rain, thereby maintaining a clean supply of water to reservoir.

Rhinocerous hornbill flys over a fig tree

Rhinocerous hornbill flies over a fig tree

Wildlife will be benefited too. Besides providing shelter to animals such as orangutan and hornbill, fruit trees are important food source for them.

Where to join?

Most homestay in Sabah, especially those located near Kinabatangan River, have tree planting program. Just to list a few, Kampung Bilit, Kampung Abai, Bukit Garam, Tambunan.

Tree nursery in Abai Village of Kinabatangan River

Tree nursery in Abai Village of Kinabatangan River. “The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.” – Nelson Henderson

Don’t hesitate to ask your travel agent for info on tree planting, most of them are very supportive of this initiative.

2. Mangrove

Plant mangrove for seafood and protection against natural disasters. Mangrove was thought to be useless until a super Tsunami took thousands of lives in 2005. There was no death reported in the areas which had mangrove forest! Mangrove is a buffer between the land and the sea, so it can be a cushion that minimize the impact of tidal waves.

Mangrove forest

Mangrove forest of Sabah

Green belt of mangrove forest is excellent in countering water-related disasters. For example, coastal area with mangrove forest is less vulnerable to typhoon. The mangrove tree also helps to stabilize the coastline by preventing erosion by sea waves.

Crabs as food

Crabs and shrimps grow fast and fat in brackish water of mangrove

During heavy rain, mangrove forest can act like a sponge to retain the water, a feature that mitigates flood. When filthy rivers flow through mangrove, the forest will filter the sediment and harmful heavy metals in the water, before discharging it into the sea.

Fish landing at a port

50% of the seafood landing in Malaysia is associated with mangrove.

Sabah is famous for abundance of seafood but very few people know the secret. Mangrove forest is breeding and nursery grounds for variety of seafood such as fish, crab, shrimp, and clams. 59% of mangrove of Malaysia is located in Sabah. Needless to say, mangrove is also an excellent spot for fishing and aquaculture.

Proboscis monkey on the tree

Most proboscis monkey lives in mangrove forest

The mangroves in Klias and Weston, the habitat of proboscis monkey and firefly, are well-protected. Now throng of tourists go there every day for firefly tour. Nature always repays us generously if we take care of her.

Where to join?

You can join mangrove replanting at Kota Kinabalu Wetlands. The local schools have been sending thousands of student to plant mangrove trees there.

Nursery for mangrove tree seedlings

Nursery for mangrove tree seedlings

If you want to get dirty and do something more than just a symbolic gesture, you can join their mangrove replanting project at Sulaiman.

Mangrove tree planting

Mangrove tree planting. “He who plants a tree, plants a hope.” ― Lucy Larcom

3. Coral

Plant coral for tourism. If you have visited Sipadan Island, you will never forget the diving experience with schools of barracuda and dozens of turtles and sharks, which are drawn by the thriving corals there.

Coral reefs in Sabah

Coral reefs in Sabah

Coral is the home of fishes, and fishes mean food to big marine creatures. If our older generations had protected the corals well, we don’t even need to travel far and spend a lot of money to see these. Hope you see the point of leaving a great nature is better than leaving a lot of cash to our future generations. They will have to pay high price to enjoy what was used to be common. Seafood is also getting more expensive now.

Corals are home to reef fishes, a.k.a. seafood

Corals are home to reef fishes, a.k.a. seafood

As coral reefs are under threat globally, very few high quality coral gardens will remain intact. On the positive side, this is a magnet to tourists. In fact, tourism is the most important industry of Sabah after oil palm. A blooming tourism will create more jobs and income.

Fresh seafood

Fresh seafood

Same as mangrove, conservation of corals is vital in maintaining a sustainable supply of seafood.

Where to join?

You can take part in coral planting at Gaya Island Eco Resort off Kota Kinabalu City. Technically, coral is animal and not a plant, so you will be “planting animal” lol.

Coral planting

Coral planting

Usually coral fragments are used for the planting program. It has slimy secretion coming out of the pores.

Coral plates placed in stabilization tank

Coral plates placed in stabilization tank

All you need to do is just fix that fragment on a cement plate and place it in a stabilization tank. It’ll be released into the sea by the divers.

Besides planting tree and coral, you also can donate fund to environmental organizations like WWF for restoration of forest. Let’s think of the donation as an investment. The $100 cash deposited in our bank today would depreciate to $90 next year due to inflation. But for every $1 we invest in conservation, the return can be tremendous, because trees can grow and multiply.

Photos taken in Sabah, Malaysia Borneo

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Bohey Dulang of Semporna Islands Park

Bohey Dulang

My urge to visit Bohey Dulang Island started with a photo seven years ago. “Nice painting!” I praised a big drawing of islands hanging in the office of my friend. “Actually it’s a PHOTO taken in Sabah,” he replied. I was stunned. The islands look so surreal, such place doesn’t even seem exist. After some lookup in local bookstore, I found that it is the photo of Tun Sakaran Marine Park (or Semporna Islands Park) taken by Michael Patrick Wong.

photo of Tun Sakaran Park by Michael Patrick Wong
Pic: aerial photo of Tun Sakaran Park by Michael Patrick Wong

Tun Sakaran Marine Park (TSMP) is located off Semporna at east coast of Sabah and comprises of eight islands – Bohey Dulang, Bodgaya, Tetagan, Sebangkat, Selakan, Maiga, Sibuan and Mantabuan, covering a total land and sea areas of 350 km².

Sleeping Old Man islands
Pic: view of Tun Sakaran Marine Park from Semporna town. Locals call it Sleeping Old Man and I guess you can see why.

TSMP is the largest marine park in Sabah (but will be superseded by 1-million-hectare Tun Mustapha Marine Park soon). I was also told that you can get a fascinating view of TSMP (they call it one of the most beautiful views of Sabah) from the peak of Bohey Dulang Island.

Below is the location map of TSMP. You also can see it in Google Map:
location of Bohey Dulang

Every now and then I contacted some travel agents for a trip to this park, but they all wanted me to charter the whole boat (for nearly a thousand bucks) if I traveled solo, so the plan was held indefinitely until last month Edward from Borneo Star Cruise texted me, “bro, I’ll visit Bohey Dulang tomorrow. You want to join?” Of course I was more than happy to tag along!

About Bohey Dulang Island

Bohey Dulang (or Boheydulong, Bohaydulong) is the second largest island (size: 313 hectares) of TSMP and about 23 Km away from Semporna. Legend says there lives a beautiful princess named Salamia from Bum-Bum Island. Her family hid her on Bohey Dulang, to avoid a forced marriage by a notorious Sultan from the southern Philippines.

legend of Princess Salamia
Pic: drama about Princess Salamia in Sabah Fest 2010.

However, she vanished a few days later and believed to be hidden by the spirits of this island and turned into a fairy. Even nowadays, local people say they can hear Princess Salamia singing and her dog barking during the night of full moon. Occasionally, she is seen walking around the island.

Tun Sakaran Marine Park of Semporna
Pic: Bohey Dulang Island

The name Bohey Dulang is derived from bohi (bohey) meaning water and dulang meaning pools or depressions in Bajau language. This may refer to series of oval rock pools, roughly 2-3 m across, along the small waterfalls and main freshwater stream on the eastern side of the island.

east side of Bohey Dulang
Pic: East side of Bohey Dulang Island

People say these pools are a source of drinking water for Princess Salamia. A document reports a large cave (40 M high and over 20 M long) is situated on the east side of this island too. Could it be the home of Princess Salamia? I wonder.

Day Trip to Bohey Dulang

Ok, back to my tour. Edward and I were taking a boat from Semporna town around 11am. The weather was good and we approached TSMP in 15 minutes. The Best Time to visit Bohey Dulang are from February to April (the dry months). If you visit during wetter months like July, August, December and January, your trip would have higher chance of being spoiled by heavy rainstorm of monsoon seasons, or not, depending on your luck.

boat ride to Bohey Dulang
Our boatman showed us a “secret passage” where we could see dozen of sea turtles. We cruised slowly on the sea near TSMP. It was low tide and the water was crystal clear. We could see large area of corals and white sand under the ocean.

swimming turtle
Then we did see over 10 sea turtles passed by our catamaran one by one. Gee… though turtles look heavy and clumsy, they swim as fast as a torpedo in the water. I totally fall in love with the beautiful nature and romantic legend of this island.

Semporna Islands Park
You may ask, “this magical destination should have become very famous for a long time. Why it only rises as a new attraction in recent years?” Good question. In 1963, Bohey Dulang was leased to Kaya Pearl Company to establish the first pearl cultivation center in Malaysia. The island was heavily guarded by armed personnel and stranger was strictly forbidden to enter the island. That’s why Bohey Dulang is nicknamed as the Pearl Island or Treasure Island.

Sabah Parks center on Bohey Dulang
Then the pearl farm was closed in 1993. In 2004, Bohey Dulang, with seven other islands, is gazetted as ‘Tun Sakaran Marine Park’ (TSMP) by the Sabah Government. As a national park and by word of mouth, it gains more exposure and now it receives hundred of tourists every day.

jetty of Bohey Dulang Island
TSMP is managed by Sabah Parks and they have an office and giant clam nursery on Bohey Dulang. Visitors are required to get a permit from them before entering the island. I hope they will make it a public park soon, so tourists only require to buy ticket to enter. Furthermore, Bohey Dulang needs more tourism amenities such as restaurant, watersport center and resort.

taking photo at the jetty
From the jetty, you can see the peak (at left in photo above) that is used as the view point for scenery of TSMP.

For a fast overview of Bohey Dulang, you may watch the short video below:

Hiking to the peak

You need to ascend a 600-Meter nature trail to reach the peak with a height of 265 Meters, which normally takes 40 minutes. The climb can be a bit challenging after rain, because some steep areas will become slippery and muddy. Do wear proper walking shoe, I strongly advise against flip-flop. It’s warm and humid in the forest and hot on the peak, so please bring some drinking water.

peaks of Bohey Dulang
Pic: the view points on the peak. The trail will lead you to the one at right, you can walk 20 Meters to the view point at the left for better sight. The dark grey rocks that form the high cliffs and large shore outcrops are mainly volcanic rocks of late Tertiary (Pliocene) and Quaternary periods. It’s unique because Semporna peninsula is the only place in Sabah where you can see these rocks.

There is a small toilet at the beginning of the trail. It is not so clean and well-maintained, but usable.

start of hiking
Limited supports such as boardwalk, handrails, ropes, stairway and plank path are available to make your climb easier, but you will walk on soil and rocky path most of the time and busy grabbing the small trees along the trail for support. For safety, a Sabah Parks guide will escort you on the way. Just go slow and everyone can make it quite easily.

jungle trekking to the peak of Bohey Dulang
Like other islands in TSMP, Bohey Dulang has one of the most unique and unusual plant communities in Borneo, especially coastal forest and scrub vegetation. Some plant species here are regional endemic to Semporna islands and Philippines, and not found in other locations of Borneo, for example, rare Paraboea leopoldii on cliff faces, Dracaena multiflora monocot, palm-like Cycas rumphii, cactus-like succulent Euphorbia lacei and trichoglottis geminata, a rare epiphytic orchid grows on volcanic rock.

forest in Bohey Dulang
I was looking for Selaginella tamariscina, a small plant of 4-5 cm high like a miniature tree fern. Its leafy distal branches curls inwards under hot sunlight but flattened during rain. This cute plant is a new record to Borneo, and it grows on exposed to partially shaded, gently sloping rockfaces of this island.

distance marker to the peak
We saw probably nearly a hundred tourists on the way down. They looked tired but really happy. Some even encouraged us, “move on, you are close!”, “it’s awesome up there!”, “it is worth the effort.” A rain earlier turned part of the trail into creeks. Many tourists took off their flip-flop and descended barefooted, when their shoes were too slippery to hold their feet. I sweated a lot but the soothing sea breeze prevented me from overheat.

volcanic rock of Bohey Dulang
Wildlife such as long-tailed macaque and otter also live on this island but not in great number. A total of 48 bird species comprising mainly resident birds have been recorded around Bohey Dulang. The notable bird species are Metallic Pigeon (Columba vitiensis), Nicobar Pigeon (Caloenas nicobarica), Tabon Scrubfowl and Pied Hornbill. I saw more mosquitoes than other animals though. The good news is – there is no leech.

Stairway to Heaven
Pic: They call this ladder between boulders “Stairway to Heaven.” You should feel joyful when you reach here. Not because you will go to heaven, the peak is only a very short walk away now.

reaching the end of trail
Finally I came to a flat ground and saw the light in front. I could tell the amazing scenery was waiting for me outside the dense bushes.

top of Bohey Dulang
Hooray…!!! After a taxing climb, it’s time to enjoy the wonderful view and stay as long as you want.

The Most Beautiful Seaview of Sabah

On top of Bohey Dulang, you can have a bird-eye view of the sapphire-colored Bodgaya Lagoon embraced by emerald forest of three central islands (Bodgaya, Bohey Dulang and Tetagan), the only islands in Sabah made of volcanic rock and part of the Sulu volcanic chain. In fact, the lagoon, which is about 6.5 Km across, is a crater of an ancient volcano erupted 2.5 million years ago.

panoramic view of Bohey Dulang
The central islands are the remnants of a Quaternary volcanic crater rim. Part of the “rim” is dissected and inundated by the sea but you can see it from its curved reef formation. I was standing on top of an extinct volcano. You may look at the satellite photo below for a clearer view of the rim.

aerial photo of Tun Sakaran Marine Park

view of jetty from the top
Pic: I could see our boat at the jetty. All boats look like tiny toy from a height of over 260 Meters. The highest point of Bohey Dulang is 353 Meters and situated further south. They might open a new trail to there in future.

pearl farm of Bohey Dulang
Pic: abandoned pearl farm

taking photo on peak of Bohey Dulang
It’s noon time and most tourists have descended. The rest of us were happy to take hundred of photos. They didn’t build any fence, so be careful when you stand on the uneven surface of the cliffs.

channel between Bodgaya and Bohey Dulang
Pic: To your right you can see the 120-Meter long channel between Bodgaya Island and Bohey Dulang. Bodgaya means “impressive mountain” in Bajau language, and it’s the largest island (795 ha) in TSMP and about 8 Km long. You also can see its highest peak, Mt Bodgaya, which is 455 Meters high.

photo of two men on the peak
If you say Bohey Dulang has the most beautiful seaview in Sabah, those who had been there won’t argue with you. You may forget many things in life over time, but you will always remember the breathtaking seascape of Bohey Dulang.

panoramic view of Bodgaya Lagoon
For the best view, you need to walk another 20 Meters to your right for second view point, which offers a truly panoramic view (like photo above). You would miss this spot if nobody tells you. This is the favorite spot of landscape photographers to capture the circular shape of the lagoon and “50 shades of blue” colors.

Dracaena multiflora of Bohey Dulang
The volcanic rocks and mixture of Bornean and Philippines flora make this park looks a bit “exotic” even to Malaysians. Like the yacca-like Dracaena multiflora in photo above. It is common in summit scrub here but do you know that it’s only found in Philippines and Semporna Islands Park?

group photo on top of Bohey Dulang
It’s hard to say goodbye to Princess Salamia and her lovely islands in Celebes Sea, which can match the beauty of Caribbean Sea.

How to get there

A day trip to Bohey Dulang is possible even if you stay in Kota Kinabalu City (KK). Just take a 50-min morning flight from KK to Tawau City, upon arrival get a 1-hour land transport to Semporna town, then the park is only 20 minutes away by boat. The earliest flight to Tawau departs at 7:25am, and last flight back to KK is at 7:45pm. Both direct routes are served by Malaysia Airlines and available every day. You may use Google Flight to check out the latest prices and other flight alternatives. Please note you need a permit from Sabah Parks prior to visit the island.

scenery of Bohey Dulang
You may book a tour to Bohey Dulang with Borneo Star Cruise. They will arrange the land / boat transfer, permit, lunch, island tour and snorkelling gears for you. The following are the detail of their tour packages (departs from KK):

1) Day Trip

Price: RM399 (≈US$105) per person (Min. 6 people), 6% GST Tax included
Inclusive of: Hotel ↔ KK Airport Transfer, Tawau Airport ↔ Semporna Transfer, Tour to Bohey Dulang, Packed Lunch, Hiking (with mountain guide), Snorkeling Set
Excluded: KK ↔ Tawau Return Air Ticket, Dinner at Semporna

2) 2-Day-1-Night

Price: RM499 (≈US$130) per person (Min. 6 people), 6% GST Tax included
Inclusive of: Hotel ↔ KK Airport Transfer, Tawau Airport ↔ Semporna Transfer, Bohey Dulang & Kapalai Island Tours, Packed Lunch, Hiking (with mountain guide), Snorkeling Set, One Night Hotel stay in Semporna
Excluded: KK ↔ Tawau Return Air Ticket, Dinner at Semporna

photo of a girl on the peak
Please feel free to contact Borneo Star Cruise for more info:
Phone (24×7): +60 17-820 7911 (also reachable by Text, WhatsApp, Viber, LINE)
Facebook: Borneo-Starcruise-Sdn-Bhd

Other Activities

Besides sightseeing at Bohey Dulang, there are a few other activities you can do around Tun Sakaran Marine Park (TSMP).

1. Visit Giant Clam Nursery

Due to overfishing, giant clams are highly endangered. TSMP is a refuge for seven species of giant clams (Tridacnidae and Hippopusporcellanus species).

giant clam nursery
Sabah Parks has a giant clam nursery and hatchery center on Bohey Dulang, where they breed and propagate giant clams inside and outside the Park. The display and settlement tank area, which houses a few species of giant clam, are open to public. It’s possible to arrange an educational tour to visit their lab and research center.

2. Snorkeling & Diving

TSMP is located in Coral Triangle (a.k.a. Amazon of the Sea), which supports one of the richest marine ecological zones in Malaysia. 528 species of coral reef fish are found in the park, much more than Sipadan Island (409), Redang (209) and Tioman (233). Teeming with over 320 species of hard and soft corals, and variety of sea creatures such as eagle rays, barracuda, turtles and nudibranchs, this park is getting well-known as a scuba diving and snorkeling site.

beach of Bohey Dulang
Mantabuan Island has the best concentration of corals and marine lives. Sibuan Island is featured as one of the 101 Best Beaches of Malaysia. Therefore, both islands are the favorite picks of travel agents to impress their guests.

3. Photography

You are wrong if you think that TSMP is only about nature. Many world-renowned photographers have visited this park for human interest shots here and won some international awards. Around the islands, there are about 10 villages of Bajau Laut (a.k.a. Sea Gypsies) people living either in temporary shacks or in their boats. They maintain very traditional lifestyles and possibly the only nomadic seafarers left in the world.

village of Bohey Dulang
Most of them are fishermen in hardcore poverty. However, when their primitive houses, nude children and pristine sea are being framed into a photo, its visual impact is so overwhelming and so out of this world (though it’s a sad reality). Whenever I drop by Semporna, I never fail to see a few boatloads of photographers heading to TSMP.

More Photos

For more photos, you may check out my photo album.

photo album of Bohey Dulang.


  • New records of Bornean plants from the Semporna Islands off Sabah’s east coast, KM. Wong et al., Sandakania 13 (1999): page 31-40
  • The landscape, vegetation and botany of the Semporna Islands off Sabah, Borneo, KM. Wong et al., Sandakania 13 (1999): page 41-65
  • Semporna Islands Darwin Project (2001 Jan). Management Plan for the Semporna Islands Park. Retrieved from

Photos taken in Semporna, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo

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