Tag Archives: coral

Leisure Diving at Islands off Kota Kinabalu City

scuba diver

I’m certified as a scuba diver since year 2008, but it’s a shame that I don’t dive quite often. I even stopped once for 2 years. When my friend Dodo invited me to join a diving group last month, I agreed without second thought. One of the best things living in Kota Kinabalu City (KK) is – we have dozens of dive sites located in Tunku Abdul Rahman Park (I prefer to call it KK Islands Park), which is only 15 minutes away by boat ride from KK.

Scuba divers onboard

Scuba diver friends onboard. At the right is May, my Sifu.

It rained heavily in the morning on our diving day. Luckily it stopped before 7am so we just proceeded with our plan. The diving team gathered at STAR Marina and we departed at 9:30am with Borneo Divers, which has a Dive Centre on Mamutik Island. My Dive Instructor, May, was onboard with us too. I confessed to her that I had given her back everything she taught me (which means I forget everything) LOL.

diver ready

I was a bit nervous but excited

However, there was no time to bother with the butterflies in my stomach, after suited up and got our dive equipment loaded on-board, we headed to the first dive site at 11am. On the way, I was busy to recall all the steps in my mind.

Entering the water by back roll

Me entering the water by back roll

I was the last one entering the water with my compact camera in underwater case (can stay waterproof up to a depth of 40 Meters). Due to the rain earlier, the water was a bit murky but the visibility is quite ok, about 6 Meters in average. Two Divemasters, Christine and Jonathan were covering our front and back during the dive. The following are summaries of my experience in 3 dive sites.

Dive sites of Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park

Dive sites of Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park. We covered North Sulug Reef, East Sulug Reef and The Rock

1. North Sulug Reef

Depth: 18-22M (Dive Time: 11:14am-12:00pm)
My first dive was quite terrible. It took me 2 minutes to equalize (relieve pressure to eardrums caused by increasing depth). Then sea water leaked into my mask, I couldn’t see things clearly half of time. I also couldn’t control my buoyancy effectively while busy setting my camera. All these are caused by lack of practices.

School of Yellow and Blueback Fusiliers

School of Yellow and Blueback Fusiliers

Anyway, we spotted two green turtles and a school of barracuda! There were school after school of yellowback fusiliers swimming close to reef to catch plankton.

Plate coral of Sulug Island

Plate coral of Sulug Island

Many table corals, sea whips and feather stars (marine animals that look like plants) were present. Though the variety and density of corals wasn’t impressive and I saw 5 to 7 Crown of Thorns (a cunning and thorny marine creature which preys on corals), this dive site has the most reef fishes compared to my next two dives.

Lettuce Corals

Lettuce Corals

scuba diver

Special thanks to Dodo for sharing her photos in this article. She is a hardcore diver who has done over 200 dives.

Slowly I got used to the water and able to navigate freely around the reef. The dive ended after 45 minutes and we went back to Mamutik Island for lunch.

2. East Sulug Reef

Depth: 9-16M (Dive Time: 1:20pm-2:04pm)
After lunch buffet and a short nap on the island, we started our second dive near Sulug Island again. To focus on polishing my rusted diving skill, I left my camera behind. This dive site is far more interesting than the first one.

A pair of mating nudibranch

A pair of mating nudibranch

The corals here is much more denser and it has become a good hiding place for numerous ocean critters. We saw a pair of mating nudibranch (also known as Orchids of the Ocean) on the coral rubble. In fact, you can find more wildlife underwater than on the land, and some of them are very bright in colors.

Hawksbill sea turtle

Hawksbill sea turtle

That day must be our lucky day. We saw a Hawksbill turtle swimming toward us. It seemed so relax and only a few Meters away from us, probably it thought we were just big fishes. The population of Hawksbill turtle is 10 times less than Green Turtle, so this sighting is really a treat.

Giant clam

Giant clam

I spotted at least two very big and old giant clams. If this park is not protected, there wouldn’t be any of them left due to overfishing. However, if a giant clam grows really huge, like over a Meter wide, many local fishermen would not dare to touch it because they believe there is a spirit dwells inside.

Cuttlefish camouflaged as a coral

Cuttlefish camouflaged as coral

We dived along a long stretch of underwater coral garden. I noticed a coral was “flashing”. A closer look showed that it’s a big cuttlefish camouflaged as a coral. We would have missed it if it didn’t change colors. Divers have to be very observant or they would miss many cool stuffs. I believe we only spotted a few percent of the wildlife lurking in this reef.

Puffer fish in a barrel sponge

Puffer fish in a barrel sponge

East Sulug Reef has a lot of lettuce corals, mushroom corals and barrel sponges. Among them, I saw two Christmas tree worms retreated into their burrows, and orange-spotted grouper, angelfish, etc. Without a camera, I could dive more freely. Most of the time, I hovered between between a depth of 10 to 14 Meters, where visibility is better and beautiful corals concentrated.

3. The Rock

Depth: 12-13M (Dive Time: 3:25pm-4pm)
For the last dive, we explored The Rock just behind Mamutik Island. The corals at The Rock is as fabulous as East Sulug Reef but with more variety of soft corals. Too bad I don’t know most of their names. I will buy a guide book and learn to identify the marine lives so I will enjoy diving more.

Coral Razorfish

Coral Razorfish

The seascape here is a gradual sloping ridge. Ten of us dived gently along its side full with fringing reef.

Dense coral in Sulug Reef

Dense coral in The Rock

Hard corals grow an average of 1 to 2 cm per year. Many corals in the marine parks of Sabah are estimated 3,000 to 6,000 years old. But they can be totally destroyed in a matter of minutes by destructive fishing method such as blast fishing (or fish bombing).

False Clown Anemone fish in Ritteri anemone

False Clown Anemone fish in Ritteri anemone

We saw two Magnificent Anemones with Anemonefishes (Nemo) living in them. Magnificent Anemone is very hard to survive in aquarium, so you have to see them in the wild.

Pink Anemonefish in purple Magnificent Anemone (Heteractis magnifica)

Pink Anemonefish in purple Magnificent Anemone (Heteractis magnifica)

Even though KK Islands Park isn’t a world-class diving spot, it’s still a great playground, even experienced divers find pleasant surprises in every dive.

sea fern

Shrub-like sea fern

Everyone was really happy. The sighting of sea turtles and barracuda is already worth the trip. My interest on diving is reignited. I’ll do more dives regularly to perfect my skill and take more underwater photos in future.

Recommended Dive Operators

Sabah has so many high-quality diving spots all over the state. The nearest dive site could be less than 20 KM away from our home. If you don’t know how to dive, it’s like living next to a snowy mountain but don’t know how to ski.

Gear up for the dive

Gear up for the dive

You can find more about how to get certified as a scuba diver in my blog. To get certified or arrange a diving trip, I highly recommend the dive operators below:

1. Borneo Divers

Borneo Divers is the most established PADI 5-star dive operator in Sabah and has dive centres on Mamutik and Mabul Islands.
Tel: +60 88-222226, +60 88-221340
E-mail: information@borneodivers.info
Website: www.borneodivers.net
Facebook: BorneoDiversMabulResort
Office Address: 9th Floor, Menara Jubili, 53, Jalan Gaya, 88000 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia

scuba diver showing OK sign

Ok Bah! Everyone can dive

2. Downbelow Marine & Wildlife Adventures

Downbelow is run by a nice couple, Richard and Joanne from UK. They are very passionate about the nature of Sabah, and their service is highly rated in TripAdvisor. Downbelow has a PADI 5-star dive centre on Gaya Island Base Camp and a Dive Shop in KK Times Square.

E-mail: info@divedownbelow.com
Website: www.divedownbelow.com
Tel: +60 88-488997, +60 12-8661935
Office Address: KK Times Square, Lot 33-G, Block F, Kota Kinabalu, 88100 Sabah, Malaysia
Facebook: DiveDownBelow
Google+: +Divedownbelow
Twitter: @divedownbelow
Youtube: divedownbelow
Instagram: divedownbelow

Divers descending to the bottom

Scuba Diving is fun

3. Asia Diving Vacation

Asia Diving Vacation was started by my old buddy, Jacob, who is an avid diver who loves to introduce divers to the best dive sites in Asia, for example, Layang Layang, Lankayan, Sipadan and even Maratua (Indonesia). You can join him stalking whale shark around the islands of KK.

E-mail: customercare@asiadivingvacation.com
Website: www.asiadivingvacation.com
Office Address: Duis Dive, 23, 3rd Floor, Block C, Damai Plaza IV, 88300 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia
Facebook: AsiaDivingVacation
Twitter: @advonline

The fee of leisure diving (fun diving) day trip ranges from RM320 to RM360 (≈US$90-103), which normally includes boat transfer, 3 guided boat dives, rental of scuba equipment, diving permit and lunch. Please visit their websites for detail on dive packages.

Cheering for the exciting dive

Cheering for the exciting dive

Photos taken in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo

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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. World Health Organization (WHO) has declared that bad air is a leading environmental cause of cancer, and 1/8 of total global deaths is directly linked to air pollution.

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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