Tag Archives: snorkelling

Sapi Island (Pulau Sapi) of Sabah, Malaysia

Sapi Island (Pulau Sapi)

Among all the islands near to Kota Kinabalu City (KK), Sapi Island (Pulau Sapi) wins the most votes as the favorite of tourists. Not only it offers more nature experience, the new activities such as Coral Flyer (longest island to island zipline in the world) make this little island more exciting. After you see all its features and secrets in this article, you will love Sapi even more.

Sapi Island (Pulau Sapi)
Sapi Island is only 25-acre (10 ha) big and the second smallest island of Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park. Though it’s about ⅓ the size of more popular and developed Manukan Island nearby, people like its less commercialized setting and every facility is just a short walk away.

jetty of Sapi island
Pic: jetty of Sapi Island, with Gaya Island in the background

Once you arrive Sapi Island, thousands of fishes and beautiful sea view at the jetty already impress you, most will think “it’s gonna to be an awesome tour!” I feel the same no matter how many times I visit Sapi. Sapi is really a gift to KK, how many cities in the world have nice tropical island only 7 KM away?

tourist photo at jetty
Pic: my friend was so delighted in his first visit to Sapi Island. He also says he likes Sapi better than Manukan.

beach of Sapi Island
Sapi Island has everything it takes to be a cool island destination, i.e. blue sky, white sandy beach, crystal clear seawater, green forest, and… how about some wildlife?

monitor lizard
Let’s meet the “dragons” of Sapi. I mean Monitor Lizard. Dozens of monitor lizards roam freely at the forest edge of Sapi and some grows up to 2 Meters long, so big that tourists mistake them as Komodo Dragon. Monitor Lizards are not aggressive and they are never a problem to the tourists. Just ignore them like how they ignore you. They only bite when you leave them no choice.

tourists taking photos of monitor lizard
At first tourists would find these reptiles a bit intimidating, then they will enjoy it as part the nature experience. In fact, this is an attraction to green tourists who love the idea of sharing space with wildlife. Wild boars and macaques are also present occasionally.

sea of Pulau Sapi
You can just laze on the beach or go swimming. If you are not a swimmer, don’t go too far out. Certain sections, especially the area near to jetty, have a sudden incline of 2 to 3 Meters deep. So always keep an eyes on your children, though there are lifeguards around.

white sandy beach of Pulau Sapi

tourists in the sea of Sapi Island
The beach of Sapi Island is small so it can be quite crowded during weekends and school holiday. Sapi is a forested island covered by old secondary jungle, the forest is fully protected after this island was gazetted as a national park since 1979. The trees grow very dense and tall, providing good shade behind the beach. The best months to visit Sapi are from Feb to May.

Below is a short video that shows what Sapi Island has (and its least explored corners):

Snorkelling

Fire your tour guide if he doesn’t recommend you to snorkel in Sapi Island. It’s a must-try. The best concentration of corals is located at southern side of the island. You won’t see much coral if you snorkel near the beach full with tourists.

Clownfish of Sapi Island
You don’t need to make any appointment with Nemo. They are always there. Sapi Island seems to have more fishes than other islands of KK. If you want to go fishing near to KK, experienced anglers will bring you to water around Sapi Island.

corals of Pulau Sapi
Most corals I saw during snorkelling are hard corals such as lettuce and staghorn corals. During low tide, they are just a few feet under my belly. In sunny day, the visibility is excellent. Corals also need sunlight like plant, the clear water helps them to flourish.

giant clam in Sapi Island
Pic: This giant clam is about 1-feet wide, about 4 to 6 years old I think.

You can rent a life jacket for snorkelling if you don’t know how to swim.

coral in Pulau Sapi

Ok, no picture, no evidence, so the following is the moving pictures of my snorkelling in Sapi:

Besides snorkelling, there are many other fun things you can try on Sapi Island, for example, Coral Flyer (World’s longest island to island zipline), Sea Walking, Scuba diving.

Hidden Beaches

As I said, the beach can be packed with tourists in peak season. Since you can’t ask everyone on the beach to keep quiet, you can move to “hidden” beaches at other side of the island for more tranquility. It’s also the area that faces the rich corals I mentioned above.

crowded beach of Sapi Island
Pic: the way (yellow pointer) to hidden beaches are behind the rock outcrop next to tourist beach

rocky area of Sapi Island
But there is a little obstacle course for you to cross to other side. The rocks in the water are quite slippery. For me, climbing over the dry boulders along the rocky shore is easier.

rocky shore of Sapi Island
It’s a walk of about 200 Meters that worths your effort. Bring some water (and snorkelling gears) with you. Otherwise it’s very troublesome to walk back to tourist area to get it.

hidden beach of Sapi Island
Pic: there are two hidden beaches on the same side. Some locals also don’t know this. They are all yours. You are welcome.

tourists camping on the beach
Pic: campers at the secret beach

Secret Cliff

Here is another secret location with rewarding view, only for those who are keen to walk 800 Meters to higher ground. Your friends who are lazy to follow you will regret, after they see the nice photos you share on Instagram.

way to jungle trail
The starting point of the trail is next to a fenced area behind tourist beach and a shelter named “Pondok Tenggiri”. It’s guarded by a few dragons. Don’t worry, they (monitor lizards) will flee when you approach lol. You will spot a not-so-useful trail map at forest edge.

junction in jungle trail
The route starts with steep ascend in the beginning. After 486 Meters, you will reach a Y junction, follow the trail at the left. There is no direction sign along the trail, keep your eyes wide open so you won’t miss the junction.

cliff of Sapi Island
After 300 Meters, you will come to an open area with exposed sedimentary rocks and greeted by a few noisy White-breasted woodswallow (bird). Congratulations! You have discovered the secret cliff that is unseen by 99.9% of the tourists. Even though it’s only a 25 minutes walk, it feels like a major achievement for getting there.

sea view from the cliff
The cliff gives you a magnificent view of rocky shore facing the vast blue ocean behind Sapi Island. Watch your footing as there is no fence. A fall from this 50 feet cliff is hazardous to your health, and there are very few people come here, in case you need help badly. Anyway, this cliff could be a potential spot for recreational abseiling.

secret cliff of Sapi Island
Pic: view of Manukan Island from the cliff

You can see more photos of this secret cliff in my photo album. I also recorded the panoramic scene of secret cliff in my video.

rocky beach
On another side of the secret cliff is a descending path leads to a rocky beach, where you can get very clear view of hidden beaches.

island forest of Sapi
You may turn back to the starting point after taking some photos on secret cliff, or you can continue to explore another route at the junction, by walking another 500 Meters on the ridge to complete the loop trail of Sapi Island. The remaining jungle trail is not well-maintained. Unless you are very interested in trees, there are some big Keruing and other beautiful trees to see, otherwise don’t waste your time.

monument on Sapi Island
Pic: a monument near the end of jungle trail. How many typo do you spot? If this thing happens today, sure it’ll go viral on the Net.

Rocky Beach

Another beach worths checking out is the Rocky Beach at the 200-Meter narrow channel between Sapi and Gaya Island. During low tide, you can even walk to Gaya Island, the biggest island of Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park. Wildlife also uses this as a migration shortcut between islands.

rocky beach
The shore is blanketed by tens of thousands of sandstone pebbles and rocks, this likes an upstream river in interior of Sabah.

rocky beach of Pulau Sapi
The 235-Meter zipline Coral Flyer can be seen from here.

Facilities on Sapi

The amenities for tourists are basic but quite complete on Sapi Island. Jetty, toilets / changing rooms, benches, cafe, grocery shop and shelters are available for public access. The only thing that Sapi doesn’t have is island accommodation. Camping is allowed but you must inform the Park Warden at reception counter for the permission.

layout map of Sapi Island
Pic: above is the layout map of Sapi Island. You can click to enlarge it.

public toilet on the island
Pic: public toilets of Sapi Island. Thank you for not peeing in the sea. There are shower heads outside for you to rinse your body.

monitor lizard in toilet
Pic: I was so shocked to see this monitor lizard in man’s toilet because it’s a female. An awkward moment when we both were speechless and stared at each other. Nature, remember this is Nature. Wildlife has the right to enjoy the amenities like human does. Just kidding.

Sapi Cafe on the island
Sapi Cafe is open from 8am to 4pm every day, and they serve common food and drink such as fried rice from RM7 to RM23 (≈US$2-7). You can click here to see their menu (prices as of Apr 2015), which has good variety of choices (Note: Some food items may not available sometimes).

makeshift lunch buffet
Pic: lunch buffet stalls on the island, usually run by travel agent for their tour groups, but they might accept walk-in customers.

water sport equipments rental
You can rent snorkelling gears (RM25/day≈US$7.60/day for snorkel, mask, fins & life jacket), beach mat, camping tent, etc. from a shop in island. Small locker is available for rent for RM10 (≈US$3) a day. Refundable deposit applies so bring extra cash. You may click here to see the list of items and their rental/deposit rates (prices as of Apr 2015).

grocery store on Sapi Island
Pic: island grocery shop, opens from 8am to 4pm, some items sold include snacks, soft drink, beer, sunblock lotion, insect repellent, soap & shampoo, batteries, medicines.

Travel Fees

Sapi Island is a public marine park managed by the government (Sabah Parks) and open to walk-in local and international tourists every day. After you pay for the return boat transfer, you need to purchase ticket (which is called Conservation Fee) to enter the island. The table below is the ticket rates.

Visitor Ticket Fee
Malaysian
– Adult (18 & above)
– Below 18 years old
– Senior Citizen
– Student (below 16)
 
RM3
RM1
RM1
RM0.50
Non-Malaysian
– Adult
– Child
 
RM10 (≈US$3)
RM6 (≈US$1.80)

*6% GST tax would be applied to ticket soon

Some travel agents may charge you RM150 to RM180 (≈US$45-55) per person for a tour package (include land/boat transfer, lunch, entrance fee, snorkelling gears, guide service) to Sapi Island. If you arrange the trip on your own, it’ll cost only RM80 (≈US$24) or less. For example, let’s say you are a foreign adult tourist, below is the sample budget:

  • Return Boat Transfer (& Terminal Fee): RM30
  • Island Entrance Fee: RM10 (non-Malaysian adult)
  • Snorkelling Gears: RM25 (rent from shop in island)
  • Lunch: RM15 (bring your own lunch)

Camping Fee

For camper, the park imposes a small Camping Fee of RM5 (≈US$1.50) for adult and RM2 (≈US$0.60) for child (below 18). Please be informed that you need to pay additional RM50 (≈US$15) to boat operator for next-day pickup. Camping tent (fit 4 people) is available for rent at RM30/day (≈US$9/day) on the island. The island shops close at 4pm, so you better take out your belonging from locker or buy your last-minute supply such as food before they close.

How to get there

Sapi Island (see Location Map) is only 10 to 15 minutes away from KK by boat. You can hire a boat at any one of the boat terminals in KK City (open from 8am to 4pm). Please note the last boat returning to KK City departs at 4pm or 4:30pm.

More Photos

Please feel free to browse 100 latest and bigger photos of Sapi Island:
more photos of Pulau Sapi

Photos taken in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia

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Manukan Island, the Most Popular Island of Sabah

Manukan Island

With over 200,000 visits annually, Manukan (Pulau Manukan) is the most frequented island by domestic and international tourists. It is only 15-minute away by boat ride, almost a no-brainer choice for people who want an island day trip near to Kota Kinabalu City (KK).

Manukan Island
However, to be fair, the reason Manukan Island becomes the most famous island is not just because it’s “convenient.” It does have three other outstanding factors that make this beautiful island of South China Sea a favorite destination.

beach of Pulau Manukan

Factor #1. Manukan has long stretch of white sandy beach

Its long beach spans about 1,500 Meter at southern side of the island, facing a bay of crystal clear and tranquil sea. The water is so calm and shallow that it’s also suitable for non-swimmers. Families feel safe to let their kids playing in the water. No matter how far their children go, parents still can have a clear open view on what’s going on.

sea of Manukan Island
Manukan is the second largest island of Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park (TARP in short), and its beach is vast. Though Manukan has hundreds of visitors every day, there is still enough big space for everyone. You won’t accidentally trip over a carpet of tourists sunbathing on the beach.

beach goers in Manukan Island

Factor #2. Manukan has the Most Developed Facilities

Tourists can find almost everything they need there, from toilet, shower room, restaurants, water sport activities, souvenir shop to accommodation. You can go to Manukan empty-handed (must bring cash!) and buy your things such as food, sunscreen and beachwear on the island. But please be informed nothing is cheap on the island.

tourists sunbathe on Pulau Manukan
Another thing I like about Manukan is its forested shore. After a swim in hot day, we can retreat to the shade, rest on the bench and enjoy the gentle sea breeze. It can be quite cooling under the trees.

white sandy beach of Manukan

lifeguard in Manukan
There are a few lifeguards keeping an eye on the sea. They also know how to deal with injury caused by jellyfish sting and sea urchin. For crime prevention, there are some police on the island too.

Factor #3. Manukan Island has the Best Snorkelling Spot

Among the five islands of TARP, Manukan Island ranks top as a snorkelling site. Though its coral reef is not of world class, it’s still a wonderful treat to nature lovers. Sighting of Nemo is guaranteed. You can even see Nemo from the jetty, with thousands of other fishes.

WuChun (吴尊) in Manukan Island
In fact, many Hong Kong celebrities have been to Manukan Island. Usually they come to Manukan as personal trip and try to stay low profile. Don’t be surprised if you find WuChun or other superstars laying just next to you in Manukan.

The following is a 3-min video for you to see more beauty of Manukan:

Entrance Fee

You need to purchase ticket (which they call Conservation Fee) to enter the island. The table below is the ticket rates. Don’t forget to add return boat transfer and terminal fee (about RM30 in total, ≈US$9) to your travel budget.

Visitor Ticket Fee
Malaysian
– Adult (18 & above)
– Below 18 years old
– Senior Citizen
– Student (below 16)
 
RM3
RM1
RM1
RM0.50
Non-Malaysian
– Adult
– Child
 
RM10 (≈US$3)
RM6 (≈US$1.80)

*6% GST tax would be applied to ticket soon

jetty of Manukan Island
Pic: the jetty of Manukan Island, you can see many fishes under it.

Activities

You can have fun with many water sports on Manukan Island. The most popular and recommended activity on Manukan is Snorkelling. You can rent the snorkelling gears easily on Manukan or boat terminal on mainland. It’s ok if you don’t know how to swim, just wear a life jacket.

coral of Manukan Island
Consider this island is only 7 KM away from KK City Center, the variety of soft and hard corals on Manukan is really impressive. Nevertheless, you need to know where to look for them. Do not snorkel at the side full of people. The Best Snorkelling Location is in deeper water at the left of the jetty (when you face Manukan Island) and far away from “tourist beach.”

brain coral
When you enter the water, you will see mainly sandy bottom for the first 10 Meters, then the corals become denser and denser, at last you will reach a large “coral garden” about 25 Meters away from shore. The water is only 4 to 7 Meters deep at this distance so the visibility is very good in sunny day.

fishes in Manukan Island
Corals are the home of fishes, of course you will see many types of fishes such as Sergeant major, Trigger fish, Parrot fish, Butterfly fish and Cleaner Wrasse. The coral area is big and got so many stuffs to see, sometimes I spend 2 to 3 hours have fun snorkelling.

big school of foraging fishes
Last year, I bumped into a huge school of foraging fishes, thousands of fishes formed a long line and swam in same direction. I followed them and they didn’t seem to mind. On the way, many other fishes in different colors and species also joined the group. This is such an incredible phenomenon!

tourists trying Scuba-doo
Pic: tourist trying out Scuba-doo (underwater “scooter”)

Below is a list of activities and prices just FYI. Get extra cash ready if you plan to play these:

Activity Fee per person
(in RM)
Fee (in US$) Duration
Sea Walking 250 ≈76 30 Min
Scuba-Doo 250 ≈76 30 Min
Parasailing 90 ≈27 15 Min
Banana Boat Ride 40 ≈12 15 Min
Flying Fish 70 ≈21 15 Min
Jet Ski 165 ≈50 30 Min
Discovery Scuba Diving 300 ≈91 2 dives

Tip: These are just Listed Prices. No harm to haggle.

Ladies, be careful when some “friendly” locals approach you and offer “snorkelling tour.” There were cases these so-called guides took their female guests to deeper water, making them panic, then took the opportunity to molest them. Just report to the police on the island if that happens.

Manukan Island Resort

You can overnight on Manukan Island if you love it so much. Manukan Island Resort is the only accommodation on Manukan and they have about 20 units of single and double storey chalets. The accommodation fees* range from RM560 (≈US$170) per room to RM1,500 (≈US$450) per chalet. You may look at their online booking page for room details and updated prices.
*full board package which includes accommodation, meals, island entrance fee and boat transfer

Manukan Island Resort
Pic: Hill Side Chalets near the beach

There are two types of villa, i.e. Hill Side Chalet and Beach Chalet. Hill Side Chalets have sea view but Beach Chalets don’t. FYI, camping is not allowed on Manukan Island.

Hill Chalets (Todak Chalet) of Manukan Island Resort
Beach Chalet (Tambun Chalet) of Manukan Island Resort
Pic: Hill Chalets are on a slope and have fantastic sea view

Punai and Tuna Chalets of Manukan Island Resort
Pic: Beach Chalets can be a bit noisy when tourists walking pass the place during daytime (8:30am-4:30pm)

For reservation, you may book the room online or contact Sutera Sanctuary Lodges (management of the resort) at:
Website: www.suterasanctuarylodges.com.my
E-mail: info@suterasanctuarylodges.com.my
Phone: +60 88-308914, +60 88-308915, +60 88-308916
Cellphone: +60 17-8335022
They also have a reservation center for walk-in guests (opposite to reception / ticket counter of Manukan).

Restaurants

Food and drink are readily available on Manukan Island but sold at “tourist price”. If you are price-conscious, I would advise you to bring your own food. Barbecue (BBQ) is forbidden on Manukan (some outdated websites say you can BBQ on the island).

Cafe on Manukan Island
Pic: Koktas Cafe offers the cheapest food. You can have rice and fried noodle from RM4 to RM14.50 (≈US$1.30-4.40). Light meals are also available for a few dollars. You may look at their list of food and prices (as of Apr 2015). Koktas Cafe opens from 8:30am to 4pm daily.

outdoor lunch buffer in Manukan
You will find many outdoor food stalls behind the beach. I asked one of the buffet stalls that seem to serve decent food. The price is RM86 (≈US$26, 6% GST tax included) per head and walk-in customer is accepted. They open from 11am to 2pm.

BBQ buffet
There are dozens of other makeshift food stalls belong to travel agents. They normally sell it as part of island tour package which costs about RM150 (≈US$45), which includes boat transfer, lunch buffet and snorkelling gears. They would accept walk-in customers if there is enough food.

Arang BBQ House
Another restaurant, Arang Barbecue House also sells lunch buffet for RM86 per person. They open from 11am to 2pm.

Perahu Restaurant on Pulau Manukan
Pic: Perahu Restaurant

Perahu Restaurant is the most established restaurant on Manukan Island. You can dine in their air-conditioning room. Sometimes they close for group function. They open from 11:30am to 4pm. Yes, beer and alcoholic drink are available here. Below is a summary of their menu (Prices as of Apr 2015 and subject to 6% GST tax) for your quick reference:

  • Fried Noodle, Nasi Lemak, Chicken Rice: RM26 (≈US$8)
  • Sandwich, Burger, Fish & Chips: RM35 (≈US$11)
  • Coffee: RM14 (≈US$4.30)
  • Tea: RM12 (≈US$3.60)
  • Soda Drink (e.g. Coke): RM10 (≈US$3)
  • Fruit Juice (Orange, Pineapple, Watermelon): RM19 (≈US$5.80)
  • Beer: RM28 per tin (≈US$8.50)
  • Cocktail, Wine, Whisky, Vodka, etc.: RM28 (≈US$8.50) per glass

Other Facilities

This section is an overall of other facilities on Manukan Island. You may refer to the following layout map for location of these amenities:
layout map of Manukan Island

snorkelling and sport gears for rent
Snorkelling gears can be rent next to Koktas Cafe. The rental fee for a set of snorkel, mask, fins and life jacket cost RM25 per day (≈US$7.60). You need to deposit RM70 (≈US$21), which is refundable when items return in good condition. Do bring more cash. Here is a list of all items available for rent (prices as of Apr 2015). You also can purchase other things such as beach wear, snacks, ice-cream, potato chips, instant noodle and cookies from the same shop.

toilet and changing room of Manukan Island
Pic: public toilet and shower room of Manukan Island. It is divided into male and female sections, each has about 10 rooms. There are some shower heads outside to rinse yourselves. Two things I don’t like about this toilet – it is a bit too far away from the beach, and its floor is always wet. I wish it has dry surface for me to put my bag. Anyway, it’s not too bad.

toilet and shower room
Pic: toilet and shower room. Some doors have broken locks.

Manukan Island
Pic: interlock walkway on Manukan, quite well-maintained

WW2 bombshells on Manukan
Pic: WW2 bombshells

Marine Education Center
The Marine Education Center of Manukan Island is used to exhibit some marine specimens such as seashells, turtle and corals. Currently it is close (since 25 Mar 2015) for construction of a Marine Touch Pool and may open again in June 2015. Now what they show are only a skeleton of Bryde’s whale and a shark head photo booth outside the hall.

shark head photo booth
FYI, there is no man-eating shark at Manukan Island.

Besides, there are football and volleyball fields in the center of island. For Muslims, Surau (prayer room) is available too. I wish they have locker service so I can store my belonging because I can’t bring my wallet to snorkelling. Without locker, life will be a bit difficult for solo traveler to Manukan.

Sunset Point

If you like jungle and have time to spare, you may go to Sunset Point in western edge of Manukan Island. Day trip tourists have to leave the island before 5pm so most of them don’t bother to walk 1.5 KM to Sunset Point that has no sunset. I’m not sure whether that can motivate them, if I tell them two rare mangrove trees, which are critically endangered and only 200 of them left in the wild, are found at Sunset Point.

jungle trail and jogging track
There are two ways to reach Sunset Point, one by rugged and unpaved jungle trail and another one by jogging track. Do you love bugs and birds? If it’s a BIG yes, take the jungle trail, otherwise follow the jogging track. The bonus of exploring jungle trail is a chance for sighting of Philippine Megapode, a chicken-like bird with red face. If you are the first one entering the jungle trail in the morning, you would spot this elusive bird.

jogging track to the Sunset Point
The jogging track is mostly flat path and probably accessible by wheelchair. Along the way, you would see some beautiful trees with interesting barks. The soil on Manukan is not fertile, so most trees are short and slim, with dense ferns, palms and vines growing among them. By the way, swarm of mosquitoes is present during wet season but can be none in dry month. Bring your insect repellent just in case.

Sunset Point
Pic: the broken shelter at Sunset Point

Sunset Point of Manukan
After 45 minutes, I arrived Sunset Point. I didn’t even sweat because the track is well-shaded by tree canopy. Look at the photo above, do you see a narrow path at the left? Just follow that narrow route under dense Pandanus trees to descend to the beach. It’s a bit steep so please proceed cautiously.

view of Sulug Island from Sunset Point
Pic: view of Sulug Island from the Sunset Point. It is a rocky shore without nice beach. The scenery is nice anyway.

rare mangrove tree Bruguiera hainesii
Pic: rare mangrove trees

Finally I saw the rare mangrove trees. They are locally known as Berus Mata Buaya (means “Eye of the Crocodile”). Its scientific name is Bruguiera hainesii, and only about 200 of them left in the world (mainly in Indonesia and Malaysia). I’m so happy that we have two on Manukan. I have no idea how they got here. These two trees look like a couple. Perhaps they purposely chose this sunset viewpoint as their landing spot? So romantic. There are two seedlings growing next to them. Seem like they are starting a family. Not only that, both trees were flowering and fruiting during my visit. Singaporean plant scientist Prof Dr Jean Yong said, “having the tree here is equivalent to China having pandas.” I got close-up video of these trees if you want to see more.

Overall, Manukan Island is a wonderful destination. I recommend it to tourists who don’t want to travel far to our east coast for island trip.

How to get there

Manukan Island (see Location Map) is a public marine park which accepts walk-in tourists. You don’t need to apply a permit or book any tour package to go to Manukan Island. Return boat transfer to Manukan is readily available from 8am to 4pm at any one of the boat terminals in KK City. Please note the last boat returning to KK City departs at 4pm or 4:30pm (unless you stay in resort).

More Photos

For better and bigger photos, please check out 100 latest photos of Manukan Island in my photo album:
more photos of Manukan Island

Photos taken in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia

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