Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Scuba Diving in East Kalimantan

Do you want scuba diving in East Kalimantan? Not far from the disputed area between Malaysia and Indonesia in the eastern part of Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo), in fact not far from the once disputed Sipadan island which is also famed for its diving, there is a group of islands with top notch diving. Not as famous as its neighbour in the north, the islands offer – according to some – better variety in both the diving itself and the marine life.

This group of islands is located off Kabupaten Berau in East Kalimantan, off the mouth of the big Berau river. There are several islands usually visited for diving, among them are Derawan, Sangalaki, Kakaban, Maratua, Nabucco and Samama. Among these, Kakaban is probably the most unique. This island hosts a unique landlocked saltwater lake, similar to the one found in Palau. Once part of the sea, the lagoon fringed by atoll was uplifted by tectonic forces and separated from the sea thousands of years ago. The lake hosts thousands of jellyfish, which after thousands of years of freedom from predators have evolved into a stingless form.

Diving around Kakaban is also superb, offering different marine creatures, from schools of barracuda to tiny pigmy sea horse. Sangalaki's specialty is in manta rays, and Derawan's are turtles. Apart from its impressive wall diving, the island of Maratua can offer an adrenaline rush type of dive. This island is the emerged part of the fringing reef surrounding a lagoon. There's an underwater channel cutting the northeastern part of the fringing reef, connecting the lagoon with the sea. Dive when the tide is going in, starting from the mouth of the channel in the sea, and you'll be in for a jet coaster ride. The water would rush in forcefully, creating a very strong current that will literally throw us to the middle of the lagoon. Diving during the time when the tide is going out is very dangerous, however, because strong down current is created at the mouth of the channel as water pours out of the lagoon into the sea.

Berau islands, situated in the eastside of Borneo, are so famous among diver community all around the world. One of the islands is called Derawan, the most intended diving destination for divers. It is located less than 30 minutes of the eastern coast of Borneo near the city of Tanjung Redep (around 2.5 hours away). It has several unique landscapes/seascapes, in the form of walls, reefs and caves with different kinds of inhabitants. In just one reef, you may find more than 50 species of hard and soft corals. More than that this island is also well known as an island of turtle kingdom since so many turtles swimming around during the day and coming to the land to lay eggs during the night. What is so amazing is that sometimes they do this in front of the resort area. You may start enthralled in the first dive around the jetty, where you can find many fabulous critters around the jetty, such as luminous colored squids, crocodile fish, seahorses, and many others.

Another island is called Sangalaki, known all over the world as the center of Manta ray, a giant and gorgeous ray that has wing span up to 3 meters wide. There are so many Mantas ready to swim encircling you even while you are snorkeling below the surface. These critters are not aggressive, so don't be afraid to see them around. You will gasp seeing how elegant they swim with their giant wings. The underwater scenery is simply beautiful making all dives become unforgettable breathtaking experience.

The island of Kakaban, a 9 shape island, is an isolated marine lake (lagoon) and unique in its own. Thousands (or millions?) of years ago the island was naturally uplifted and then isolate the marine ecosystem from surrounding marine area (according to one of researchers in Snellius Expedition I on 1929-1930), making all biota in this marine lake become very unique. The only other marine lake in the world is Palau, but people said that the bio diversity in Kakaban is incomparable to those in Palau. The lake of Kakaban has very unique and endemic critters, such as non-stinging jellyfishes (Cassiopeia ornate, an upside down swimming jellyfish; Mastigias papua, a brownish blue jellyfish; Aurelia aurita, a plate shape jellyfish; and Tripedalia cystophora, a finger size jellyfish) and non-stinging anemone (Actinaria). There are more unique critters in this lake such as sea cucumbers (Holothuria cavans and Synaptula spinifera), crustaceans (Orcovita saltatrix), tunicate (Styela complexa) and fishes (Apogon lateralis, Exyrias puntang, Antherinomorus endrachtensis, and Zenarchopterus dispar). Certainly there are many other unidentified species. While Prof. J. Kingdon, from Oxford University, called this island as 'The temple to Life on earth', Dr T Tomascik, a Canadian researcher, said that this place is a biological paradise with Cassiopeia Ornate as a trademark. Beside those endemic critters, Kakaban has many underwater caverns in the outer side of the island.

Not far from Kakaban we can find the island of Maratua. The waters around this island have so many pelagic, such as schooling barracuda, trevally (jack-fish), dog tooth tunas and mackerels, hammerhead sharks and mantas, making it an excellent place for divers who love pelagic. The island is home to apes, bats, and various birds, an ideal place for sight seeing while doing surface interval.

There are many more small islands around the Derawan islands, for example Samama and Panjang. Each of the islands offers the unique scenery of bio-diversity for divers to interact with. You will also see the Blue Light Cave, where you can start the dive at 2 m depth cave and end at the opening at various depths in the wall. Last but not least, for macro enthusiast, you will be delighted by heavens of macro in all majestic dive sites of Berau islands.

East Borneo at a Glance
Access: An hour flight from Balikpapan to Tanjung Redeb, followed by 2.5 hours of boat ride along Berau River and to the islands.
Reef Type:Slope, wall
Marine Life:Manta Ray, eagle ray, turtles, barracuda, pigmy sea horse, and stingless jellyfish in Kakaban Lake
Coral Condition:Generally healthy, with some evidence of bomb and cyanide fishing in a few areas
Visibility: 15-30m
Current:Mild to very strong
Highlights:Kakaban Saltwater lake with the stingless jellyfish, Manta Ray in Sangalaki, drift dive in Maratua channel
Accomodation:Budget to expensive dive resorts in Derawan, a good dive resort in Sangalaki and a top notch dive resort in Nabucco island
Difficulty:Easy to difficult
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