Monday, January 12, 2009

Hangin' with the fishies (Jan. 10/09 - Singamata Lodge near Semporna, Borneo, Malaysia)

A boat showed up first thing this morning as planned to take us out to Singamata's offshore lodge. It was a quick ride - just a couple miles from town, but still somewhat isolated out on the water. Houses seem to be randomly built on stilts over the water here and there too. The facilities were pretty impressive - big open air covered restaurant area, open sunny patio for dive gear, and three little buildings containing rooms with wooden floors and spaces just big enough between the boards to see the fish swimming below! They've fenced in an area about 60x150 feet, where fish are contained but water and small creatures are free to move in and out. Steps lead down into this "natural aquarium" where you can swim and snorkel as much as you want. We only had time to drop our bags and grab some dive gear though, as the boat was leaving right away for the day's diving. A group of eight from Hong Kong and one guy from Holland joined us for the three dives today at Pulau Sipadan, a 25 minute boat ride northeast from Semporna. The island was right out of a magazine - tiny, with palm trees crowding the center and white sand all around. Turquoise water turned a deep blue where the wall dropped off, and a few families had houses built on stilts out over the water. We did three dives here, with an hour or so inbetween to lounge in the sand and swim in the warm shallow water with the green peaks of northern Borneo as a backdrop. It was pretty much perfect!

The diving was perfect too - warm water (29°C), no current, great visibility (80ft+), sloping wall to dive at whatever depth you chose, and tons to look at! The sandy bottom gave way to bustling coral heads at about 15 feet, and it was one of those perfect spots where you could float in one place for ten minutes without moving just to take in all the marine life around you. Hard and soft corals, strange anemones, tons of fish, large schools, bizarre little creatures, sea stars in werid shapes and patterns, brightly coloured nudibranchs - there was so much to see. Since this was my first time in Asia (Ken's second), I had never seen some of these species except for in magazines, so it was exciting to be seeing them for real! Anemonefish of all different varieties were everywhere, snuggling into anemones of blue, green, yellow, orange, and white. We found a few different types of pretty nudibranchs (sea slugs), including an elegant purple and black one, black and white spotted one, and a pale blue one with black stripes. Red and white hairy banded boxer shrimp, transparent cleaner shrimp with bright purple spots, granulated and necklace sea stars... the list goes on and on. On the fishy side of things, we saw lots of the common species seen readily elsewhere, including parrotfish, butterflyfish, trumpetfish, wrasses, gobies, lizardfish, triggerfish, and lionfish. Anemonefish were still a highlight even though they were everywhere! And so many different varieties - spine-cheek, clark's, bridled, western clown, and pink anemonefish. On the first dive, we were lucky enough to see two huge Pharaoh cuttlefish, at least 40cm long! One swam out in the open and put on a mesmerizing colour changing display for us, and the other hid in a coral head but had an odd "frilly" look to his head. We also saw a couple Giant Moray eels and four turtles. Some people caught a glimpse of a small (~5ft) manta ray cruising out in the blue, but I couldn't see it since the careless divers ahead had the annoying tendency to kick up a cloud of debris everywhere they went. It was an awesome day of diving, and it was so much fun to see new creatures that we had only heard about before. Tomorrow we will go to Pulau Mabul, which is named many times in the "Underwater Malaysia Macrolife" ID book I just read. Sweet!

The rest of our day was pretty sweet too - kicking back in lounge chairs by the water, reading, and watching the sun set behind the Borneo mountains. And if I shine my headlamp to the floor beside my bed, I can see fish swimming by!

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