Scuba diving in Borneo (!!!!)

It was a dark and stormy day on the Sulu Sea off the northeast coast of Borneo, and Lankayan Island was being dowsed in wind-driven rain.


Out at the edge of the reef, the deeper sea was whipped to white caps. I thought maybe it would die down as the day progressed, and there was a hint of lessening in the clouds, but there was no way I was going to pass on this diving! Besides, when you’re going to be UNDER the ocean, water from the sky doesn’t really matter, right?

The rough seas made getting to and from the dive sites pretty miserable- crashing from the top of one wave into the trough of the next, with swells 4-6ft, and wind spraying the saltwater right into your face. As soon as the boat secures to the anchored buoy, everyone scrambles for their gear (quick aircheck! quick bcd inflation!) then falls backward off the boat and grabs the line. Ready? Descend! Faster you can get below the surface, the better. And getting back onto the boat was tough (getting out is easy- just fall!), as the boat pitched on the sea. The diving was still the best I’ve seen…though I know for a fact that the same conditions in San Diego would cancel your dive.

I went on two dives at Lankayan on Sunday (a total of three at the island, including Saturday’s orientation dive), and the volume of fish and creatures as well as the diversity is astounding! I saw numerous lionfishes with their quilled fins displayed, two black tipped reef sharks, a handful of eels, a very large lobster hidden in a coral crevasse, spotted and striped shrimp, stingrays and half a dozen different species of nudibranchs!


And the fish!!!! The fish were so plentiful and colorful, I really didn’t know where to look. Here, dozens of tiny electric blue fish flitting through a staghorn coral; there, a pair of anemone fish (like Nemo!) guarded their home. Red checkerboard fish with enormous dark eyes were quick to scoot under the protection of an overhang, while boxfish and two pufferfishes bobbed along (they do look pretty vacuous and yet jolly), and wrasse and parrotfish wove their way through the coral forest (and it was a forest- healthy and colorful, with numerous slow-growing varieties like giant brain coral). When I could pull my attention from the reef, schools of bigger fish with bright yellow tails were passing (not tuna, but maybe some amberjack?). Some I recognized from the Birch Aquarium- damselfish, moorish idols, butterflyfish- and some like the batfish or the devil scorpionfish, camouflaged and immobile on a rock, I hadn’t seen before.

I am a huge fan of seaslugs or nudibranchs (nudis for short), thanks to the fantastic array of colors and shapes they come in (there seems to be a nudi craze amongst divers recently- maybe just because they move slowly and are easy and rewarding to photograph). I can see no real reason for the crazy diversity- I don’t believe that these slugs are poisonous, and color does attract predation. Maybe it’s for mate attraction, and maybe they just taste like slimy salt jelly and no one wants to eat them, so they can look as pretty as they’d like? The tumblr wtfevolution is pretty good at speculating why the heck creatures look as they do… Anyway, for this, I’ve scoured Google for pictures to match the memory (turns out is not a naughty site!)

My first, probably Chromodoris leopardus

Phyllidia varicosa

Chromodoris kuniei

These two are similar looking, Chelidonura varians and Chromodoris annae


Phyllidiella nigra

Phyllidia coelestis

Some of them look very similar, so maybe I only saw half as many species, but there were so many slugs out there!

The nicest thing after the dives was returning to my private chalet for a lovely warm shower 🙂

Chalet number 7, with a patio to the sea (taken in The sunshine of the day before).



No beautiful sunset tonight, but this island is a pretty special and magical place to be!

(Reception and dining hall are straight down the board walk; dive center and jetty to the right)


One thought on “Scuba diving in Borneo (!!!!)

  1. Wow. Just wow! To both this post and the sun bear / Orangutan post. I’m sitting here wondering if I’ll ever take a trip like this. Probably not. So good thing you’re sharing! Keep up the stories – it sounds like an amazing experience!

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