Getting into deep water can be fun.
Southeast Asia is a great place to be, if you are a diver. The Coral Triangle consists of the greatest marine biodiversity on earth. Tropical marine waters off Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines and Solomon islands have at least 500 different species of reef building coral in each eco region. The Triangle is the same as a tropical jungle, but underwater. Corals make up the flora, the fish and other underwater creatures, the fauna.
I have been diving in Southeast Asia for more than seven years and can attest to the fantastic marine biodiversity. The variety of underwater creatures and landscapes is mind boggling. From, the smallest of creatures, to the ugliest, to the most poisonous, to the largest bony fish in the world, the whale shark, and angels of the sea, the manta rays, Southeast Asia has it all.
Let’s start in Malaysia. Most diving is done in the warm waters of the South China Sea along the East Coast of the Peninsula, or in Sabah and Sarawak. The reefs are fairly healthy, and sea life is plentiful, though large numbers of sharks and pelagic are rare. Diving in Sabah offers more with Pulau Sipadan, a giant pinnacle rising from the Celebes Sea, being a major highlight. Due to its location and healthy waters, it hosts a large community of white tip sharks, turtles, barracuda and jacks. Off Sipadan, the islands of Mabul, Kapalai, or Mataking, offer excellent muck diving.
Heading north to Thailand, pelagic like whale sharks and manta rays are commonly sighted when diving in the right season. Thailand’s islands of Similan, Koh Tao and Koh Lanta are famous for their crystal clear waters and pelagic.
The Philippines made up of so many islands, it’s no wonder there is so much to see. The islands are popular for whale shark sightings but another highlight is the elusive thresher shark. It appears early in the morning, only at about 30m, visits the cleaning station, then disappears into the deep for the rest of the day. A top place to see it is Malapascua Island. A cleaning station is essentially an underwater car wash usually made up of healthy reef with lots of cleaner wrasse. Pelagic, like manta rays and sharks, often visit these stations to rid their bodies of parasites, which the cleaner wrasse pick off, with much delight. It’s a great place for divers to hang around and watch the action. Of course, we try to be as unobtrusive as possible by hovering further away.
For the absolute experience in diving and diversity head to Indonesia. For variety, Raja Ampat in West Papua, the actual heart of the Coral Triangle, is a must. The best way to dive is to live on a boat for a week or more, packing the day with 4-5 dives. You’ll have enough experiences to keep your grandchildren spellbound for years. Highlights in Raja Ampat are supremely healthy reefs, the manta rays, pygmy seahorses and other strange creatures like the wobbegong, walking shark and a jellyfish lake. Another top dive site is Nusa Penida, off Bali. Cold currents bring the oceanic sunfish here during the months of June to August. For critter hunting, the Lembeh Straits on the island of Sulawesi is world class and unbeatable. The reef might not be in great condition, but the critters are out of this world and a photographer’s dream. Other great dives in Indonesia can be found in the Komodo Islands (you actually see the dragon), and also around the islands called the Ring of Fire which includes Ambon and the Banda Sea.
If you live in Southeast Asia and can afford it, give scuba diving a go. People travel great distances to see marine life, which for us is a short drive or flight away. Learning about the ocean also opens our eyes to its ongoing destruction. Hopefully with more divers and more awareness, there could be a stronger push to preserve the Coral Triangle for generations to come.
- By Arnhue Tan -
School of yellowtail in Redan
New divers must have an Open Water diving certification. This is available from PADI, SSI or NAUI. Most dive resorts tend to work with these associations and often have certified instructors as part of their dive staff to cater to new divers.
Getting there: From Singapore to Manado, Sulawesi.From there take a bus or cab to Bitung.
Staying: Dabirahe at Lembeh Hills, a five-star resort with good diving facilities that is surprisingly wallet-friendly.
Getting there: From Manila or Cebu a 2-3 hour bus or car ride to Maya port where a boat will take you to Malapascua.
Staying: Most dive operators offer a package with accommodation. Recommend Ocean Villa for its beautiful beach front.
Perhentian Pulau Redang or Pulau, Malaysia
Getting there: From Kuala Lumpur take an overnight bus to Kuala Terrenganu. From there to Redang or Kuala Besut to get to Perhentian. Or rent a car for a road trip possible with the opening of new highways on the East Coast of Malaysia. You can also charter a plane from Subang airport to Redang.
Staying: Hardcore divers can head to Redang Kalong Resort which offers affordable accommodation and good diving facilities. More comfort is available at Coral Redang, Laguna Beach Resort or Berjaya Redang.
In Perhentian, Bubu Long Beach and Bubbles Dive Centre and Resort are popular choices.