Sangalaki, Mararatua, Kakaban and Nabucco: Diving in the remote Derawan Island Group
The northern region of east Kalimantan is one of the less visited of Indonesia. In this remote territory lies Derawan Archipelago, a group of 31 islands off shore Borneo’s east coast. Far away from all tourist routes, rarely will you find any other diver but, for sure, you will meet lot of big fish, mantas, sharks, hammerheads, rare critters and other small invertebrates. Also we swim in the biggest jellyfish lake on earth and in postcard beaches.
DIVING THE INDONESIAN BORNEO
It is surrounded by a shallow lagoon and the reefs start a distance out from the island, dropping from 3 to 40 meters at some point. The island itself is knows as feeding ground for mantas. The places where to spot mantas lies in the north-eastern part of the island. Here manta rays come from all directions, their wing tips breaking the surface at regular intervals and circle around you. They prefer to swim close to the surface, so snorkelling is also a good way to interact with them. They congregate here in large numbers and feed on plankton or are cleaned at special cleaning stations. Sometimes there might be as much 20 mantas hovering over the cleaning station.
In the south west of Sangalaki others good dive sites with hard and soft corals, gorgonians, colourful fish life and turtles. At lighthouse good place for gobies, scorpion fish, clown fish, jaw fish, nudibranchs, frog fish, mandarin fish and ribbon eels as well as tridacna giant clams. Sangalaki is a breeding ground for green turtles. At night female turtles come ashore and lay their eggs and small baby turtles can be seen regularly, when they hatch. The island and its surrounding reefs are protected as Marine Park.
As Sangalaki is “mecca” for manta rays, Maratua call for big pelagics. Maratua is a large island with a massive lagoon. The island just rims part of the lagoon; the rest is fringed by reefs with two small islands in the south. Maratua has several impressive drop-offs and you will have a good chance to sea large pelagics like sharks, tunas, eagle rays and schools of barracudas, trevallies and mackerels. The best place is a big channel which connects the lagoon with the outer sea. The channel itself is literally swept clean by the very strong currents and only the edges are covered with nice corals. The dive usually starts at the outside reef and you are swept by the current into the channel. At the entrance of the channel you can watch the large pelagics that pass by: grey reef sharks, white and blacktips, tunas and barracudas. Another place is similar to this dive site, also a channel connecting to the lagoon. You might see hammerheads, napoleon wrasses, leopard shark and eagle rays. Both dive sites should only be dived, when the tides are right.
The island is quite steep with limestone cliffs covered with dense jungle right down the water edge. Barracuda Point is a steep wall where the current brings large pelagics like whitetip sharks, leopard sharks, jacks, tunas, snappers, trevallies and of course a large school of barracudas. You can do a drift dive. Currents can be strong with down currents. Special feature is the huge jellyfish lake. It is a mangrove fringed lake, slightly above sea level, where thousands of non-stinging jellyfish live. The jellyfish consist of four different species. They are non stinging, having lost their natural defence system because of the lack of major predators in the lake. This place is similar to Jellyfish Lake in Palau, Micronesia. The Kakaban Lake has warm brackish water and the bottom is covered with marine green algae. There are other animals living here, some sea cucumbers, gobies, anemones, tunicates, crustaceans, nudibranchs, orange purple and yellow clams on the branches and snakes. The lake is at most 17 meters deep and visibility is not so good.
It’s a recently developed island inside Maratua Lagoon. It is known for critters such as frog fish, scorpion fish, ghost pipefish, mandarin fish and invertebrates like nudibranchs and special shrimps.
This island can be reached from Sangalaki but also has its own dive operation. Visibility is not so good. The best diving is at the jetty in shallow 5 meters, where you can find some very interesting critters such as flamboyant cuttlefish, squat lobsters, ghost pipefish, blue ring octopus, nudibranchs, seahorses, ribbon eels and scorpion fishes.
Liveaboard Diving Trip
Our Liveaboard to dive Raja Ampat, Halmahera and Lembeh Strait: TAMBORA LIVEABOARD.
Useful Information to Derawan
Diving season: Mantas and turtles can be seen year-round, but April to October is usually the best time for diving.
Rainy season: From November to March.
Water temperature: Warm, about 28°C year around. A 3mm shorty should be more than sufficient.
Visibility: Can be as low as 3m and averages about 20m with a maximum of 30m. Underwater visibility may deteriorate if there has been heavy rain.
Currents: Usually gently but can be strong, particularly at Kakaban wall drops with upwelling, down current and reversing directions.
Surface conditions: Calm.
Experience level: Intermediate.
Dive sites: >40.
Length of stay: Recommended 5-7 days on liveaboard cruise.
Airport: Tarakan. Fly from Singapore, Jakarta or Bali to Balikpapan, and then domestic flight to Tarakan. .
Weather: 23-32ºC. The climate is warm, sunny and humid all year. Indonesia has two seasons: wet and dry. In most of Indonesia the wet season is from October to April and the dry from May to September. East Kalimantan wet season is from November to March and dry season from April to October.
Time zone: Borneo GMT +7.
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