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    Steve’s happy Manta dance

    August 11th, 2007 by steve

    Most people that come to this speck of the world are divers because the waters around Derawan are known for their abundance of marine life, particularly manta rays. These have specifically eluded us in our underwater adventures so we were excited to have yet another chance to see them. Sangalaki island is the manta magnet with its constant currents, rich cloudy water, and numerous cleaning stations. We saw mantas on 3 out of 4 dives. But it’s not just seeing these graceful rays with 9 foot wingspans that’s amazing here but the fact that you can lay on the sandy bottom like coral and watch them hover over the cleaning stations just five feet away, basically reaching distance, for minutes at a time (an eternity for underwater viewing). As an intermission they swim a lap then come back for more.

    We even saw a rare all black manta up close. We inched towards him until we were almost directly below the edge of his wing.Our fingers dug into the sand trying to get enough grip to keep from being pulled away by the current. It felt like we were watching a Discovery channel show live while lounging on a sandy sofa under 50 feet of ocean. All we needed were the chips and dip. I guess we did have sashimi at our fingertips. Then he glided right over us so that his belly was 4 feet above our heads. He hung over us for a while as we stared up in awe from his shadow. Even the snorkelers saw 4 mantas. I thought I’d save you from watching Steve’s actual dance by not taking video.We did see some other cool things while diving here like a 7ft leopard shark that let us crawl up to his tail to get a closer look. Also a jawfish with eggs in its mouth, some frogfish, and schooling barracuda. Yeah, even if you didn’t include all the typical idealic island attributes like crystalline water, pristine strips of white sand spits (like the ones in brochures), and friendly natives this place was more than worth the effort. Get on the next plane!
    –Mary
    editor’s note: i did catch mary trying to draw the manta closer …

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    The best thing before sliced bread

    August 11th, 2007 by steve

    Another attraction in the Derawan island system is the jellyfish lake on Kakaban island. It’s a big ocean water lake completely surrounded by the island so no creatures can get in or out. The jellyfish here have been secluded from predators for 11,000 years, making their natural defense mechanism obsolete. This leaves a lake filled with millions of stingless jellies. We slid in to the murky green water with our snorkels and started playing with them. They are completely soft and harmless, except for the occasional headbutts. Yeah, they don’t see so well, or at all, and there’s so many that they just bump into you. There’s only one other place in the world that this phenomenon has occurred and that’s in Palau, Micronesia.
    –Mary

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    Yet another tiny remote island

    August 11th, 2007 by steve

    It took a 14hr overnight bus, 1hr flight, 3.5hr car trip, and 30min speed boat to get to Pulau Derawan. In total it was 25hrs of straight traveling. What we didn’t know was if all that trouble was going to be worth it. I had joked to Steve that it would be the size of ToonTown in Disneyland and it was. It took 20min to walk around it. Here’s the count: 1 fishing village, 6 long piers, 3 homestays, 1 resort, 2 dive operators, 2 volleyball courts, and more turtles than people. There is a thriving turtle population that live in these waters and you can see them sticking their heads out of the water from inside your air conditioned room or on any of the piers, even under boats.

    Every night turtles come up onto the sandy shores and nest. They dig craters into the sand to lay their eggs and there’s so many that the beach looks like the surface of the moon with turtle tracks leading to the water. We even got the chance to help the conservationists dig up a batch of 100 newly hatched turtles from under a foot of sand in the enclosed hatchery. They’re a little dazed when they see the sky for the first time but then they immediately start wriggling their flippers and turn their big black eyes towards the ocean. They crawl past any obstacle, including our feet. Cute baby turtles smaller than my palm were lifted out of the ground by the handfuls. Once dug up they immediately scattered so we chased after them and put them in a basket to deliver to the open beach. It was a frenzy of little flippers as they wriggled their way to the water. The few stragglers needed a little help so we gave them a nudge now and then. It’s something special to see them touch water for the first time. They take to the medium like fish and instinctively start swimming in every direction. New batches get released almost everyday here.

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    Water browner than dirt

    August 11th, 2007 by steve

    What comes to mind when you hear the term ‘Venice of the East’? If you imagined a city made of a labyrinth of brown, cramp canals lined with people living in timber shacks on stilts just high enough to keep their toes dry and away from the floating trash then give yourself a gold star for the day. The people in southern Borneo thrive off the river system. As we boated to the floating market through the waterways we saw the locals brushing their teeth, bathing, washing dishes, fishing, and answering the call of nature. Everyone smiled and waved like we were on parade. Guess they don’t see many tourists here so we were on display. Of course the kids tried to jump in to splash us, and they succeeded. We got used to that after the first few times so we were able to turn away fast enough to keep our cameras from getting drenched thus foiling their plan.

    – mary

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