Crocodile fish. Derawan Island (Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009).
Crocodile fish. Derawan Island (Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009).

Derawan under water

# Borneo # Indonesia

  Borneo [Malaysia and Indonesia] - July 2009

Dear English-speaking readers, this page is an automatic translation of an article originally written in French. I apologise for any strange sentences and funny mistakes that may have resulted. If you read French, click on the French flag below to access the original, correct text: 

Back to Derawan... under the surface. The reef of the island, even if it is not the most spectacular site of the area, deserves a few dives. The small creatures I love abound there.

Muck-dive near the pontoon

I regret not having been able to enjoy the site more during my little stay there in July. Because of this damn stingray stingI had to spend three days in the dry to heal properly... No more diving! Very annoying.

I have to just watch the turtles from the dock ... Derawan, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009.
I have to just watch the turtles from the dock ... Derawan, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009.

However, I would have managed to accumulate three dives in Derawan itself (in addition to the dives in Sangalaki and Kakaban). Contrary to what one might think when looking at the blue sea from the pontoons, the underwater visibility is rather poor around the island, because of the sediments carried by the Berau river basin, on Borneo. The archipelago is not so far from the mouth.

Houses on stilts in Derawan. (Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009).
Houses on stilts in Derawan. (Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009).

While diving, we evolve a few meters away from the pontoons of the village. The atmosphere is rather "muck-dive". Personally, I love it. For the uninitiated, the "muck-dive" (literally "diving in the mud", understand: in a not clear water at the level of the substratum) it means very often... that you can't see much ! It's like fog in the water. The interest of diving lies in all the little things that are hidden in the sand, the coral, under the pillars of the pontoons...

If you just scan the whole area with your eyes, you are inevitably disappointed: you have the impression that there is nothing special to see. But if you move slowly, taking the time to look at the bottom, you will discover wonders. Gobies, nudibranchs, shrimps, crocodile-fish, cuttle-fish, octopus... I enjoyed tracking all this little world with my lens...

Flat worm. Derawan Island (Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009).
Flat worm. Derawan Island (Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009).
Crocodile fish. Derawan Island (Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009).
Crocodile fish. Derawan Island (Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009).
Nudibranch. Derawan, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009.
Nudibranch. Derawan, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009.
Cuttlefish. Derawan Island (Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009).
Cuttlefish. Derawan Island (Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009).
Shrimp. Derawan Island (Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009).
Shrimp. Derawan Island (Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009).

Watch out for the current!

The dives here delighted me. Especially since one can almost certainly meet one or more turtles underwater. They are everywhere and even come to swim under the pontoons, where the islanders put banana leaves to attract them.

Just hang a banana leaf under the pontoon to attract turtles! (Derawan, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009).
Just hang a banana leaf under the pontoon to attract the turtles! (Derawan, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009).

Be careful though. Depending on the time of the day, the current can become quite strong and surprising... The tides, on these shoals, are important and powerful.

Even for those who are satisfied with snorkeling, up to the area where there is a nice coral garden close to the surface, beware: during our stay, two very good swimmers of our small group of tourists, at the Danakan losmen, had a hard time to come back to the pontoons.

Children in Derawan play in the water near the docks (Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009).
Children in Derawan play in the water near the pontoons (Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009.)

During my very first dive in Derawan, I was with a couple of Spanish divers, very good beginners. The current rose suddenly.

They were trained and our guide Oslan had a good run behind them to catch up, they remained a few moments separated from him, without seeing him anymore, which gave them long minutes of stress. Fortunately, we were at the end of the dive and already in the 5-6 meters zone for a while ...

Emergency lift...

Near the island, the bottom is about 20 meters deep, which makes the exploration rather comfortable. But be careful not to get caught up in the time: busy as we are with the little beasts, we reach the no-decompression limits without even realizing it... Better watch your dive computer! Finally, visibility being what it is, I cannot recommend enough to stay close to your buddy. An incident can happen so quickly.

Come on, I tell you ...

During a dive there, my partner of the day, a Frenchman, Guilhem, had a problem with his rental regulator. Fortunately, we were very close to each other.

Absorbed as I was by a nudibranch that I was trying to immortalize, I didn't see anything. It was only when a cloud of sand rose up in front of my camera that I looked up. At first, I complained inwardly... you get the idea: "But it's not true, he screwed up the picture for me!"

Because he actually rushed at me to grab my backup regulator!!!

He snatches it up, puts it in his mouth and signals to me, eyes wide behind his mask, that he wants to go back up. 😯

Okay, okay, not so fast. Easy, easy, easy, easy. Look at me, look at me, look at me, look at me. Just breathe. How are you breathing right now? How are you doing? You okay? I'm okay. I'm okay. I'm okay. I'm okay. I'm okay. He's responding okay to my sign. Whew.

Unlike the Spaniards, he is a good diver. He controls himself quickly and his panic subsides, now that he has some air. I let him suck in a few bars.

Then we begin the ascent, face to face. I control the ascent. I see, in his eyes, that all is well now. He confirms it to me several times by sign. We resurface well as it is necessary, at the good speed.

I have to say, in retrospect, that I am very, very, very glad I took those damn Rescue a few months earlier! And to have repeated, dozens of times, this kind of rise...

Selfie underwater with my Legend regulator (Derawan, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009).
Underwater selfie with my Legend regulator (Derawan, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009.)

We had been in the water for only 8 minutes. We were at 20 meters. Oslan, our guide, had disappeared, caught by the underwater "fog". He was not far, however. While starting the ascent, we heard him knocking on his block, I answered him on mine, but we were already a few meters higher, out of sight, he could not spot us anymore. So we waited for him on the surface. The boat, moored at the nearby pontoon, took a little time to come and get us.

Guilhem explained to me that he had a problem with his rental regulator which made him swallow water instead of air... In the panic of the moment, he didn't even think about his own spare regulator (the octopus, hanging on the side) and so he rushed to mine underwater.

Back at the pontoon, not discouraged, Guilhem simply changed his regulator. Then, we went back to the water, he didn't want to stay there.

We then made a very nice dive. I took a lot of nice pictures. But there, I guarantee you that we remained all stuck together, this time, to admire the nudis.

Nudibranch. (Derawan, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009.)
Nudibranch. (Derawan, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009.)
Nudibranch. (Derawan, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009.)
Nudibranch. (Derawan, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009.)
Nudibranch. (Derawan, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009.)
Nudibranch. (Derawan, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009.)

Diving and safety in Derawan

Moral: Derawan is a great place to blow bubbles, but it's better to have your own gear. After this kind of incident, which could have ended very badly, I know why I'm cluttering up with the little extra pounds of my darling Legend.

Finally, even if I enjoyed my dives with the small "center" of the Danakan losmen, I would have some reservations about its organization. It is better to be autonomous and able to take care of oneself when diving, I would not recommend this place to beginners who need to be supervised... The boss was not there during my stay. This may explain this.

Dive equipment on the pontoon of losmen Danakan. (Derawan, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009.)
Dive equipment on the pontoon of losmen Danakan. (Derawan, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009.)

The other option on the island is the Derawan Dive Resort at the other end of the beach, which seems to be more serious and better equipped (with boats, equipment in good condition). But during my stay, no "walk-in" was possible. They only work with packages, much more expensive (accommodation + diving), to be booked on their website or via tour operators (with the inevitable "single" supplement).

To find all my articles on this 2009 trip to Borneo, click on the link below :

→ Trip Borneo [Malaysia+Indonesia] : July 2009


Update: return to Derawan in 2013

After this stay in July 2009, I returned to Derawan in July 2013. This time I dived with a new structure, which had just opened, the Derawan Dive Lodge (created by the Tasik Divers Center of Manado).

They have trained guides who are used to driving hoist boats, modern and fast boats, with engines that go well. In short, much better conditions, question of safety, to dive around Derawan, Sangalaki and Kakaban... You can find my articles for this 2013 trip at the end of the link below:

→ Travel Indonesia and Malaysia: Borneo - July 2013

  Borneo [Malaysia and Indonesia] - July 2009

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  1. Hi Corinne,

    you make really nice underwater pictures, a real pleasure for my eyes... When will be your next visit in Thailand ? Good day 🙂

  2. 🙄 mmm... I feel like I would like that!
    I love your nude photos... and the one of the crocodile is superb, great angle!

  3. But how not to adore nudibranchs ??? In any case, it works, I am always delighted and fascinated to see these little creatures with incredible colors.
    Thank you 😀

  4. So cool your nudibranchs pictures 🙂
    I became quite a fan and it decided to equip me with a small Nikon L20 to try to flash the nudity during my next dives in the Red Sea in early November.
    Do you have some basic tips for this type of photos?
    Thank you in advance and above all continues to amaze us.

  5. Hello Corinne!

    I'm always amazed at what you can do with a Canon A95... Can you confirm that you always use this camera?

    Your photo of the crocodile fish is superb! Not to mention nude photos.

    Thank you for this "rescue divers" story. This may sound strange, but ever since I did my Rescue, I've been hoping for something like this to happen to me, just to see how I react. With all the situational scenarios we go through, I can't wait to put my knowledge into practice! But since then it's been dead calm... No underwater cramps, no "narcotic" people to calm down, no "unconscious diver at the surface" I could tow... NOTHING! At the mall the other day, I spotted an old lady who seemed to be having trouble breathing... I said, "I'm an emergency first responder, may I help you ???". False alarm, everything was fine! She was a little out of breath, but that's all! I want people in trouble and nothing happens.

    I say congratulations, you seem to have reacted like a champion! It's very good that the diver wanted to come down again right away! Did you know what the problem was with his regulator? O-ring problem?

    Don't give up on your articles... I love them!


  6. Thank you for all these wonderful colorful photos; it's like being there, only better because I'm sitting in the open air, with no worries about my regulator!!! Biz!

  7. @PhilippeB: Thank you!!! I don't know when I'll return to Thailand, where I've been many times. I'm thinking of devoting my next trips to exploring the Philippines and Indonesia again, to discover new diving spots....

    @Manta: Oh, yes! I think you'd like it. As for the crocodile fish, I'm starting to get the hang of them. I now know which angle works best, and when I find one that's ideally positioned for this kind of slightly low-angle shot, I have a field day. I'm particularly pleased with this one, with the pier pillars in the blue in the background. I'm glad you like it too!

    @Malene: Ah, me the same, nudis, I'll never get tired of them!!!!

    @ Jean-Luc: Delighted that nudis have conquered you, too!!! You'll see, underwater photography, once you start, you get a taste for it and can't stop. I give some basic tips on this page:
    »Underwater photo

    @Will: Yes, I can confirm: it's always with my little Canon Powershot A95 that I'm flashing underwater (and I confess I'm now dreaming of moving on, but I'll have to wait until I've saved a few pennies).
    : Mrgreen:
    As for that underwater incident, I think I'd have preferred it if nothing had happened, unlike you!!!! (I laughed out loud at your story about the breathless old lady...) But hey, everything went well, I handled it well, and so did my buddy (an N3 who also knows all about diving emergency procedures, so that helps). What surprised me most, in fact, was that I felt no fear at all. I think that's the benefit of training beforehand. I was cool and clear-headed, I knew what to do, and I just did it... It's as if the brain engaged the procedure directly.
    As for the regulator, I'm not sure what the problem was. My buddy found himself sucking water instead of air, which suffocated him, and so he didn't even try to get his spare regulator and went straight for mine. I think he did the right thing. The dive-master inspected the regulator afterwards, but couldn't tell us what was wrong. I don't know much about it, but a regulator invaded by water and no longer delivering air is suspicious, suggesting that the first stage has a problem...
    As for the articles, don't worry, I'll continue, of course. I really enjoy writing this blog. And even more when I receive enthusiastic comments like yours! Thank you!!!

    @ Helen: Yes, I know you appreciate being able to admire all these charming creatures without having to put your head under water, from the comfort of your computer!

  8. They're very beautiful photos, considering the small camera you use! For macro nerds like me, couldn't you also display the EXIF data. Maybe I'll learn something....

  9. super photos j'adore!
    as for the gear, I agree with you that having your own well serviced limits the risks, we're here on vacation so we might as well make the most of it 😉

  10. @Max: Thank you!!!! 🙂
    I'm not sure the Exif data would do much for you. When I'm underwater and shooting, I don't have exact data in my little head, especially as conditions change all the time during a dive. But with practice, I can quickly "see" roughly what aperture/speed pair to use, and how much flash to send. If I'm not satisfied, I reshoot by readjusting the parameters. In general, on my small APN, for macro photography with built-in flash, of a nudi for example, I start at f/8 so that everything's in focus (from the horns to the nudi's toupee) and I test first at 1/500th, dosing the flash or not at -1/3 or -2/3 depending on the color of the thing to be photographed, whether the environment is clear or not, etc. I take my time to set up the flash, and I'm not afraid to use it. I take my time focusing, because the autofocus is far from perfect, and above all, I think about the angle of view.
    Some basic tips for the photo sub here:
    Finally, it would be tedious to indicate the Exif data for each photo on this blog (although the export function of my photo software should allow this). As I want them to weigh as little as possible for web display, I don't include any additional data in the image file.

    @Laurence: In fact, it's high time my Legend went for an overhaul... Security first!

  11. Hello,
    thank you for what you've shown us, I discovered diving at an advanced age! your dreams, bravo for the rescue!

  12. @Anne Marie: Thank you for this little note! The great thing about "leisure" or "recreational" diving is that you can practice it at any age. Enjoy the bubbles!

  13. "It's 5am, Paris is waking up!". I've sent you an e-mail; it'll help you flesh out your article a bit!

    The swimmer who got caught in the current... that's me ^^.
    The guy who had a leak on the second floor of his regulator... that's me too ^^ By the way, at the end of the nudi video, you'll be able to see that the image gets a little panicky. That was my first sip... 😀

    I wouldn't wish it on anyone - seawater really does taste bad! 8)

  14. @Guilhem: You're out of the shadows... Fortunately, all's well that ends well! I saw the video, and you can see the camera diving towards the nudi...