Kakaban Jellyfish

Kakaban, the island of jellyfish

# 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: 

It is a deserted island. In its mangrove necklace, it holds the jade water of a huge lake, full of jellyfish... which do not sting! A little walk in video and in pictures in Kakaban...

Welcome to Kakaban

There are only a few places in the world like this. The most famous jellyfish island is Palau, in Micronesia. There are others in the archipelago of Raja Ampat, in West Papua, in Indonesia, less accessible.

And then there's Kakaban, also in Indonesia, on the east coast of Borneo. I'll take you there!

Welcome to Kakaban. Borneo, Indonesia. July 2009.

Kakaban. Borneo, Indonesia. July 2009.

The lake of Kakaban is slightly above sea level and its depth is about 17 meters.

A movement of the earth's crust would have raised the island, more than 10 000 years ago, trapping jellyfish, algae and various other small marine creatures. Finding themselves without predators, the jellyfish have lost, over time, their stinging power.

The jellyfish lake of Kakaban. Borneo, Indonesia. July 2009.

Videos: swimming with jellyfish

It is one thing to know that jellyfish do not sting. It is another to slip into this warm, greenish and brackish water, and to verify by oneself that the famous jellyfish are indeed harmless...

Dive into the atmosphere with the video below:

UPDATE. I returned to Kakaban in 2013four years after the little expedition I'm talking about here, during a new trip to Borneo. The island of Kakaban is much more frequented than before. From now on, it is forbidden to wear flippers, in order not to hurt the jellyfish. It is also better not to touch the jellyfish as we used to do... Of course, they do not sting, but we are the ones who risk to harm them by force, if all the visitors who come in number from now on have fun to do the same... It is a fragile ecosystem and the exponential number of tourists who come to bathe in the lake risks to weaken it even more. In short, I should not have filmed or shown this gesture. Mea culpa. I made a small video again in 2013 (with my SLR acquired in 2010, the Canon Eos 7DI took a few pictures of my first trip, with a much better rendering than with my little compact) and made a similar editing, for the wink of an eye with my first trip. I let you discover it below :

Below are the links to my new posts for 2013 on Kakaban :

Under the surface of the Kakaban Jellyfish Lake. Borneo, Indonesia. July 2009.

Under the surface of the Kakaban Jellyfish Lake. Borneo, Indonesia. July 2009.

Under the surface of the Kakaban Jellyfish Lake. Borneo, Indonesia. July 2009. There would be three to four different species of jellyfish in the lake. We have only spotted two of them. The small brown ones, the most numerous, that we see in the video, and some others a little bit bigger, white and translucent.

It's a funny thing to immerse oneself in this jellyfish soup... After the first apprehension, where one only dares to touch these funny jellyfish with the tip of one's finger, one finally dares to approach one's face, to look at them more closely.

The more we move away from the pontoon, the more there are. It's amazing!

It looks like small translucent hearts beating, mini-planets immersed in a cosmic soup.

Indifferent to our presence and our clumsy splashes, they are running in all directions, swimming obstinately, most often sideways or upside down. Because of the sun, the heat? Mystery.

In any case, my underwater housing does not stand the heat of the rays in the icy water. After a few images, the interior is covered with mist.

I have to stop the images and I am satisfied to enjoy the show with my eyes, which is not worse...

Access to the lake

The access to the lake itself is relatively easy, contrary to what I had feared from the accounts of those who preceded me here, a few years ago, such as Yann and Marie Ange.

The place has surely been developed since then. There is now a long wooden footbridge which crosses the small piece of jungle and mangrove separating the sea from the lake. In five minutes, we are there!

Kakaban Mangrove, sea side. Borneo, Indonesia. July 2009.

A wooden footbridge crosses the Kakaban mangrove and leads to the lake. Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009.

The most difficult part of the trip is actually to get to the island from the boat, or back. We were a small group of eight, not all equipped with booties or sandals to walk without cutting ourselves on the dead coral beach.

Becky, the young Englishwoman, had only flip-flops and her flippers (which you put on barefoot). But she was lucky to have a real gentleman for a boyfriend: Paul carried her on his back to cross the dangerous shore!

We arrived at very low tide, and even with proper footwear, it is not easy to move forward in the shallow water, trying not to damage the branches of living coral, without tripping over the dead debris that rolls under the sole.

Kakaban beach, at low tide. Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009.

Fortunately, no sore to regret this time ... And this strange and fascinating lake deserves some effort. With the mantas of SangalakiIt was the other "curiosity" of the area that I absolutely wanted to see.

However, as I was coming to the end of my stay, and I had to spend two days in the dry in Derawan, because of my stingray stingWe had planned to go there the day before, in fact. But a big storm, with heavy rain and stormy sea, forced us to postpone our little expedition.

I anxiously watched for the next dawn... Fortunately, the sky remained clear! And we were able to embark as planned, in an old wooden boat with a slow engine.

After the lunch break on the pontoon and the amazing visit to the jellyfish, we went back to the boat, for our second dive of the day on the Kakaban reef... But I will come back to tell you about my dives in the Derawan archipelago in a few days.


  Borneo [Malaysia and Indonesia] - July 2009

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  1. Medusa jellyfish ....

    It would almost make you want to go... but I think I'd have trouble getting rid of my flight reflex when faced with so many of these creatures! I remember as if it were yesterday a launch in the middle of a multitude of jellyfish near Muscat, where we had to cross a 3-meter-deep "barrier" of these pretty little pink balls... Brrr... 🙁

  2. @Malene: And yet, in this lake, you get used to the presence of jellyfish and their strange aquatic ballet. Nothing scary or repulsive. Since they don't sting, it's just magical!

  3. I'm glad you took that jellyfish bath at Kakaban, it's one of the most original dives I've ever done anywhere in the world!

    As you point out in your story above, I was there in September 2006, and apparently they did repair the wooden footbridge that crosses the mangrove from the unspoilt beach to the jellyfish lake. I had a hard time of it, and so did the whole team: it took us well over 5 minutes to get to the lake, crossing on isolated planks or rickety beams, while carrying all our equipment. Scabrous...

    On the other hand, we were lucky enough to be able to dive with tanks, which allowed us to go deeper and see even more jellyfish. In the end, the atmosphere + the water, which was very unclear, became rather disturbing, even slightly stressful. Millions of jellyfish, a veritable jellyfish bath... (including a few with stinging filaments all the same!...).

    And just to give you something to write home about (dare I say it!), I don't know if you've had time to explore the banks of the mangrove? I discovered a whole strange world there, with flora and fauna I'd never seen elsewhere, including fish less than ten centimetres long with trumpet-shaped noses (and no, they weren't trumpet fish at all). And to illustrate, see the very first photo I posted on this article last year: you can see pink sponges attached to mangrove branches, but you can't see those tiny nudibranchs I was observing... :

    I hear there's an identical lake on Palau, which isn't so far from Kakaban after all...


  4. Great report Corinne! I was moved when I saw your video of the jellyfish... I think it's wonderful. I hope I'll be able to spend some time there one day... It's definitely a region that takes a long time to visit... 🙂

  5. @A World Elsewhere: Yes, I remember you telling me about all your difficulties in Kakaban, when you offered me a photo of the shoot there to illustrate the article I was preparing for Ouest-France... 😉
    Our little group just snorkeled in the lake (although I would have liked to have done a "real" dive), and we couldn't stay very long, as we then had to return to the boat to dive on the reef. So I didn't get to explore the mangrove bangs or catch a glimpse of those trumpet-like fish...
    This lake is almost unique, as I said at the beginning of the article, there are in fact only two places in the world like it, along with Palau in Micronesia. Are you insidiously encouraging me to go there?

    @Anthony: I'm delighted to have managed to capture some of the emotion I felt during this strange and fascinating swim... There's something magical about the ballet of these jellyfish. It's truly a spectacle that leaves no one indifferent. Indonesia is an archipelago full of surprises...

    @Alimata: You're right, mantas are completely overrated... From now on, I'll only be interested in jellyfish. 😆
    A little above, I say that lake water is "warm, greenish and brackish". It tastes salty, but it's mixed with rainwater, so its salt content must be lower than sea water (definition of "brackish").

  6. Corinne, I discover your blog via a tweet from Marie-Julie and ... thank you Marie-Julie! This post is dreaming, I share with our readers on our blog, thank you!

  7. @ Marie-Julie: When I swam in the lake, I already had the music in my head (I love this soundtrack, I fell in love with it when I saw the film), and I already knew that this was the piece that would best accompany my images of this strange yet graceful aquatic ballet.

    @ Chloe: Welcome to Petites Bulles d'Ailleurs! And many thanks for the wink on the TripAdvisor blog.

    @A Parisian woman: Oh, well it makes me really happy, that ... I'm getting excited more and more for the subtleties of editing, precisely.

  8. Did you see the report on Ushuaïa tonight about the lake on the island of Palau that you mention in your article? They mentioned everything you describe there and I had read your article two or three days ago...

  9. @Thomas: No, I was out tonight, so I missed it, too bad! I would have loved to have seen the images from Palau, to compare with Kakaban... But here you are now becoming very sharp on the subject of non-stinging jellyfish!!!!

  10. Hi Corinne,

    It's quite amazing to see that certain developments have seen the light of day on Kakaban...I even think it's a shame, it takes away from the charm somewhere....but it's true that all places change at breakneck speed.

    Glad you're tripping, I see.... 😉

  11. @Yann: Yes, I had reread your story before setting off, and was rather surprised to discover this perfectly passable wooden path. Having said that, I must admit I'm not a fan of jungle trips, and I really appreciated being able to reach the lakeside so effortlessly. But of course, as soon as places are "domesticated" for the tourist's comfort, it's not quite the same...

  12. It's true that on the one hand, jellyfish are really not great, but on the other hand... 😀

  13. Hello,

    In the Etang de Berre, you can also find white, non-stinging jellyfish with a diameter of 5 to 8 cm. I've never seen this species at sea.

    1. @Pierre: gosh, I had no idea. It's fascinating, these stories about jellyfish that don't live in the sea... I'll look into it further. Thanks for the info!

  14. Hello,

    and thank you for this discovery, which made us very, very keen to go there with our children (6 and 11) this summer 2013. We immediately picked up our Lonely but it didn't mention this famous Kakaban lake.
    can you tell us how to get there? thank you so much

    1. @Val: I'm not sure that the Derawan archipelago (of which Kakaban Island is a part), on the Indonesian side of Borneo's east coast, is really an ideal destination for children (6 years old seems a bit young to me), unless they're well used to roaming around...

      You can get to Kakaban by hiring a boat from the people in the village on the island of Derawan. I made this trip in July 2009. You can find my articles about the different stages of my trip at the end of this link:

      After that, I'm sure that a bit of Googling, using the words "Derawan" "Borneo" "Kakaban" and "jellyfish lake" should yield some additional information.