Sangalaki Island. Borneo, Indonesia, July 2013.
The island of Sangalaki. (Borneo, Indonesia, July 2013)

Sangalaki and Maratua: sadness and disappointment

Dear English-speaking readers, this page is an automatic Google translation from a post originally written in French. My apologies for the weird sentences and the funny mistakes that could gave been generated during the process. If you can read French, the original and correct version can be found here:

  Borneo: Indonesia + Malaysia - July 2013

It's not all about multicolored backgrounds, in the archipelago of Derawan ... Once famous, the islands of Sangalaki and Maratua are no longer, in 2013, the fabulous diving spots they were.

Sangalaki without mantas

Four years ago, in July 2009, I had a first time the long trip to the archipelago of Derawan, on the eastern coast of Borneo, to see the mantas rays of the island of Sangalaki.

The meeting with these gracious giants, at the time, was almost certain, snorkeling (palms-mask-snorkel) as scuba-diving. I can testify, at least for the period of July, when I was there. Manta rays lived there around the island.

Manta Ray in Sangalaki (Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009).
Manta Ray in Sangalaki (Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009).

Other travelers had made me dream and had decided to undertake the journey:
→ Dreams of mantas

Having followed in their footsteps, I also kept a dazzling memory of Sangalaki. The show was magical. I talked about it here, in these posts, published in 2009:
The mantas rays of Sangalaki
Excursion to Sangalaki

Alas, in 2013, there is nothing more to see. The mantas of Sangalaki have disappeared.

😢

Sangalaki Island. Borneo, Indonesia, July 2013.
The island of Sangalaki. (Borneo, Indonesia, July 2013)
Sangalaki Island. Borneo, Indonesia, July 2013.
Sangalaki Island. Borneo, Indonesia, July 2013.

I already had some fears, preparing this new trip of 2013 in the archipelago of Derawan ...

I came across various reports from divers on the internet, saying that Sangalaki was not interested anymore. The lucky ones who have recently met a manta ray there are rather rare.

Underwater in Sangalaki. Borneo, Indonesia. July 2009.During this trip in July 2013, I only made one trip to Sangalaki. But even if I had done ten, I do not think I would have met manta rays. Our guides Derawan Dive Lodge were not too urgent to take us there, knowing we would be disappointed ...

We indeed wandered about an hour above the sand, small coral potatoes and dead coral debris, to no avail.

So I just "walk" my 7D underwater, for not much. And for lack of mantas, I served as a model to another photographer sub - Bambang, a very nice Indonesian, came to spend a few days of holidays in the corner, with his wife and friends.

What has happened in four years? Why are there no more manta rays? Our dive guides were evasive at first, claiming that we could still see manta rays, when there was plankton ... (Except that the last time they had seen one, it was almost a month and it was from the deck of the boat.) In short, they came to agree that the local mantas had probably all been fished, or nearly so.

In fact, manta rays (and mobulas) are victims of the Chinese market's recent craze for their gills, which are now considered a delicacy - supposedly beneficial to health - as well as shark fins ...

Small explanatory summary to read on 20minutes.fr:
The manta ray soup could cause extinction of the species
For more information, visit these pages at Mantatrust.org:
Gill Plate Trade
Manta Fisheries
See also this recent article on the Stopsharkfining website:
Manta Rays in Trouble from Overfishing

It's one thing to read articles about the ongoing extinction of manta rays. It is another to make the concrete experience, on my modest scale of tourist-diving, on the site of Sangalaki ...

😠

Maratua Channel

Not far from the island of Sangalaki, the archipelago of Maratua is really beautiful.

I only took a few pictures from afar, from the boat. Traditional villages with houses on stilts, back and forth small fishing boats on the azure waters ... Life seems peaceful here.

Maratua Archipelago, Borneo, Indonesia. July 2013.

Maratua Archipelago, Borneo, Indonesia. July 2013.

Maratua Archipelago, Borneo, Indonesia. July 2013.

Maratua Archipelago, Borneo, Indonesia. July 2013.

Maratua Archipelago, Borneo, Indonesia. July 2013.

But I was disappointed by the seabed of Maratua. There is a lot of dead coral and quite a bit of life - with the notable exception of the aptly named Turtle Point, where you can definitely meet in large numbers turtlessometimes very big.

The famous pass of Maratua, crossed by a very strong current - in principle pledge of underwater life abundant and schools of wriggling fish - no longer deserves its nickname of "Big Fish Country".

In question, fishing dynamite - still practiced today. Several times, during our dives on the neighboring island of Kakaban, we heard explosions under water ...

During this 2013 trip, I did six dives in Maratua, very uneven and never exceptional ...

Among the beautiful encounters: a tiny school of yellow-tailed barracudas which I managed to make some pictures (below); a bench of barracudas a little bigger but seen too far, in the blue; and an imposing bench of humpback parrots, which I caught somehow in video progression, in a fog of sand and debris raised by their raid on the reef (I do not put it here, the quality is really rotten).

Barracudas with yellow tail. Maratua, Borneo, Indonesia. July 2013.

Barracudas with yellow tail. Maratua, Borneo, Indonesia. July 2013.

But during our dives, no sharks, no jacks of trevallies, no swirls of fish - nothing exceptional "big" question.

In short, a big disappointment - including for our guides, who seemed to hope better. Spectacular encounters may still be possible in Maratua, but there must be more luck than I ever had ...

I am copying below what I noted in my logbook, during my final immersion in the Maratua Channel: " Disappointing. Nothing. We waited a long time in the cold current, with our hooks, to see something ... Nothing. Just a turtle at the end of the dive. "

Conclusion

Of course, I'm happy to be back in Derawan, for turtles, for the incredible Jellyfish lake of Kakaban, and his falling full of life.

But to divers in search of thrills and great show, I would say that Sangalaki and Maratua are probably worth more to accomplish such a long journey.

Dynamite fishing and overfishing have already caused major damage in this area. And that is not likely to work out in the years to come ...

😔

  Borneo: Indonesia + Malaysia - July 2013

  1. @Corinne: I imagine your disappointment ... .What sadness this fishing with dynamite 🙁 After the fins of sharks, now they are the gills of mantas! And if there were only that ... .This is the reason why I intend to continue to browse our beautiful planet, to discover it, as long as there is still time! It's not that I'm pessimistic, but all the same! Well, nothing is lost, and I hope that soon you will bring us again beautiful pictures, as you know so well 🙂

    1. @Didier: I tell myself that it is better, sometimes, not to return to certain places ...

      That said, I chained with Sipadan, then. It was my third time there, and there I was not disappointed. You will see, I brought back images that make "waooow" ...
      🙂

      But Sipadan is a protected area, which is not the case of the Derawan archipelago (except for turtles).

  2. Salam Corinne,

    Your article confirms and reconfirms what some have told me, my God, what sadness!
    I remember very beautiful funds in Sangalaki, with a lot of marine life even without the mantas, what is it? you talk about dead coral everywhere ???
    Bizzzzzzzzz
    Oh, I forgot: even when there is nothing to photograph, your pictures are beautiful!

    1. @Pit: I'm glad you left a note, you who was one of the inspirers of my first trip there ... 😉

      In Sangalaki, already in 2009, I remember that the sandy bottom strewn with some coral potatoes where we met the mantas, was nothing extraordinary. Currently, it's not better ... Not just dead coral, but nothing foolish. We meet the small tropical fauna usual here and there, at the option of potatoes and small groves of coral, sponges, etc. But nothing to rave about.

      In Maratua, there is not only dead coral, it depends on the places. Here and there are some beautiful gorgonians, coral tables, coral clusters with a little life (the small tropical fauna usual) ... But nothing exuberant or abounding. The entrance to the pass, however, is sad, with dead coral everywhere ...

      You had the chance to discover this place before it gets worse ...

  3. Ok, go around there is nothing to see. 😡

    On the other hand: thank you, it will avoid me the detour! For nothing to hide, the trip did not tell me anything that is right, and your article confirms to me, The holidays are always so short and I have so much to return to places that are really worth it (In the series "Places not to go back", I lost 4 days in Maumere this summer 😕).

    1. @ Ludovic / Wet & Sea: Yep, knowing a bit about your tastes and requirements in terms of travel and diving, I do not recommend the detour ... Left to go to Borneo, better spend a little more time in Sipadan.

      As for Maumere, for sure, I will not put it in my top sites. But I still enjoyed my dives there, richer than I expected, actually. And unlike you, I did not feel like I had "spoiled" vacation time. Let's say that as part of a discovery of Flores, with Komodo culminating point for diving, it's worth it. If it's just for Maumere, such a long trip is not worth it, that's for sure ...

    2. My allusion to Maumere is that it has deteriorated further. I had been there 3 years ago with the feeling that I had probably missed things, but this year it was a really miserable side fish. 😯

      The good thing is that I brought back a liter of "Madu Asli Flores", there is no better in the world than this honey of wild coffee ... but hey I could have stayed 3 more days in Alor, which m rather, made a good impression once accustomed to delirious currents.

    3. In places that are worth visiting after Raja Ampat, there is Ambon. As well as lembeh, with 10 times less divers. Ludovic, you have hello robert blue rose.

  4. Thank you for this CR Corinne. Beautiful pictures over the water ... but a long journey that I will not perform even if dazzle cruise passengers and diving centers ... your feelings are much more reliable.
    How sad ... to eat manta ray ... will we ever have to say that we had the chance to admire them?

    1. @Manta: Frankly, I would not recommend the trip just for diving, except to be a turtle crazy ...

      For the rest, Derawan is nice for the muck-dive, but the island does not manage either, waste management issue. It has become a very popular destination also for Indonesian tourists, there are more and more people, with new guesthouses, small restaurants and shops. The atmosphere of the village has remained nice, but this affluence obviously has repercussions on the immediate environment of the island, with more and more garbage accumulated in some places under the stilt houses. Some Western tourists, who naively land on what they had imagined to be an immaculate island, fall from high ...

      Kakaban is uninhabited and still has a wild and preserved side. I found Kakaban very nice for diving, and we saw a lot of things, many of them eagle rays.

      Maratua and Sangalaki, on the other hand, do not offer what some dive tour operators still boast ... Already, in 2009, a dive-master met in Derawan, who had worked for a chic Maratua spring, had explained to me that The entrance to the pass had been blown up and it was not like before. At the time, I had not dived in Maratua, for lack of time and to succeed in chartering a boat, so I can not compare as with Sangalaki. But what I discovered four years later confirms that it did not get better.

      Yes, it's sad to say that we may have seen stuff under the water that we will probably see more rarely. In March, the CITES organization managed to have two species of mantas rays on the list of protected animals, but I do not really see how to concretely respect this kind of decision ...
      http://www.mantatrust.org/cites-victory-a-ray-of-hope-for-mantas/
      😐

  5. Hello Corinne
    I have just returned from a week diving from Raja Ampat on Kri Island, it was heavenly! I had read all your articles before leaving to make me even more dreamy. And I found down the same impressions described in your articles. I think to return very quickly, really fairy ... ..
    I met a Dutch underwater archaeologist who had scoured the planet and for him Maratua and the surrounding islands, was one of the most beautiful dive sites, he had to explore at all costs, but he too went there. 4 years ago. I thought to go there, but considering your comments, and the long trip, it's about I will consider another destination, but always to Indonesia.
    Thank you for all your travel stories it's really great, photos and videos. In any case it served me well, thank you, thank you ....

    1. @Denise: Ah, Raja Ampat is by far the most amazing place I have ever discovered during my life as a diver. I would like to go back there too, but I will have to wait a bit, the time to reunite the necessary budget. Delighted to know that you enjoyed it as much as me !!!
      🙂

      Part of the area is protected at Raja Ampat, which perhaps allows to hope that the place remains as beautiful as it is. But between the mining operations that are developing all around, the military yoke of the Indonesians over West Papua, the appetites of different nations for the resources of the area, and the anarchic development of tourism that threatens, one can be afraid to see the environment. degrade too in a few years, alas ...

      When I see what the Sangalaki and Maratua bottoms look like today, I can hardly imagine that it was as exuberant as Raja Ampat ...

      If you are targeting Indonesia, the Komodo Archipelago is also fantastic. Otherwise, on the Malaysian side of Borneo, Sipadan is always worth seeing ... I'll talk about it soon.
      😉

  6. Thank you Corinne for this new article, I understand your disappointment (see your anger), thank you for denouncing these drifts! We must boycott these places and make it clear that nature pays more when we preserve it!
    Another 2 months and a few before our departure for Rajat Ampat ... We hone our fins and our photo equipment !!!
    Friendship
    Yves

    1. @Yves: alas, I think that the guys who throw dynamite into the fleet or the Asian boats fishing manta rays do not care if some Western tourists want to boycott the Derawan archipelago ...

      On site, the turtle protection program works well at least. The problems of overfishing are much more complex. There are huge interests at stake, on a global scale, that go beyond the only horizon of this small Indonesian archipelago ...

      Good preparations for Raja Ampat. You'll see, it's really amazing.

  7. But what sadness, Corinne ... Besides the disappointment you must experience, I imagine the anger at the damage caused by this kind of fishing. The worst thing is that these fishermen are acting against their own interest by plundering their own resource.
    Is there at least one embryo of a more responsible fishing program? Because the situation will become critical fairly quickly.

    1. @ Melissa: I doubt very much that the local fishermen think as far as you, nor that the big Asian fishing companies care to be responsible ...

      The local program for turtle protection works well. But the area should be a protected natural park to hope to improve things in the Derawan archipelago.

      Our considerations of well-thinking and environmentally conscious Westerners are, I fear, very naive and vain, on the scale of an archipelago as vast as Indonesia, facing several seas and oceans ...

  8. Hello,
    Super blog!
    I am amazed at what you say about the funds in the archipelago, we spent a week in Maratua this summer, and this is one of the most beautiful funds we have seen in Indonesia (and yet we have seen!) . Maratua is really the dream (but very roots because no tourists), and we loved it! But we must say that we must go to the side of the lagoon for the best diving spots: the spots follow each other without stopping, coral gardens as I've never seen, and all possible fish ... without the manta ray unfortunately because they are less numerous ...
    if you ever want to go see my blog ...
    http://paulinemoussa.blogspot.fr/p/kalimantan-2013-venir.html
    Pauline

    1. @Pauline: a coral garden in a lagoon, often nice to discover in snorkeling, does not always reflect the reality of a reef outside, sea or ocean side.

      In Kakaban, some parts of the reef were beautiful, others much less.
      In Sangalaki, there were coral potatoes in the middle of the sand around the island, but not much life and no manta ray to pass ...
      And in Maratua, the little that I saw of the reef disappointed me, indeed ... But I did not dive nor snorkeled lagoon side. Nice to hear you had a better experience than me!
      🙂

  9. Thank you for this beautiful article Corinne, an archipelago where I was there 5 weeks ago.
    Having spoken with Yann (from Marseille) a few days before my departure I did not expect to see Manta (which is what decided my trip there at the base). But I did not think I was disappointed by Derawan. And yet ... So I fled to meet me in Maratua, where I spent 10 days of dreams. I join you totally for the reef, nothing exceptional, except the very numerous turtles at Turtle point. But this island has many treasures, namely "the quiet life" that you describe perfectly. The picture you took is the village of Payung-Payung, where tranquility, respect and support are really the key words! And I weigh them, my words. For someone looking for authenticity and peace this village is perfect (we were two tourists in October on the island, Bahasa almost obligatory). Bohebukut too, Bohesilian already less, because of the proximity to the hotel. The second treasure is the many hidden caves (some very very hidden) in the middle of the forest. And it's really worth it. There is also a lake similar but much smaller than in Kakaban, with non-irritating jellyfish. To finish and as Pauline rightly says if the island tempts some of the readers it is now necessary to go there, before the end of the construction of the small airport but especially of the many hotels which will see the light of day.

    1. @Jeannot: oh, many thanks for this little review !!! It is nice to have the story of other experiences. And I'm glad to have the name of the village (I asked, but I forgot in the meantime). Finally, also a big thank you for the additional information for the diving (that confirms my impressions) and as for the aspect "tourist" of the corner ...

      Yes, Derawan is not as peaceful as before, it is better to take refuge elsewhere if you want to be really pampered and find a real "village" atmosphere. I love the precision: "almost obligatory bahasa" ...
      😉

  10. great your comment on derawan and sangalaki.but it cooled me well who had the project to prepare a trip in April 2014 for this destination that I am deeply disappointed !!! I just returned from my last trip to sumatra the island of pulau weh, very beautiful deep diving and lots of big fish. for my future adventures I hesitate between komodo, irian jaya, sulawesi, ambon or sipadan. I'm looking for manta ray, shark and beautiful coral.i have dive a lot on the philippines, thailand and bali.et and I would like a site exeptionnel or I do not have the impression to arrive too tard.i you can advise me I t'en thank you in advance.

    1. @Didier: Alas, the archipelago of Derawan-Kakaban-Sangalaki-Maratua is no longer what it was, I'm afraid. Manta rays are no longer "guaranteed" at all in Sangalaki and the rest, I mentioned in my various articles: there are beautiful dives in Kakaban, Derawan is worth for muck-dive and turtles, as for Maratua I did not see anything exceptional ...

      Like you, I have fond memories of Pulau Weh. Sites a little "deep" but worthwhile.

      To see mantas and sharks, with poiscaille galore and sumptuous coral: Raja Ampat (in the province of West Papua, formerly called Irian Jaya by Indonesians) and Komodo. Check the seasons, maybe, for mantas-rays ...
      I saw in full:
      - in March in Raja Ampat -> http://petitesbullesdailleurs.fr/2012/04/22/manta-raja-ampat-papua-video/
      - in July in Komodo -> http://petitesbullesdailleurs.fr/2012/02/05/raies-mantas-komodo-indonesie-video/

      I consider Sipadan to be an exceptional spot too (see my recent articles on my stay in July 2013), it feels like there is a shark and turtle factory in the corners, but there is no mantas.

      As an indication, my little top 3 perso, in the Asia / Indo-Pacific region:
      1 - Raja Ampat
      2 - Komodo
      3 - Sipadan

      Afterwards, it depends on the budget, the time available, etc. etc. If you can afford to break your piggy bank, I highly recommend Raja Ampat, I came back dazzled. See my two trips there:
      March 2012 -> http://petitesbullesdailleurs.fr/voyage-raja-ampat-bali-indonesie-2012/
      July 2012 -> http://petitesbullesdailleurs.fr/voyage-alor-raja-ampat-indonesie-2012/

      Good preparations!
      8)

  11. Hello Corinne
    My partner and I ran into your blog just before leaving for the Derawan Islands in late November, for a trip organized by friends of ours and already paid for a long time .... So no more question of going back!
    But after reading your blog we left all sad, regretting already our trip ....
    The record is mixed. On the island of Derawan itself, more than a single interesting dive (the others are dynamited), that of the jetty, which we have done several times, small falling gently slope with bêbetes to see, diving typical of Indonesia. From Derawan we dive in Panjang, muck dive type dives, less rich than Lembeh, but we had the opportunity to see the "Lembeh Sea Dragon", which was one of our objectives: youpi !! 😀
    On the other hand, the pygmy satomi hyppocampus, which was also one of our objectives, was not found, what a pity ...
    Then we spent 8 days in Maratua, making the islands around. Sangalaki, no mantas, the guides confirmed that it was extremely rare to see, and that when it was the case, it was max 10 individuals, whereas it was hundreds a few years ago ....
    Kakaban, aside from the Jellyfish Lake which is fun to do once, we were a little disappointed. On the tip we saw sharks, qq barracudas and a ray eagle, but by far, so nothing exceptional. The two falling beside were pretty but rather deserts that day.
    And finally Maratua: I think we were luckier than you, we could have done more dives there too, but most of the reefs were in good condition, especially around the Maratua Paradise Spring where we were based . Turtles everywhere, at all the dives, even in the Maldives we had not seen as much. This island is recommended for turtle fans. Another good surprise: many parrots with bumps, sometimes in a bench of 20 individuals, we had never seen so many. Other than that, the drop-offs were still sad and empty, with sometimes a barracudas or a bunch. And it's even sadder to see a beautiful falling not damaged, with beautiful gorgonians, but nothing in the blue .... sniff ... 😳
    Overfishing, she sees herself as soon as you put your head under water in the Derawan Islands. Note that on the thirty dives we did down, we heard at least 8 times underwater explosions: desertification funds will only worsen in the coming years ... 😡
    Otherwise, the very good surprise we had was the dive in the pass, The Channel: a lot of gray sharks, a mobula, a beautiful bank of batfish, a huge grouper who was there at each of dives and ... .. a ban of thousands of barracudas with black stripes !!!! ❗
    This dive alone did not make us regret being here. It is super impressive, there were cubic meters of barracudas 15 m high, 10 m wide. A very intense moment.
    But they are not there all the time, so they're not garrant 😉
    Voila for our CR, we resume we do not regret but we will not return. We prefer Bali, Raja Ampat or Lembeh. We do not know Komodo yet but it will not be long 😉

    In any case thank you Corinne for your blog, and do not hesitate to continue to enjoy your stories!

    1. @Delphine: thank you for this great review, which completes my impressions. So there is the possibility of more interesting dives than the ones I was able to do in the Maratua channel, which is good news. For the rest, I see that it goes in the same direction as what I saw, alas ... Me like, I heard several explosions under water. As for mantas, they are gone and meeting them becomes a rare event. Too bad.
      😯

  12. Hi Corinne,

    I'm really sorry to read your CR on the Derawan Archipelago ... 🙁
    In 2010 we were dazzled by the Kakaban and Maratua dives as well as by the mantas we had seen on every dive in Sangalaki !!!

    I was hoping to return one day with my children to help them discover these wonders ... it's really really sad ... 😥

    Hoping that there will still be some exceptional sites in ASE in about ten years ...

    Good bubbles in 2014!
    Eric

    1. @ costarico32: yes, I was happy to return to the corner, so I liked it the first time ... There, I admit that it hurts to see that things have deteriorated so quickly. It is still possible to do some nice dives in Maratua (see other travelers' reviews above) and the Kakaban Jellyfish Lake is a special place, but mantas have become rare around Sangalaki, while they were always there, almost certainly, a few years ago ... It's very sad.
      👿

  13. Snorkeling around a good twenty manta rays in Sangalaki this August, a chance! Sharks and thousands of barracudas for divers. Much less jellyfish in the lake by cons according to the tourists there passed a few years ago. And there, it is surely we tourists who are in question ...
    Nice blog, thank you.
    Jean Yves

  14. It is with a lot of delay that I return to comment on this discussion. In April 2014 I went on a 12-day dive safari on KOMODO with SafariBali. It was simply sublime. For manta rays it was well above my expectations. Manta and modula a lot. White tip sharks, big napoleon, huge humped parrot, macro ... in short, about thirty dives of dream. And I chained with 4 magnificent dives in KOH LANTA, THAILAND including a special day manta rays on the sites of HIN MUANG and HIN DAENG, it was really worth the trip.

  15. we will be there this summer, staying at Derawana Dive Lodge
    I hope that life will have recovered its rights!
    and then we go on with Lembeh

    nice blog, bravo!

    1. so then 4 years later:
      no more manta ray on Sangalaki, but the ballad on the coral potatoes is nice
      on the other hand an impressive bench of barracuda on Maratua, and then here and there: hump parrot, napoleon, turtle and ... manta (1 only flying over the barracudas)
      Jellyfish on Kakaban are still there
      the dynamite fishing is a reality: we felt a detonation during a dive
      so yes: it is very (very) far and not exceptional; nevertheless, it's great to be alone in the water!

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