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  • As far as diving goes, there are few places in the world that offer more than one major attraction. Sipadan is famous for its turtles, Yap for its mantas and Palau for its Jellyfish Lake. But imagine what it would be like if you could go to a place that offers it all. Impossible, you say! Well, my response to that would be Derawan.

    On the northeast coast of Kalimantan, Indonesia, lies a small tropical island called Derawan, which has access to Mantas, turtles and a jellyfish lake, as well as some excellent cave, wall and pier dives. Add to this a dive resort surrounded by white sand beaches with crystal clear water, and you have the recipe for a perfect dive holiday.

    The diving from Derawan is shared between three islands, Derawan, Sangalaki and Kakaban, and on occasions, when the conditions are suitable, Maratua Island is also visited. A typical day´s diving would consist of two boat dives at Sangalaki or Kakaban Island (with lunch), followed by a third dive at Derawan to finish the day. A night dive on the Derawan Resort pier is also an option, however, most people prefer an early dinner, so that they can watch the Green and Hawksbill Turtles make their way up the beach after dark to lay their eggs.

    The types of diving available at Derawan Island are diverse, ranging from spectacular wall dives to wreck and shore dives. There is an incredible diversity of small marine life in the shallows, as well as an ever dominant presence of turtles cruising the reef edge in deeper water. Of the many dive sites available at Derawan, a few really stand out in my mind. The shallow sand and sea grass covered areas of the Derawan pier were the highlight of my stay there. I found creatures such as the Marbled Snake Eel and Diamond Filefish in just seven feet of water, directly under the dive shop, and in deeper water at the end of the pier, Urchin Shrimps, Harlequin Crabs and frogfish. The pier has a lot to offer those who are willing to spend the time to look. It is a world-class macro dive and a great way to finish a day´s diving as its deepest depth is only about 49 feet.

    The Shipwreck is a favorite among many divers as it is only 220 yards from the resort and has a maximum depth of 88 feet. This is an enjoyable yet simple dive, as the wreck sits on a sandy bottom at the base of a beautiful coral slope. Being nothing more than a burnt-out hulk, the attraction is not so much the wreck, but the marine life around it. With scorpionfish, Giant Clams, cuttlefish and Ribbon Eels, the wreck is always full of surprises.

    If wall diving is your forte, then Blue Trigger Point may be what you are after. The clear, deep blue, nutrient-rich waters provide an excellent base for the gorgonian fans, black coral trees and soft corals to spread out their feeding polyps, and in turn give valuable shelter to myriad tiny animals. Ornate Ghost Pipefish, hawkfish, shrimps and crabs are all found here, as are scores of trevally, barracuda and vibrant fusiliers. On the reef top an abundance of Blue Triggerfish gives this site its name.

    Other popular dive sites at Derawan are Lighthouse, Snapper Point and the old pier. I found Snapper Point and Lighthouse similar to Blue Trigger in many ways and thought the old pier dive average. Of course, everywhere you dive around Derawan, you are bound to bump into a friendly turtle.

    Contact Information
    To learn more about Derawan Island and Indonesia, call Tropical Adventures at (800) 723-4530 or fax (206) 441-5431. You can visit their website at or e-mail
    Getting There
    From Los Angeles, divers will fly Singapore Airlines to Singapore, with a stop in Tokyo (Taipei on the return). From Singapore they will fly to Balikpapan on Silk Air, where they will be met by a representative of Derawan Dive Resort, who will help arrange the domestic flight between Balikpapan and Berau. From Balikpapan, they will connect with either D.A.S. Bouraq or Deraya Airlines to get to Berau, and will be met at Berau airport by Derawan Resort staff. A cruise along the Berau River, followed by an open water crossing to Derawan Island will take 21¼2 hours.
    When To Go
    The climate is warm, sunny and humid all year, and the temperature varies from 21-32ºC. Mantas and turtles can be seen year-round, but April to October is usually the best time for diving. It should be noted that as the island is only 20 nautical miles from the mouth of the Berau river, underwater visibility may deteriorate if there has been heavy rain.
    Sangalaki Island

    Famous for its Manta Rays and turtles, Sangalaki Island is a 50-minute boat ride from Derawan Resort. The island’s most popular dive site is Manta Base Camp, where the graceful Manta Rays are found. The dive boat will usually slow down as the dive guide tries to spot the Mantas playing or feeding on the surface. Once spotted, everyone gears up and jumps in for a close look. Nothing could be easier! On occasion when there are no Mantas, the first dive is done somewhere else at Sangalaki, and you have another look at Manta Base Camp later in the day.

    Manta Base Camp is usually a shallow dive from 30 to 50 feet, with a gentle current at times. If the Mantas are not seen, the coral, fishlife and regular turtle sightings will still keep you busy. This dive site is also very popular with snorkelers.

    Another popular dive at Sangalaki, and also one of my favorite sites, is Turtle Bay, with its unusual abundance of Green Sea Turtles. The turtles tend to congregate against a backdrop of pristine hard corals and crystal clear water. Most of them were found between 20 and 65 feet of water.

    The Lighthouse and Sea Garden are the other two sites at Sangalaki and are generally deeper, with more current, as they offer an array of magnificent gorgonian sea fans and sea whips, with gentle soft corals to a depth of 118 feet. Mantas and turtles are also seen here at times.

    Kakaban Island

    About an hour by boat from Derawan Resort, Kakaban Island is located in deep water, east of Sangalaki Island. The diving here is mainly drift and wall diving along the island’s steep outer reefs. The currents can be very strong at times, especially at Barracuda Point, where thousands of schooling barracuda can be found. The drop-off here exceeds 217 yards, and on rare occasions Hammerhead Sharks and even Sunfish have been spotted. The reef top is devoid of life due to damage done by dynamite fishing a few years ago.

    The Blue Light Cave is an interesting dive site for those who like it deep. It is therefore recommended only for the very experienced or cave diver. The cave stands out as something special because entry is made on top of the reef flat, in just three feet of water. The entrance opens up to a large cavern, with an exit at 144 feet and another at 197 feet. Care must be taken not to silt up the cave, as visibility can diminish to zero if one is not careful. This cave is difficult to photograph, and I would suggest that divers leave their cameras behind and just enjoy the experience.

    The highlight at Kakaban Island is definitely its Jellyfish Lake. The lake is usually visited during surface intervals and between dives and is a 20-minute walk. Make sure you have footwear and mosquito repellent, as you have to trek through areas of rain forest, with sharp rocks along the way. The walk is punishing, but well worth the effort.

    An uplifting, thousands of years ago during the Holocene period, had trapped an area of seawater, turning it into a land-locked saltwater lake, similar to the one found in Palau, Micronesia. The beauty of Jellyfish Lake is that it supports an amazing array of unique marine animal and plant life. The lake has at least three different species of stingless jellyfish, including one that swims upside down. It also supports many species of fish (mainly gobies). Algae, sponges, tube worms and tunicates cover the lake’s mangrove roots, as well as sea cucumbers and bi-valves. Anemones and even sea snakes have also been seen here.

    The water is very warm and salty and is an eerie green color, which can make you hesitant to enter. The jellyfish are not as abundant as those found in Palau, but the remoteness and abundance of different marine life makes this lake very special.

    Topside Adventures

    Should you decide to take a break from diving during your stay at Derawan, there are a few things you can do. Most people prefer to go snorkeling or just read a book, but another option is to walk around the island and visit the village people or local shops.

    Being a small island, Derawan can easily be circumnavigated in little over an hour. Basic footwear and a hat is all that is required. The highlight for me was the village itself, with its warm and friendly people (especially the children). The local school was also well worth a visit, as was the old pier where I could see a traditional Kalimantan boat being built near the water’s edge.

    For many people, watching the turtles lay their eggs on the beach at night and seeing the newly born hatching is one of the highlights of their trip. To make sure the turtles keep coming to Derawan, the resort not only encourages the protection of the turtles (an endangered species), but it actually does something about it. As young turtles are most vulnerable to predators in the first six months of life, the Derawan Resort collects newly laid eggs and deposits them in an incubation enclosure, where they are monitored until they hatch. After hatching, they are kept in the enclosure and reared for six months until they are big enough to be released safely.

    The islands of Sangalaki and Kakaban have no inhabitants, so the only activities that can be done on these two islands are snorkeling or a walk along the beach.