Back to the page about diving in East Kalimantan / Maps of dive areas in East Kalimantan
In the eastern part of Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo and about 45 km from the Berau river estuary out in the Makassar strait lie several reefs ideal for scuba diving. The dive sites are famous for the large gatherings of manta rays and a jellyfish lake. But in the reefs in the Berau archipelago also live a lot of very interesting critters, beautiful nudibranchs, hidden crabs and shrimps and unusual fish such as ghostpipefishes, scorpionfishes and more. There are several dive resorts, all are relatively easily reached from either Balikpapan or Tanjung Redeb.
Visibility here can be as low as 3m and averages about 20m with a maximum of 30m, the low visibility is due to silt from the river in Tanjung Redeb. Samama or Derawan usually have the lowest visibility, Sangalaki a bit better because it is a little further offshore, and Kakaban and Maratua even better because they are even further out. Water temperature is about 28°C year round.
This page gives you an overview of the dive areas in Borneo's east coast which belongs to Indonesia. Please notice that the information on this page about scuba diving in Kalimantan has been carefully collected and edited by me, but I don't know these dive sites myself, having dived only in Mabul, Sipadan, Kapalai and Lankayan but not in these dive areas on the east coast.
Sangalaki (also written Sangalakki) is known for the large gatherings of manta rays that come here to feed on plankton. Most dives here are in shallow water, since the mantas feed near the surface. Visibility is somewhat restricted, specially during the rainy season (November to March). Sangalaki does not have walls like Sipadan, it is surrounded by a shallow lagoon and the reefs start a distance out from the island, dropping from about 4m to 18 to 24m and up to 40m at some point. The island itself is a breeding ground for green turtles. At night female turtles come ashore and lay their eggs and small baby turtles can be seen regularly, when they hatch. The island and its surrounding reefs are protected as an Indonesian Marine Park.
The place to go for the manta rays (Manta Birostris) all lie to the north and east of the island: Manta Avenue (No. 8), Manta Parade (No. 7) and Manta Run (No. 5). Here manta rays come from all directions, their wing tips breaking the surface at regular intervals and circle around you. They prefer to swim close to the surface, so actually snorkeling is also a good way to interact with them. They congregate here in large numbers and feed on plankton or are cleaned at special cleaning stations. The best time to see them seems to be full moon when there might be as much 20 mantas hovering over the cleaning stations. The dive sites are a series of ridges of various size and sandy bottom and towards the west the underwater terrain flattens out.
Coral gardens (No. 2), Turtle patch (No. 3) and Sandy Ridge (No. 4): these dive sites all lie to the south west of Sangalaki and are small coral reefs and ridges with a sandy bottom. Hard corals, whip corals and some gorgonian sea fans with colorful reef fishes and green turtles.
Lighthouse reef (No. 10): Sandy bottom with coral heads. There are two small wooden boat wrecks. A good place for gobies, scorpionfishes, clownfishes, jawfishes, nudibranchs, frogfishes, mandarin fishes and ribbon eels as well as Tridacna giant clams.
Kakaban island can easily be reached by boat from Sangalaki in 20 to 30 minutes. The island is quite steep with limestone cliffs covered with dense jungle right down to the water's edge. The most unique feature is the huge brackish water lake in the middle which is well worth visiting, because of the millions of non-stinging jelly fish living in the lake. There aren't many beaches around the island since it is surrounded by deep ocean. The wall drops to 180 m and currents can be strong with upwelling, downcurrent and reversing directions.
Jellyfish Lake: In the middle of this island is a mangrove
fringed lake, slightly above sea level, where thousands of non-stinging jellyfish
live. The jellyfish consist of four different species. They are non stinging,
having lost their natural defense system because of the lack of major predators
in the lake. This place is similar to jellyfish-lake in Palau, Micronesia. The
lake has warm brackish water and the bottom is covered with marine green algae.
There are other animals living here, some sea cucumbers, gobies, anemones, tunicates,
crustaceans, nudibranchs, orange purple and yellow clams on the branches and
snakes. The lake is at most 17m deep and visibility is not so good. From the
beach to the lake you have to walk for about 10 minutes.
Kakaban was probably uplifted during the Holocene and sea water was trapped turning the area and formed a landlocked marine lake. The water is now a mixture of salt water and sweet water from the rain.
Barracuda Point: This is a steep wall, where the current brings large pelagics like whitetip sharks, leopard sharks, jacks, tunas, barracudas, snappers, trevally and of course a large school of barracudas. You can do a drift dive but a grab line has been permanently secured at 24 m across a relatively flat area on the upcurrent side of the point. Currents can be fierce with down currents.
Blue Light Cave: This dive is only for experienced divers, since you normally dive down quite deep to exit the cave. The cave starts at a hole on the top of the wall (2 m deep) and descends through a narrow chimney. At about 21m the chimney opens into a large cavern with the bottom at 30 m. You swim along the ceiling of the cave for about 120m. As you approach the exit of the cave, you can see the blue light of the sea. The exit is a long vertical crack in the wall and about 2m wide and lies at 44 m. There is also another exit at 64 m. You finish the dive on the wall.
Kakaban Drop-off and Tanjung Point: You mostly do drift dives on steep walls with sandy chutes in between.
About 15 min by boat from Sangalaki is another dive site, Samama which is good for macro. You are likley to see pygmy seahorses and a lot of nudibranchs. The island has a large area of mangrove and the dive sites are all very shallow.
Maratua (also written Merah Tua), about an hour from Sangalaki by boat, is a large island with a massive lagoon. The island only rims part of the lagoon, the rest is fringed by reefs with two small islands in the south. Maratua has several impressive drop-offs and you will have a good chance to sea large pelagics like sharks, tuna, eagle rays and schools of barracudas, trevally and mackerels. On the island there are several villages so some of the reefs are quite heavily fished.
Big fish country (No. 11): This dive site is situated at the entrance of the big channel which connects the lagoon with the outer sea. The channel itself is literally swept clean by the very strong currents and only the edges are covered with nice corals. The dive usually starts at the outside reef and you are swept by the current into the channel. At the entrance of the channel at 27 m you can watch the large pelagics that pass by: grey reef sharks, white- and blacktips, tunas and barracudas. Shark City (No. 18) is similar to this dive site, also a channel connecting to the lagoon. You might see hammerheads and eagle rays. Both dive sites should only be dived, when the tides are right.
Most of the dive sites of Maratua are on the north-eastern side of the island. The dives are not so spectacular, you can encounter turtles, napoleon wrasses, sting rays and eagle rays, sometimes reef sharks and leopard sharks. Most sites are steep slopes with patches of sand where rays or whitetips may be discovered. Coral growth is not very spectacular.
Nabucco is a recently developed island inside Maratua Lagoon. It is known for the critters such as frogfishes, shrimps, scorpionfishes, ghostpipefishes, mandarin fishes and invertebrates like nudibranchs and special shrimps. The other dive sites such as Sangalaki or Kakaban can also be visited, though it takes a while to go around Maratua and reach them.
Derawan island can be reached from Sangalaki but also has its own dive operation. Visibility is not so good. The best diving is at the Jetty in shallow 5m, where you can find some very interesting critters such as flamboyant cuttlefish, squat lobsters, ghostpipe fish, bluering octopus, nudibranchs, seahorses, ribbon eels and scorpionfishes. The Sea Garden is a shallow reef (10m) and the Blue Trigger Wall a small wall starting at 18m with lots of red-toothed trigger fishes. From Derawan you can also visit the other dive areas.
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