The Borneo project has begun!


With 736 000 km² of land mass, Borneo is the third largest island in the world after Greenland and New Guinea. It's divided between the countries of Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei. The population of the island is about 10 million,  making for a population density of 16 inhabitants/km².

 

From on board Pangaea: Monday 26 October 2009


The eight new Young Explorers burst onto the yacht on Sunday in a flurry of bags and excited noise. But almost immediately Mike had them back on shore for their first challenge: to visit the local fruit market in steamy downtown Tawau, to buy last-minute provisions for the journey. Armed with some Malaysian currency, they had to
negotiate their way through a shopping list and some “brain-twisting fruit”, according to Simon, such as litchi-like rambutan, scaly snake fruit and seriously smelly durian.

We left Tawau at about five in the afternoon and then sailed for about four hours to Mabul Island, close to Sipadan – one of the world’s legendary dive sites, with sheer sea cliffs dropping straight down for over 900 metres. This morning we woke up to paradise: a palm-fringed island across a turquoise sea, with chalets on stilts dotted along the shore. And we had our
first dive! There was a measure of (fairly organised) pandemonium getting eight YEPs, crew and guests kitted out and into the water, but it was a
successful familiarisation dive to get everyone comfortable in the water. Because there’s plenty more to come – probably another two dives today!


  

From on board Pangaea: Tuesday 27 October 2009


Today we went to the edge of the world – and dived off it. After breakfast Mabul Island was left behind and a course set for Sipadan, with the Young Explorers getting their first taste of hoisting the sails, learning the difference between halyards and sheets, and that Lazy Jacks are ropes, not sleepy kids.
Sipadan is all you want in a paradise island – powdery white sand and coconut trees in a clear turquoise sea. “We have found an untouched piece of art,” said Jacques Cousteau, who ‘discovered’ it in 1989 (according to the guide books) and spent months diving here from his boat, Calypso. Interestingly, Mike was inspired by Jacques Cousteau and Calypso as a youngster, and he dreamed of doing something similar. Which is proof that if you want something badly enough, you can make it happen!.
But what sets Sipadan apart from a million other tropical islands is that it’s not attached to the continental shelf; it perches on a towering ‘stalk’ of limestone and coral. Which makes it the most awesome place to dive, because just a few metres from the beach you reach the end of the world. After that the reef plummets in a sheer drop 600 metres – and in places over 900 metres – to the ocean floor.
“It was fantastic,” said Michelle Nay, 19, from Switzerland. “It’s a very strange feeling when you look down and there’s absolutely nothing there but blue ocean. We saw so many fish – sharks, barracuda and turtles come to the island.”
Turtle Cave is a famous landmark about 20 metres down, which has been closed for safety reasons after divers (and even turtles) have become disorientated in it. But you can swim a few metres in. “We swam up to the roof of the cave, and all the bubbles collect there,” said Garret Celestin, 15, of the USA. “I put my hand up into the air pocket and it was all dry up there. It’s amazing to have no gravity, to just drift up to the roof and down.”
The man who helped put all this together joined us on board Pangaea yesterday: Malaysia’s deputy minister of tourism, Sulaiman A. Rahman Taib, organised permits for us to dive. Sipadan is very well protected by the Malaysian government: all the resorts on the island were closed in 2004 – guests now stay on other islands nearby – and only 120 dive permits issued a day, all to try and protect its stunning natural environment.
“What you’re doing is so exciting,” the minister told the YEPs, “because you’re seeing what even most Malaysians don’t see. Mike is doing a very good job. It’s rare to find an expedition that gives youths the chance to see the environment, and let’s them see the difference they can make. I’d like to join you for the whole journey!”
A morning and afternoon dive were followed by a trip to the island for a game of volleyball, and then a fairly long cool-off swim back to the boat. Swimming is a relatively new skill for Dongkyun Seo, 20, of South Korea, who learnt on the training camp in Switzerland. “That swim reminded me of the training camp, and how I’d be half dead after swim training each morning. But I did it. I kept thinking ‘almost, almost, almost…’ And I felt really proud when I got back to Pangaea.”


 

    From on board Pangaea: Wednesday 28 October 2009


    The YEPs have begun training for one of their main projects on the expedition: to do a survey of the coral reefs around Turtle Island in the Sulu Sea, off the northern tip of Borneo, checking their health in terms of damage and the amount of life around them.
    We spent the night and today sailing for Sandakan on the north-eastern tip of Borneo, with two dive stops on different reefs to practise the survey technique, which involves counting and noting the fish and invertebrates – sea cucumbers, sea urchins and so on – on a marked area on the sea bed. In particular they’re looking for ‘indicator species’ that suggest the health of the reef as a whole.
    And that’s no mean feat when many of them are only just getting comfortable with being 10 or more metres under water and breathing through a mouthpiece.
    The first reef had a high diversity of living coral, but sadly the second dive, just an hour or two’s sail away, presented a very different picture.
     “The second reef had no live coral, very few fish, and little biodiversity,” said Eugénie Guillaume, 18, of France. “There was no colour down there, it was deserted; very sad.”
    “It was a coral graveyard,” said Daniel Kotze, 20, of South Africa. “It’s only after seeing sites like this that I’ve realised how prime and well protected Sipadan is. That was like diving in a BBC documentary.”
    Among the reasons for the decimation of the reef could be sedimentation, too many nutrients from the land, or even fishing with dynamite.
    “People don’t think about what happens after the dynamite,” added Dongkyun Seo, 20, of South Korea. “You can’t blame them – it’s their life. We need to raise awareness and educate.”
    But even if there was not much to see, the exercise was good training for group organisation on the survey. “We have to take it seriously as the data is going to be published and used, and there are plans to come back in a few years to measure the differences,” said Rodrigo Steinman, 16, of Brazil.
    “We’re always hearing things like ‘30% of the fish are dead’ but we don’t know where these numbers come from. Now we can say for sure what is happening – we’re doing it ourselves.”