Sangalaki Island Report
Kalimantan, Indonesia

Sangalaki Island is located off the East Coast of the island of Borneo, in part of the Indonesian state of Kalimantan. Just two degrees north of the Equator, it is approximately 200 miles south of the renowned Malaysian Island of Sipadan. Borneo Divers, acknowledged experts in the region, operate resorts on both Sipadan and Sangalaki. The following report is resultant from an Island Dreams group of 22 adventurous divers who visited both Sipadan and Sangalaki during July 1999.

Getting There - From the U.S.A., Sangalaki is currently best reached via Malaysia Airlines from New York or Los Angeles, flying to Tawau, Malaysia. Flights are generally operate via Kuala Lumpur and/or Kota Kinabalu. From Tawau, a 45-minute flight in a Fokker 50 aircraft carries guests over the border into Indonesia, touching down at the small seafront town of Tarakan. From Takakan, a 2- hour boat ride in a fast water taxi brings guests to the remote and beautiful island of Sangalaki.

The Resort - Set on its on private island, Sangalaki is the only resort for a radius of at least 20 miles. It is set to accommodate a maximum of 24 guests in private cabins, each with ensuite shower and toilet facilities. The individual cabins are spaced well apart for privacy, and include small balconies overlooking the ocean. A staff of at least 18 employees serves the resort's guests. Predominantly Asian in style, the food is plentiful and well prepared, with good variety. While initially shy, we found the staff to be wonderfully friendly and exceedingly service oriented. The dive shop staff sets up the guests' gear, changes tanks, routinely carries rigs, cameras and bags to the dive boats, and graciously provides any and all possible service to make the guests' stays easier and more comfortable.

Dive Operation - Sangalaki's dive boats are 28-foot fiberglass hull boats with large twin engine outboards, good sun cover, comfortable seating, and convenient tank racks. Each boat is designed to carry no more than ten divers. The longest boat ride to the reefs of Sangalaki is no longer than 10 minutes. The trip over to the neighboring islands of Samama (macro diving) or Kakaban (wall diving and the jellyfish lake) is no more than 15-20 minutes. The only long boat ride is over to the island of Maratua, which features steep walls, good visibility, and schools of fish, eagle rays, etc. For best results, this dive (Maratua) must be timed to coincide with a strong incoming tide. On a good day, it's worth the one hour boat trip.

The Corals - In most areas around Sangalaki Island, we enjoyed an excellent distribution of hard and soft corals, in pristine condition, swarming with thousands of anthias and other reef fishes. There were many black coral trees, some quite large, beginning in very shallow water, and invariably covered in crinoids. There is a large distribution of sponges and many very beautiful gorgonians. (One appeared to be gold in color, but when lit with a dive light or strobe proved to be a bright red or fuchsia. Great for photography.) It must be noted, however, that in some other areas, particularly around Kakaban Island, the reef clearly shows signs of having been damaged by dynamite fishing. Fortunately, Sangalaki Island is a National Marine Reserve, and has been spared such a sad and shortsighted fate.

The Marine Life - Following is a partial list of the creatures we encountered and photographed during our week at Sangalaki: Mimic octopus, cuttlefish laying eggs, manta rays, lots of turtles, leopard sharks, many nudibranchs, flatworms, and gobies, blue ribbon eels, anthias, a really big banded sea krait (sea snake), white tip sharks, lobster, huge puffers, dart fish, leaf fish, hawk fish, robust ghost pipefish, harlequin shrimp, mantis shrimp, giant tridachna clams, moray eels, oriental sweetlips, juvenile clown sweetlips, moorish idols, striped catfish, scorpion fish, trumpet fish, crocodile fish, unicorn fish, batfish, lionfish, a broad variety of reef fishes, and plenty of clownfish. As you can imagine, we photographers had a great time will all of that variety!

Water Visibility - Around Sangalaki, the visibility averages only 40-60 feet. The water is rich with plankton, which is what keeps the Manta Rays around. Visibility around Samama is similar. The visibility around Kakaban and Maratua Islands, with their deep walls, generally exceeds 100 feet.

Turtle Town - A highlight of the region, Sangalaki is host to a huge population of mating and nesting sea turtles. In a timeless cycle of reproduction, both hawksbill and green turtles come here to mate and lay their eggs. On an annual average, 20-30 nests are deposited on Sangalaki Island every night A clutch ranges from 80-120 eggs, so annually that represents more than 750,000 turtle eggs per year on Sangalaki alone. During the course of our stay we saw mating turtles in the water, observed as the females hauled themselves up the beach, laboriously dug nests, and then watched them deposit their eggs. Most exciting of all, we had the privilege of watching the tiny hatchlings crawl from the sand, down the beach, and back into the sea, thus completing the cycle of life right before our eyes.

Turtle Egg Collectors - For decades, Sangalaki has been host to a small company of turtle egg collectors. These men are charged with finding the freshly laid turtle nests and collecting the contents. The eggs are then transported to the Indonesian mainland, Taiwan, and/or Hong Kong, and sold for human consumption. With a street value of approximately USD $.25 per egg, the estimated 750,000 eggs per year deposited on Sangalaki mean a local fishery valued at well over USD $150,000 per year. In Indonesia, that is "big money."

Turtle Nest Conservation - It is important to note that Borneo Divers continues to be instrumental in fostering turtle conservation at Sangalaki. Resort guests are invited to purchase individual turtle nests, at a cost of USD $20 per nest. The nest is then marked with a sign acknowledging the donor, and thus passed-over by the turtle egg collectors. A conservation officer is on-site to monitor the process. During our stay, the other guests and I sponsored more than 30 nests. It is both heartening and encouraging to have the opportunity to participate in this grass roots ecological effort. I sponsored five nests myself, and am looking forward to being a turtle grand parent any day now!

Turtle Release - One afternoon, we were invited to stroll over to the turtle egg collectors' compound to see a release of live baby turtles. In their own commendable, localized conservation effort, the egg collectors choose to hatch a small percentage of the eggs they collect. In four wooden frame boxes, they had an estimated 4,000 baby turtles, all less than one month old. As we watched in delight, these turtles were released at the water's edge. They immediately and instinctively struggled down the sand and into the sea. Once they hit the water, they were natural-born swimmers, stroking powerfully (for a tiny two-inch long creature) out to sea. The experience was both fascinating and heart-warming.

Jellyfish Lake - Another particularly unique and intriguing aspect of the Sangalaki experience is a trip to Jellyfish Lake in the interior of neighboring Kakaban Island. Inhabited by four different types of non-stinging jellyfish, as well as anemone, blennies, flatworms and fish, this is the largest and most diverse jellyfish lake in the world. Set amidst lush primordial jungle, it's a bit of a rocky climb to get into the lake, but it makes for a fascinating and adventurous snorkel or dive experience that one will not soon forget.

The Bottom Line - Located in a remote portion of Kalimantan, Indonesia, Sangalaki Island is a bit off the beaten path for divers. As we are learning, the remoteness is also what makes such areas particularly interesting. The resort itself provides exceptional service, and the fact that the professionals of Borneo Divers are involved is a major asset. If a simple but romantic setting, and three boat dives per day with turtles, manta rays, cuttlefish, and plenty of macro subjects are your idea of a good time, then Sangalaki fits the bill superbly.

Island Dreams Travel specializes in exotic dive travel. For more information, you may contact us toll free at 800-346-6116, via email at, or on the web at For photos and descriptions of Sangalaki, direct your web browser to

You may also find it of interest to read the comments of other recent Sangalaki guests at


Return to Island Dreams' Sangalaki Home Page

Read Ken Knezick's Report from Sangalaki

Read Candid Comments from Recent Sangalaki Guests

For a selection of photographs from Sangalaki, visit Steve Fish's Sangalaki Photo Gallery

For lots more Sangalaki information, visit Steve Fish's Sangalaki Web Site

Or explore the diving opportunities at Borneo Divers' Sipadan Diving Lodge

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