Last week we had a spectacular sunset at the Tip of Borneo. A couple of the volonteers found it so beautiful they had to go for a sunset swim.


Rescue Diver means Responsibilities

The reality of diving is summarised in this rule of thumb.

"A diver certified for Open Water is the equivalent to earning one's driver's license.
Achieving Advanced in diving means you're clear to head out on the highway.
But only after having completed your Rescue Diver course will I let you drive around with my mother."  - Prof Oakley & Hazel

Scuba diving is unlike all other recreational hobbies. It allows us to explore an amazing world that defies the gravity that we're accustomed to and is home to an entirely different realm of species.  Such a unique experience can produce a wide array of effects on each of us both mentally and physically.  With diving in particular, small problems can lead to much larger safety and health problems when not dealt with properly.  Becoming a Rescue Diver helps you to both recognize and respond to these situations as they become apparent.

As of today, I am a certified Rescue Diver.  Completing this course with TRACC has been one of the most entertaining, frustrating and empowering things I've ever done.  

Unlike other dive facilities, there was basically no time restraint which meant plenty of time for practicing [unscheduled] rescue scenarios.  While I can't admit to always being excited about this aspect, I think it had the desired effect; by the end, not only did I find myself keeping an eye on all potential safety hazards for those around me, but over time (debatably too much in some cases- weight belt (?!?)) I actually did learn from my mistakes.  Here are a few of the things that I learned:

1- Anything can happen at any time.

While loading a boat full of divers, Sonny (staff member) managed to impale his eye on the cleat in the front of the boat, blood everywhere.

Despite having gone on a leisurely dive, Tom (intern) became an unresponsive diver at 10m underwater. 

Matteo (volunteer) became a drown victim while on the way to help me rescue Gon (dive instructor).

Jason (staff) was found unconscious, not breathing and drifting with the current, away from the boat at the surface after a work dive.

Gon, a certified dive instructor, managed to do a textbook list of "things not to do while diving" throughout an entire dive. For example, despite having serious anxiety and doubts about diving, she was going for the dive; her breathing was rapid and uncontrolled underwater; she attempted to touch EVERYTHING (lionfish?! Cone shell?!)- Oh, and of course she also ended up  unconscious around 9m...

There was such an abundance of missing divers that I dare say I'll tie ropes to everyone!

2- Stop. THINK. Act.

In an attempt to help someone as quickly as possible, I often managed to do more harm than good.  

In one scenario I left so abruptly to fetch an unresponsive swimmer that I neglected to consider how much more quickly I could have brought the victim to shore, had I just grabbed the fins that sat beside me.

On another occasion I left the boat (with nothing but fins) to help a unresponsive diver at the surface without having realized that she had already removed her BCD- hence, we had no flotation device.

3- Drop the weights.

In almost every scenario I encountered, the victim wore a weight belt. 

In basically all of these scenarios I neglected to remove the belt first.  

This added drag (in the water) and mass (on land) which inevitably resulted in slowing down the rescue, potentially critically affecting victim survival.

For one beach shore rescue the victim I'd dragged out of the water and onto the shore was wearing at least 8 kg on his weight belt.  The staff member was already significantly larger than me to begin with and I'd not done myself any favors by neglecting to remove the belt.

Make life easier. Drop the weights first.

4- Learn from your mistakes

At times, my mistakes seemed to outnumber my accomplishments.  Why didn't I think to bring fins? ?..remove the weight belt (again)? ...ask a bystander if the victim was wearing a BCD?  At this point, some of you may be hoping to never be in a situation where you're the victim and I'm the only one around...

The GOOD news is that I did improve!  The training and ongoing scenarios with TRACC gave me the confidence in a rescue situation that I didn't have before. After making a mistake, THAT mistake was typically one of the first things that came to mind when another situation came up.  I now have a list of things that went well or poorly and why; this is what I've started to revisit with each scenario and will continue to come back to when/if a rescue situation ever comes up.

The dedication of the staff at TRACC to helping me with this course was immense! They were dragged through the water and sand (not always very gracefully), stained with fake blood (that stuff REALLY doesn't want to wash off!) and always up for finding ways to get hurt and die.

From the bottom of my heart, thanks guys!


More info about learning to dive or volunteering to help save the ocean with TRACC in Malaysia - Turtle Snorkellers - Divers 
TRACC seriously recommends that all divers get certified to rescue.  This is why.


The sea is getting warm again

Cool yellow Nudi!
    The past few weeks were not exactly comfortable for diving due to the upwelling of cold seawater ( 24deg C), bad visibility due to the plankton blooms from the nutrients in the upwelling seawater and abundant clouds of zooplankton and strings of juvenile jelly fish. Thank goodness for stinger suits,  :-)  Fun dives were actually not so fun, work dives were typically torturous if we need to stay underwater for a long time (Work is work though, and it needs to be done). 

Giant Nudi!
So you can imagine how grateful we were when we realize the water has become warm this morning. The temperature was pleasurably cool at 27°C, and there was no stinging jelly fish anymore. Water is crystal clear now. On top of that, the sea seems more lively than usual: we saw fish spawning and many colourful nudibranch ^^

The upwelling is great for the Cambridge A level Marine science 9693 students, they have an on the door step example of how physical oceanography, changes the environment and the biology follows suit.  
We have watched offshore winds make the sea millpond calm but distinctly chilly, phyto plankton blooms turn the water green, then copepods eat the phytoplankton, and then clouds of small fish eat the copepods.  The whole food web process was happening in the sea in front of the classroom.   The best bits of course have been the whale sharks which came to eat the zooplankton and small fish.  As I write this there is a huge school of anchovies in the shallows trying to avoid being food for a larger fish by jumpig out of the wate in a shimmering wave.

More info about volunteering with TRACC in Malaysia - Turtle Snorkellers - Divers 

The Cambridge Marine science A level class 9693 starts mid January each year for exams in May/June.  The course is approximately 12 weeks and leads to a full A level.  All students to 2016 have done really well with amazing grades including the BEST marine science student in the world for 2 yearsw running (2015 & 2016). This course is ideal if you want to boost your qualificatons during a gap year or learn something useful while you travel.  Email info@tracc-borneo.org to find out more or make a booking.



   The Transect Project is carried out to survey the reefs around TOB. The purposes of this project include:
  1. To look for potential sites of other TRACC projects (E.g. the on-going Bottle Reef Project for reef recovery)
  2. To obtain data of reef condition (Required by the government for marine park establishment)
The project is indeed a tough one considering the number of factors we need to encompass. First we need to make sure that the research design is one that can produce accurate data of the reef condition. This is of course the first and foremost absolute rule of any scientific survey. Secondly, the device used must be durable enough to withstand the wear and tear over time, especially during monsoon season. Since we might be initiating new project on the surveyed reefs, we need resilient markers that can lead us back to the desired location in the future. Then, we need to consider the procedures of our in situ operation. We doubtlessly have a number of excellent divers and experienced researchers in the camp, but not everyone has good combined skills hence close cooperation is the key to work efficiency.

The project has been going on for about a month to date. We’ve completed data collection of more than half of all targeted sites despite the obstacles we met: rough sea condition, lost tools, malfunctioning compressor, terrible visibility, lack of experienced underwater researcher etc. etc…. I’m genuinely grateful that we’ve managed to pull things off so far. Pray that everything will go smooth from this point onwards and we can finish this project soon ;-)

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Camp-Made Cakes

    It’s been a month since I arrive in TRACC TOB camp. I was never worried about staying in rural area, knowing that I can get accustomed to new places pretty quickly.

But to be honest, I do miss the luxuries which can only be found in a town/city. So it was quite a nice surprise when someone managed to bake such delicious cakes using the primitive oven in our kitchen. Love ‘em <3

Brunei Road Trip for marine science A level

Fresh catch straight from the boats
This week the TRACC Cambridge Marine Science A-level study team headed South from Tip of Borneo Camp to Kota Kinabalu to Brunei to get some first-hand experience of marine science, fish markets, human impacts and coastal protetion before our upcoming may 2015 exams.

We looked at Fish markets, saw so many species that we could not identify but we now know so much about functional groups and marine ecology that we looked at mouths, teeth body shape and tail shape to determine where each species fits into a food web and how it catches its prey.  We studied human impact vs. marine conservation and saw lots of issues.  In Brunei the amazing coastal erosion protection engineering was all on the agenda. Heading back to camp now to get on with some serious revision. Bring on the books.
Marine science is tiring work...

More info about volunteering with TRACC in Malaysia - Turtle Snorkellers - Divers

The Cambridge Marine science A level class 9693 starts mid January each year for exams in May/June
.  Email info@tracc-borneo.org to make a booking.

Impromptu coastal erosion and coastal succession lesson

Liz having the time of her life at the wheel 

...and Matteo found a stick. Happy days.

Pom Pom revisited

bottle nurseries
Yesterday we revisited our Pom Pom camp in preparation for the re-build.
Here's the before pictures..... keep following our blog for the after-pictures coming soon :)
We also have bottle nurseries ready for deployment creating new habitat for marine life and to act as buffering from storms.

The view however doesn't need any fixing, it's perfectly amazing just as it is.

In a month the camp will be better than this :-) 
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dive shop

bottle nurseries

Camp area






This poor thing fell off a tree one day. I think he was lucky as Lily saw him and picked him up before any of the cats or dogs around the camp found him first. We kept him in a cage while waiting for his wings to get stronger, pampering him with fish, chicken meat and sometimes worms.
It was not decided about when we should release the baby owl until he tried to escape. We brought him to No.4 (Our dining/gathering area) that day, and helped him to practice flying as usual. He flew from one table to the next and we were all happy to see his progress. It was then he jumped off the table, flew into a nearby tree and stopped on a branch 2 meters high from the ground.
It took us some time before we could put the baby owl back into his cage. Gon thought he was almost ready to go back to the wild and join his family. It was released 2 days later during midnight when the dogs were asleep.

P.S.: The owl has grown a lot since. He visited us one night, stopped right above Gon’s tent, high up on a tree. Hope to see him again in the future ^^

Moonset in TRACC TOB Camp

We’ve seen sunset so many times that we do not spend time to sit on the beach and enjoy the view anymore. But it was an exception last full moon. A number of the volunteers and staffs stayed awake (or sleeping) on the beach and waited long for the moon to set on the horizon.

This was what we saw =)

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Muck Diving in Kudat

Muck Diving in Kudat
        We all know scuba diving on a coral reef is an amazing experience, with colourful corals and an amazing array of marine life. With everything from spectacularly coloured fish to tiny shrimp, and all that’s in between.
        However, there is a whole world of weird and wonderful waiting to be discovered out on the sandy flats, which brings us to the often underestimated MUCK DIVE!
        Sure you won’t be instantly overwhelmed by the obvious beauty of a coral reef, but with a bit of patience and a keen eye the inhabitants of the muck are well worth the search.
        Out on the sandy flats of Kudat are some creatures you have to see to believe.
In this harsh environment lacking in shelter, the cunning creatures who call the muck home, are always on the lookout for cover, be it a discarded can or coconut husk.
        We have been building artificial reefs out in these baron environments, which has resulted in the reefs being swiftly populated, and left the surrounding sand flat teeming with life.
          The list of organism we at TRACC encounter includes: 

Mimic octopus

Frog fish

Ambon scorpionfish

Urchin carrier crabs

Snake eels

Sting rays

Sea horses

Ghost pipe fish.
         With such an impressive list of locals it can be hard to focus on the task at hand ;) but the work must go on.
         So the next time you’re on a dive and you see the sandy planes lurking just off the reef, head out there and explore, you may be rewarded with the treasures of the ocean not found by many.
          For more information on the exciting experience that is muck diving watch:
         ‘Mucky Secrets’ on Youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nJMZ6reOB0E

More info about volunteering with TRACC in Malaysia - Turtle Snorkellers - Divers


It was quiet during our return trip from Light House. The weather was hot, but the sea was wavy and the water was cold. Everyone was tired after the harsh condition of the routine work dive. Max was our boatman that day. Even this humorous guy was not as chatty as he usually was.
            I was deep in my own thought when the boat suddenly came into a halt. “Something’s wrong?” Max never stopped the boat without warning unless there’s a problem with the engine. “Something jumped out from the sea surface…seems like a dolphin.”
I was astonished. “Really!? Dolphin? Where??” Everybody in the boat was stirred upon hearing the word DOLPHIN.
            “Right----over there,” Max replied with his usual comical manner, “slightly to your left.” We brought ourselves to the side of the boat and gazed towards the direction Max pointed at. Someone fetched the camera and started videoing.
            One…two…swoosh! It was within seconds when another dolphin jumped out, right in front of our eyes. “A dolphin!” “DolphinSS!” There was more than just one. “Woohoo!” “Did you get it on the camera!?” We were all excited. “Quick! Quick! Snorkel!! Fins!!!” “Jump jump jump jump!” We frantically put on our equipment and jumped off the boat, hoping to get closer and swim alongside the dolphins. But no, of course it didn’t happen, we scared them away instead XD.

We climbed back into the boat and Max brought the boat towards the school of dolphins. We were literally chasing after them. The dolphins seemed to realize our approach and jumped out of the sea a couple of times. I fancy they were greeting us in dolphin’s custom, haha.

We followed the dolphins for some time, and managed to get close enough to tape some videos to show our friends before heading back to camp. It was totally awesome. Now I have another thing to brag to my friends about my stay with TRACC.                                                                                                             
 More info about volunteering with TRACC in Malaysia - Turtle Snorkellers - Divers 



Witnessing turtles mating might not be so much of an exciting encounter for frequent divers. But it was hilarious indeed to bump into a pair of turtles when they are mating in the middle of the ocean. They split up when the boat got near. One of them swam right off, dived down and disappeared. I wonder if the mating was successful @.@?

More info about volunteering with TRACC in Malaysia - Turtle Snorkellers - Divers


Sunset on he Tip of Borneo beach

The view from the camp is spectacular, there's not many places it gets as amazing as this:

Maria Fredriksson

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Volunteer evening entertainment.

We are on a beautiful beach and a bit remote from town, we have no TV so what does everyone do after watching the sunset and eating supper.

Night or sunset dives are possible when the sea is calm.

Karaoke is popular for party nights

ordinary nights we play, scrabble, monopoly, card games.  Some of us are ace at bridge, uno or poker!

we read and study.

Occasionally we watch a documentary or a movie.

Interestingly you make good friends when you actually play/ interact with them and don't simply watch mindless TV.