The Tun Sakaran Marine Park
A joint activity of the Sabah Society-Sandakan & Borneo Bird Club
Tun Sakaran Marine Park, also known as Semporna Islands Park, is a marine park located off the east coast of the state of Sabah in Malaysia, on the island of Borneo. It consists of the islands of Boheydulang, Bodgaya, Sebangkat, and Selakan, the sand cays of Maiga, Sibuan, and Mantabuan, and the patch reefs of Church and Kapikan. In 2004, the park became the seventh gazetted area under Sabah Parks with a total area of 35,000 hectares. The crater (the remains of volcanic eruption two and a half million years ago) within the park, forms a perfect plate of deep blue sea out-skirted by coral reefs.
Sixteen members of the Sabah Society-Sandakan and the Borneo Bird Club, as well as a few enthusiastic friends explored the natural wonders of the Tun Sakaran Marine Park from 26th to 28th October, 2012. We gathered at Semporna, the town with its feet in the sea, which is our transit point before proceeding offshore to the islands the next day. Upon checking-in at Seafest Hotel, we took a leisure walk to the market. In the evening, we had steamboat at the rustic Dragon Inn Restaurant on stilts by the sea. The richness of the sea, fishes of all kinds, sea cucumbers, shells, pearls and in recent years, seaweed farming have attracted many tourists and fisher-folks to Semporna and its islands. The major islands of the park are visible in a distance from Semporna, forming a unique shape of a pregnant lady lying down at her back.
Early the next morning, we travelled in two speedboats headed for the Boheydulang Island, where the Sabah Parks station is located. The boat ride was about 45 minutes on calm turquoise waters with serene panoramic seascape views. After registration at the office, we hiked up to one of the peaks of the Boheydulang Island, guided by the Sabah Parks staff.
It was a moderately easy hike through the forest of about 300 metres which took us almost 45 minutes. Anyway, it was a bit challenging for those who are not used to trekking in the forest on fairly steep slopes. The view of the islands from the top was spectacular and mesmerizing on a bright sunny day! So, we took lots of photos and stayed on the peak for quite a while, enjoying the natural beauty of God’s wonderful creation.
We took our own sweet time to descend, as not to injure our knees on slippery rocks at certain parts of the trail. After resting, we had our packed lunch at the jetty. It was free and easy in the afternoon. Some went snorkelling while others were snapping away with their cameras for more beautiful images of the island. Later, we were briefed and shown to the Sabah Parks marine research and conservation programme at the station, where the giant clam spawning and seaweed farming research are being carried out. This centre cultivates a few species of giant clams, to be released back into the sea after a few years. There are also various species of sea cucumbers at the centre.
In mid afternoon, we proceeded to a sea gypsy village within the park. The sea gypsies of the ‘Bajau Laut’ tribe of Semporna are known for their seafaring skills. For many years, these people have lived in the ocean on their simple stilt houses or make-shift house boats. The ocean is their main source of living - fishing, collecting clams and mussels.
The kids rushed frantically to greet us in their home-made boats as they knew we were bringing sweets for them. Their life is simple and they seemed to be happy and cheerful.
Later, we moved to another sea gypsy village at Maiga Island, and again, we were greeted by many cheerful children. This island is distinctive even from a distance because of its very tall coconut trees, covering almost the whole island. We had coconut water to quench our thirst, which tasted much better than those on mainland. It was slightly fizzy and sweeter.
We headed back to Semporna at about 5:30 pm. It was a long day but a wonderful outing in appreciating nature and observing the seafaring community living within the islands. The fantastic weather provided us with excellent opportunities for good photography. All of us were tired but very satisfied. We slept very well that night. The next morning after breakfast, we departed to our respective destinations.
Photos by Cede Prudente
Text compiled by Arthur Y. C. Chung