Derawan is a 33 ha island lying off the coast of Kalimantan, and with the islands of Sangalaki and Kakaban, make up an interesting dive area in Indonesian Borneo. Each of the islands has its own distinct features.  


Sangalaki is a tiny limestone speck about 50 minutes by speed boat South-East of Derawan. It is surrounded by gently sloping coral gardens, and has the right mixture of currents and topography to attract the manta rays, which cruise near the surface. It is said that anywhere from a dozen to a hundred are practically guaranteed on a dive. Reefs extend out to about 600 metres from the shore. It is possible to spend time swimming among the mantas, including the unusual all-black mantas found at Sangalaki. They will come so close to you, providing you don’t move out of the way, that you will be able to feel the pressure wave as their wings brush past. Along Sangalaki’s shallow banks are some lush coral gardens which also teem with marine life. There is no evidence of the dynamite fishing damage which is commonplace in other areas of Indonesia. The reef is exceptionally healthy and the diversity of invertebrates is outstanding. Dive sites include:

  • MANTA POINT Gently sloping patch reef frequented by manta rays. These giants, some with wing spans as great as 3.5 metres, fly in graceful circles while feeding in the current line, so they can be seen up close by snorkellers as well as divers.

Kakaban is 10 minutes from Sangalaki. It is ringed by deep ocean, producing current swept walls decorated with gorgonian fans and twisted sponges, which make for thrilling drift dives. The currents at Kakaban can be strong and capricious – rushing along the walls, upwelling, downwelling, and reversing direction at any moment. The boat, however, will always be there to fetch you when you surface. The most famous spot on Kakaban is Barracuda Point, where there is an ever-present swarm of several hundred toothy silver predators. There is also a shallow sloping wall and reef sites sheltering masses of fish life, including anthias and fusiliers dancing above forests of antler coral. In the middle of the island is a huge salt water lake filled with non-stinging jelly fish. Snorkelling among these creatures in the two metre visibility is a bit creepy, but definitely worth a visit. Marine biologists have also found a number of unknown species of anemones, tunicates and crustaceans in the lake. Dive sites include:

  • BARRACUDA POINT Currents bring huge schools of surgeons, snappers, trevally, whitetip sharks and barracuda (of course). A grab line has been permanently secured at 24 metres across a relatively flat area on the upcurrent side of the point.
  • BLUE LIGHT CAVE In addition to an awesome wall, this is also the site of a deep cave for properly trained and guided divers only. The system starts on the top of the wall at 2 metres and descends through a narrow chimney to a massive, pitch black room at 30 metres. There are two exits onto the wall, one at 44 metres and another at 60 metres.
  • TANJUNG POINT Vertical wall with sloping sand chutes on the edge of the reef top. Drift at any comfortable depth viewing everything from lacy nudibranchs to huge sea fans and twisted sponges.

Small Scorpionfish found on the deck of the Cement Wreck


Derawan sometimes suffers from reduced visibility, but has a diversity of marine life to hold one’s interest, including even the most jaded diver – huge lavender seafans, cuttlefish, which pose for photographers, green sea turtles, flat worms and nudibranchs galore, unusual tube anemones, blue-ribbon eels and multi-coloured crinoids. Some of the best diving can be had in the 5 m of water at the end of the Derawan pier, where you will find many of the common Pacific sea creatures – anemonefish, lion and fire fish, puffers, anthias, turtles and schools of batfish, and rarities such as tiny scorpionfish, pipefish, seahorses, green mantis shrimp, squid and many other nudibranchs and tunicates.

Dive sites include:

  • BLUE TRIGGER WALL Aptly named for hundreds of blue juvenile red-tooth triggers which wriggle into holes in the wall as divers float by. Wall begins at 18 metres.
  • SEA GARDEN Shallow (10 metres) reef with very healthy coral and little current. Many varieties of flatworms and nudibranchs, ribbon eels, large blennies and anemones.

The Sangalaki group is an instinctual breeding and nesting ground for green sea turtles. They have also been the centre of a lucrative local enterprise – turtle egg collecting. Each night on Derawan, Sangalaki and other nearby islands, mature female turtles drag their 90 kg bodies up the beach, leaving distinct bulldozer like trails in the sand. Once they reach an appropriate nesting site, digging begins. The exhausting process of flinging sand with front flippers and pushing with the hind ones continues for hours, until the nest is just the right size. An average of 70 eggs are deposited, carefully covered with sand, before they return to the sea. The eggs hatch in about two months and the infants head for the ocean. An estimated 2 per cent survive to maturity, returning 20 years later to mate and lay their eggs on the same beach. Turtle watching is a favourite evening pastime for divers visiting Derawan, but strict rules are enforced to avoid disturbing the turtles. Observers must watch in silence at a respectful distance without shining a light on the labouring female. Villagers who used to earn a living poaching the eggs, now earn a living and help preserve the species by hatching, raising and releasing juvenile turtles.

Thanks to Linda Lee Walden and Sport Diving Magazine for assistance in compiling the above information. Cover copyright to Derawan Dive Resort