The last reef in Sarawak?

Kuching bay underwater

Before taking off across the S China Sea, we anchored out near the western point of Sarawak to give ourselves an easy, early morning departure. It also happened to be a spot with, shockingly, a sweet little reef to explore. We’ve gotten used to being anchored in a marine park while local boats actively fish around us (including park rangers!?), so this was something of a pleasant surprise.

Here in Sarawak, Malaysia, overfishing and negligent fishing practices have devastated most reef environments. Despite the pretty pictures, this one was not healthy. There were no fish bigger than about 12″, and not a single shark- hallmarks for healthy reefs. But the diversity of corals and other marine life was good, as you’d hope near the edge of the Coral Triangle region.

We anchored near a small island with a turtle hatchery project to spend the afternoon. Jamie and I worked on getting barnacles off the bottom of Totem so they wouldn’t slow us down on our passage to Tioman. We had several knots of current, which made the bottom work exceptionally tiring. I had to hang onto a line so that when I came up from underneath I could hang at the surface and recover- it was impossible to really catch my breath if I had to keep kicking into the current just to stay in one place.

Meanwhile, Claire hit the reef and found many fishy friends, so with a smoother hull we went to join her. It’s no Raja Ampat, but it was surprisingly lovely and intact. She had just been diving over in Sabah near Sipidan, on the NE side of Malaysian Borneo: over there, you can still see lots of turtles, massive schools of fish, beautiful reef forms, even some sharks. She insisted this was still pretty cool. We were just so happy to have her with us!

Claire's here!

I of course cannot get over my fixation on anemonefish. So dang cute with their little grumpy faces. Love the colors of anemone this group is hanging out in.

Kuching bay underwater

I think this is a type of bubble coral, but I don’t know. It was absolutely gorgeous, and there were a few clusters in a few different colors scattered around the reef.

Kuching bay underwater

Beautiful coral forms.

Kuching bay underwater

Niall has become quite the freediver. He can get down and hang well enough to grab photos like this of the fans that tend to be happier with more depth.

Kuching bay underwater

My favorite moment was spotting a flatworm on the bottom. Here it is in my palm: how adorable is this tiny thing? I can’t believe I managed to see it, to be honest.


We’ve been given the moniker of The Happy Family by our friend Brian on the MV Furthur. Sometimes I think it should be The Snorkeling Family.

This all unfolded was about the same time we started getting those “first day of school” pictures from friends at home… somehow, this little island felt like the perfect classroom for our little learners. I guess you could say this is our first day not back at school.

Kuching bay days

9 Responses

  1. Too cool! So glad to see you enjoying the diving and all. We have yet to get out to the reef here, but they tell me it is fantastic and very healthy. We talk mostly with the local fishermen around here for information on the reef. It will be interesting to see the reef first hand.
    Looking forward to getting a sailboat down here. 🙂

  2. OK, we’re marina-mates with Bruce and Tammy. Here’s some answers for you, for your photos:

    As you noted, the top photo is an anemone fish, commonly called a clownfish, this one’s a Tomato Clown. It’s in an anemone – not sure the species, but probably a Ritteri. Next photo is you. Next is another with clownfish in another anemone. These are either Percula, or False Percs, Ocellaris species. “Nemo”s. Next photo is of a Euphylia, commonly called a Hammer Coral. They are LPS or Large Polyped Stoney Corals. The next is an Acroporia coral, a type of SPS or Small Polyped Stoney Coral. Both of these corals are easily farmed. Next, which are commonly called Sea Fans, are a Gorgonian coral. You can see their polyps when up close. These corals all are polyped corals, and have photosynthetic bacteria living symbiotically inside the coral’s polyps. The following picture is a Nudibranch. They are essentially shell-less mollusks. Bill, S/V “Merlin”, Macintosh 47.

    1. Hi Bill, thank you for that great info! You know a lot about corals- do you have any tips / resources / books to help us with coral ID? We’d love to do better. And you are right on re: that Gorgonian, you could see lots of little polyps up close. I am pretty sure the last pic is a flatworm, it’s missing what I think of as distinctive nudibranch features? Thanks for your help!

  3. Hi,

    The coral you called a bubble coral is of the Euphyllia genus. It could be Euphyllia ancora (anchor or hammer coral, so-called because the tentacles have anchor or hammer like shapes) or maybe Euphyllia parancora (which is similar but has a more branching or tree-like growth to its base).

    The latin name for ritteri anemone is Heteractis magnifica. They are incredible anemones and can grow to impressive sizes. I saw one once that was nearly 30″ across!

    1. Thanks Tony! Can you point me to any good resources for coral ID? We’d like to understand what we’re seeing a little better. Anemones too for that matter. Wow, 30″, that’s big!

  4. Looks like a really cool little reef, I’m craving some decent snorkeling, it’s been way too long. Have examined your google map, was it by the island Pulau Satang Besar? We might just do the same when we hopefully get down there in a few weeks.

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