One of the richest single destinations for exotic marine life anywhere in the world, Mabul Island was the perfect destination to complete my time in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. I was still high from AWE ’14, so we head to the east coast of Borneo to unwind (and celebrate my birthday!) for a few days before leaving Sabah for good.
Even though Kota Kinabalu, or KK as what locals call it affectionately, has been my home for last seven months, I didn’t see much of Sabah, the state KK is in. But I wasn’t going to leave here without seeing the famous east coast. Mabul is a small island near the Sipadan, one of the 10 best diving spots in the world. Mabul is a bit easier to reach than Sipadan, and there are resorts to stay. To get to Mabul, we flew into Tawau (50-minute flight from KK) and took a tourist bus to Semporna (1 – 1.5 hour). It takes about 45 minutes to 1 hour to get to Mabul by boat from Semporna.
Mabul offered many different faces. The underwater world is enchanting. I’ve never seen anything like this before. This area is home for endangered sea turtles, rays, and sharks. We encountered more than 10 sea turtles at once while snorkeling. There are countless types of fish underwater. Especially I loved seeing nudibranchs. They live in a wonderful harmony. There’s no doubt that this place is a one of a kind. But what’s above the water is a bit different. Mabul Island has been a home to Bajau Laut and Suluk tribes, well known as sea gypsies. Stilt villages are all around the island. Most of them are fishermen, but some are working in tourism with their boats and stilt houses.
I was in awe of Mabul Island’s beauty, but it made me sad at the same time. In some way we were intruding their turf, but they weren’t taking good care of the nature either. Trash is a big problem in Mabul. Non-biodegradable materials are found everywhere not only near the shore, but also underwater between corals. We went for a beach clean session and filled 15 garbage bags within just 2 square-meter area. Diapers, clothes, plastic bags, toys, broken glass bottles, cans, etc. I think the nomadic-locals took the meaning of ‘home’ too literal. Besides of hunting of the exotic animals, these marine creatures have lots of obstacles. Especially plastics are a great treat. For example, sea turtles often ingest plastic bags because it can be easily mistaken for jellyfish. It sits in the stomach, slows turtles down, and eventually causes starvation.
Being in Mabul for two days gave me ecstasies and sadnesses. For both reasons, Mabul is definitely a meaningful place to visit. Go diving to enjoy this unique marine life, participate in beach clean, and walk around the stilt villages.
Have you been to Mabul? What did you think, and experience?