HIS­TORY

Va­cat­ing Si­padan

Asian Diver (English) - - News -

As the only oceanic is­land in the whole of Malaysia, Si­padan is famed for its un­par­al­leled un­der­wa­ter beauty. To­day, it is one of the top five dive des­ti­na­tions in the world, but it faced great ad­ver­si­ties be­fore be­com­ing the par­adise that it is to­day.

1982

BEAU­TI­FUL SIDAPAN

Be­fore Si­padan be­came known as a dive des­ti­na­tion, its beaches were clean, the wa­ter was pris­tine, and marine life thrived. A group of divers vis­ited its waters for the first time, and upon dip­ping their heads un­der the wa­ter, they couldn’t be­lieve their eyes.

“I thought I was div­ing in an aquar­ium!” Cle­ment Lee, co-founder of Bor­neo Divers ex­claimed. “We must have found our fu­ture, our fu­ture in Si­padan.”

1983

THE PI­O­NEERS OF SI­PADAN IS­LAND

Bor­neo Divers, founded by Cle­ment Lee, Randy Davis, the late Ron Hol­land, and Sam­son Shak, moved to Si­padan Is­land. At this time, dy­na­mit­ing was dam­ag­ing the corals and reef walls of Si­padan, but thank­fully, this stopped when Bor­neo Divers ar­rived.

“When the last ocean is abused and poi­soned, the last coral dev­as­tated and dam­aged, and the last fish eaten, you will find that money can­not be eaten”

– Anony­mous

1988

CAP­TAIN JAC­QUES COUSTEAU

Al­most by chance, the late Cap­tain Jac­ques Cousteau vis­ited Si­padan af­ter his ship ac­ci­den­tally sailed into its waters. Upon see­ing Si­padan’s beauty, Cousteau asked his crew to film the is­land, there­after pro­duc­ing the doc­u­men­tary Bor­neo: The Ghost of the Sea Tur­tle. It was af­ter this visit that Cap­tain Cousteau said the now-fa­mous quote, “I have seen other places like Si­padan, 45 years ago, but now, no more. Now, we have found again an un­touched piece of art. “

1989–2002

HU­MAN PRES­SURE

Thanks to Cousteau’s visit to Si­padan, the is­land be­came a pop­u­lar dive des­ti­na­tion. There were now six op­er­a­tors on the is­land, with 300 to 400 peo­ple oc­cu­py­ing it.

The hu­man pres­sure on the is­land was tremen­dous, as not all dive op­er­a­tors were adopt­ing sus­tain­able mea­sures. Dives were held day and night, giv­ing the marine flora and fauna lit­tle to no time to re­cu­per­ate.

2002

SI­PADAN GIVEN TO MALAYSIA

Mean­while, the is­land was at the cen­tre of a ter­ri­to­rial dis­pute be­tween In­done­sia and Malaysia. An ad­ju­di­ca­tion be­fore the In­ter­na­tional Court of Jus­tice awarded the is­land to Malaysia, to­gether with Lig­i­tan is­land.

2003

RE­QUEST TO VA­CATE

With this ver­dict, the Sabah state gov­ern­ment asked all dive op­er­a­tors to va­cate the is­land af­ter re­quests for some­thing to be done about the de­grad­ing reefs.

2004

SI­PADAN WAS VA­CATED

On De­cem­ber 31, 2004, Si­padan was va­cated and the op­er­at­ing re­sorts moved to the neigh­bour­ing is­lands of Mabul and Ka­palai, where the re­sorts would con­duct day trips to Si­padan.

2006

GET A PER­MIT

Now un­der Sabah Parks, a per­mit sys­tem was im­posed, al­low­ing only a max­i­mum of 120 divers per day. These 120 per­mits were di­vided among 12 reg­is­tered op­er­a­tors. Night dives were com­pletely banned to al­low the marine life to re­cu­per­ate and rest at night.

2012

ALEXAN­DRA COUSTEAU VIS­ITS SI­PADAN

Eight years af­ter Si­padan was va­cated, Alexan­dra Cousteau, Jac­ques Cousteau’s grand­daugh­ter, vis­ited the is­land on her trav­els as a Na­tional Geo­graphic ex­plorer. Com­par­ing what she saw to the scenes in the doc­u­men­tary cre­ated by her late grand­fa­ther, she re­marked, “[Si­padan] is still the same [now] as it was then. The abun­dance is still as it was then. It is in­deed the most beau­ti­ful place I have been [to]. It is 10 out of 10. It is re­ally a rev­e­la­tion... I have never seen so many healthy corals, so many tur­tles and so many fishes.”

IMAGES: Cle­ment Lee

ABOVE: A bird’s-eye view of Si­padan is­land, Dr Michael WongIM­AGE:OP­PO­SITE PAGE TOP: Cle­ment meet­ing the late Jac­ques CousteauFrom left to right: Datuk Yeo Boon Hai, Cle­ment Lee, Jac­ques Cousteau, Randy Davis and Sa­som ShakOP­PO­SITE PAGE BOT­TOM:

IMAGES: Cle­ment Lee IM­AGE: Michael Wong

TOP LEFT: Cle­ment Lee ex­plor­ing the waters of Si­padan is­landTOP MID­DLE: Bor­neo Divers now con­ducts day trips to Si­padanTOP RIGHT: Cle­ment and Alexan­dra Cousteau when she vis­ited the is­landLEFT: A group of divers pre­par­ing to en­ter the waters of Si­padan be­fore it was va­cated

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