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Day 7 |
Jul 13, 2010

Kakaban Island

By Malcolm Turner, Naturalist
00 08.95 S 118 30.77 E
Air Temperature:
1010 hPa
Weather: lightly overcast and then sunny
Wind: 10 knot E

Kakaban Island appeared as a green jewel on a blue sea and what a gem of a location it proved to be. It is an up-raised coral atoll. Eons ago a coral reef formed around a volcanic island. The volcanic rock eroded away and the coral reef was up-thrust by Earth movements.
The old reef is now a hilly ring of limestone. On the outside a new coral fringing reef has formed. But it is the inside that makes this island so special. It is a lake of seawater cut off from the ocean with only a small amount of sea water percolating through the limestone with the tides.We gently snorkelled in this bizarre lake without our fins -to avoid stirring up silt or damaging marine life. The staggering thing was the jellyfish gently pulsing all around us. There were stingless Papuan jellyfish with bells and large clumps of algae-filled tentacles in a variety of sizes. There were up-side-down jellyfish lying on the lake floor and a very delicate transparent bell with trailing edge tentacles. There was also other marine life including small sea cucumbers, crabs, a starfish and several types of fish. My major highlight was seeing and photographing the unusual and hard to find mangrove file snake. This tiny aquatic snake is not a true sea-snake but it does thrive in mangrove waters feeding on small fish.

I am always amazed at the capacity of raised coral atolls to support rainforest vegetation as this island did. There is virtually no soil and the roots were snaking along the rocky surface before delving into cracks. In these forests 90% of the nutrients are in the standing trees. Each dropped leaf or tree trunk decomposes and produces nutrients that are efficiently gobbled up by the surrounding trees.

After most guests had been wowed by the lake (or in a couple of cases freaked by the feel of the harmless jellyfish) we spent lots of time exploring diverse fringing reef. This area is the heart of the Coral Triangle so the diversity of coral was impressive. So was the live coral cover which I estimated at 90% the reef edge. This is exceptional. Branching and large plate corals were dominating. Fish life was also plentiful and varied, particularly with surgeon fish and butterfly fish. I had great views of a mature Hawksbill Turtle as it cruised the drop-off of the reef. Many guests spent hours in the water and/or enjoyed viewing the coral through the windows of the Silver Discoverer's glass bottom boat, while Brad explained the wonders of the reef to them.

It was a busy day on the remote and normally quiet island as it was a public holiday in Indonesia and boatloads of locals from islands nearby had come over to observe the reef and lake too. They were obviously not local fishing villagers but rather town people. It was good to see them looking with wonder like our guests and not harvesting the reef.

Back on board it was time for lunch, relax and watch flying fish as we steamed north. To prepare guests for the jungle ahead on the Kinabatangan River two lectures were presented. Malcolm covered the birds and mammals with 'Weird and Wonderful; fur and feathers of Borneo'. Greg followed with 'Snakes, scales and other tales' covering the incredible reptile diversity of the Borneo.
Bring it on.

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