Kakaban, Primordial Sea

White's Deahorse (Hippocampus whitei)Story by Michael Aw & Chris Lee. Photo by Michael Aw.

Drawing a deep breath, I dive into a primordial sea. My vision opens to a sea of jellies swimming gracefully in a green aquaria, visibility remaining clear at 5m as long as I am careful not to touch bottom and stir up the silt accumulated over the last 19,000 years. Beneath me, endemic gobies that live only in this aquaria are feeding on shifting sands while snow white colored anemones are devouring careless jellyfish. I swim, passing through horde of medusas that have lost their stinging cells many eons ago. All around a milieu of tall mangroves with legs thicker than my arm fringe the shore. I surface to break the reflection of trees and puffy cumulous-clouded sky on the tranquil ancient sea. I am exploring the land-locked lake of Kakaban, a small limestone island in the Makassar Strait that separates Indonesian Borneo (Kalimantan) from the spider shaped island of Sulawesi.

Kakaban Island, one of the Berau group of islands, as the crow flies, is about 1000 nautical miles north of Balipakpan, the hub of Kalimantan's oil industry. Accessed from resorts on nearby resorts on Sangalaki and Derawan, the trek into the jungle is not difficult, but somehow a wetsuit doesn't seem like appropriate jungle trekking attire!

The 5 square-kilometre lake, surrounded by a 50-metre ridge, occupies most of the interior of this uninhabited island, which has been declared a government nature reserve. From the surface, Kakaban looks like a typical freshwater lake, but below there is an abundance of colorful marine life. The lake is teeming with at least 4 species of stingless jelly fish including one of an upside down species of Cassiopea (possibly Cassiopea xamachana). About three species of Halimeda green algae cover the botom, and mangrove roots live side by side with tunicates, sponges, tube worms, bihalves, crustacean, anemones, sea cucumbers, sea snakes and at least five known species of gobies. Unidentified species are in abundance.

Diving info: Contact Derawan Dive Resort: or Sangalaki Dive Lodge www.sangalaki.net

Michael Aw's website: www.michaelaw.com

This article was originally published in Scubadiver Australasia

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