July – September 2011
PADI Divemaster Journey – Part 3
Tioman Island, Malaysia
For every diver, once the sense of balance, or neutral buoyancy has become almost second nature, the next step or most ‘wanted’ task is “GOING PRO”. The first step in going PADI-Pro is the esteemed title of PADI Divemaster. Joining the elite group of PADI Professionals worldwide, an estimated 160,000 only is a privilege like no other. In fact, crossing over the Divemaster step is so much more physically demanding and rewarding than going on to the next level, PADI OWSI (Open Water Scuba Instructor). For most who take the decision and the step to go pro, doing the Divemaster course is a full-time activity. Some who have the facility to be living close to dive shops and dive site have the ultimate leisure of being able to do the course over a long period of time, during weekends.
Taking the Divemaster internship at Sealantis was a good choice as the east cost side of Tioman is where most of the dive spots are and also the closest. Most spots are within a 45 minutes ‘slow’ boat ride, while some dive shops use speedboats which take roughly half the time. Irrespective of which part of the island you stay, the dive spots you will go to are more or less the same. There are many dive site maps online, the one I have used is at the Sealantis wall.
On top of the list is Renggis island. Situated just opposite Berjaya resort and midway between Paya Beach and Tekek village, Renggis island is a small circular island roughly about 200 mts from the beach. Being the number one dive spot in Tioman, it is almost packed with atleast 4-5 snorkeling boats during weekends. Average depth around the island is about 14 mts on the sea facing side and around 7 mts on the beach side. The visibility is usually very good, with large amount of aquatic life. Common sightings are moray eels, bat fish, butterfly fish, spotted sting rays, puffer fish, parrot fish and lizard fish. There have been sightings of small black tip sharks and 2 sightings of baby whale sharks. The corals are very colourful and extend over a large area around the island. Sometimes there is a bit of current both on the surface and sometimes at the bottom. Renggis also has a sort of underwater play park where you can test your neutral buoyancy skills swimming through the scaffolding like structure. There are some cuttle-fish or squids that can been sighted if you are lucky as I was, and its truly remarkable to watch the squid change its colour instantaneously. You may have read about it and watched it on television, but seeing happening right in front of you is simply breath-taking. Even as it moves over the different coloured corals, its whole body not only changes the colour, but also its texture changes mimicking the surroundings. And all in seconds, truly amazing. Renggis is one site where you will certainly do quite a number of dives, ideal of new students and very good for watching aquatic life. Irrespective of the number of dives you will do here, every dive is still great and Renggis is beautiful as ever.
Next on the list is the Marine Park at Tekek jetty point, the must-do spot for the boat loads of snorkelers flocking to it like bees to honey. The reason for its popularity is that it is just off the jetty there, so once you reach there from your location on the island, you can take a short walk to Tekek village, the main commercial area of the island with good restaurants and souvenir shops. Another reason is that since its just off the beach, there is a slow gradual descent of the sea floor and crsytal clear waters at most times. Years of fish feeding also has ensured that there is always a large abundance of varieties of fishes nibbling away at the bread crumbs being thrown to them with wild abandon. Snorkelers can really enjoy the feeling of being inside a large aquarium with fishes of all sizes crowding around. There are a couple of platforms tied down by sinkers which provides as a nice resting point for swimmers and snorkelers alike.
For scuba divers, apart from being closer to all the fishes at the platforms, the sea floor further drops down as you go westwards, and after a short distance, you come to the Marine Park dive site. There are supposedly more than 11 large boat wrecks there, at varying depths, all purposely scuttled by the authorities to create the wreck site. These were confiscated illegal Indonesian and Thai fishing boats supposedly. However, it is not easy to find these wrecks, and even with a compass, I could find it on my own only the third time. The first wreck can be reached by following one of the lines from the maze of lines that criss-cross the floor, at a depth of 18 mts. There are 2 wrecks next to each other and swimming between them and further east, you will come to the third wreck at 21 mts. Swimming further eastwards, at around 24 mts, 2 more wrecks will appear in the haze. Visibility is not very good, around 3-4 mts only at this depth, so care should be taken to stick together and only experienced divers should go to this level. The other wrecks are all splattered across the floor in different directions and even with an experienced instructor, its quite impossible to cover more than 3-4 wrecks on a single dive. The aquatic life consists of the usual Tioman inhabitants, but here you also have the troublesome remoras at depths of 10-15 mts. They can be quite a pain, specially if you are wearing a shorty, and you can be sure atleast one or 2 of them would have hitched a ride on your tank at some point. If you are lucky, there are really large spotted sting rays and moray eels hiding in the interiors of the wrecks.
Most of the sea floor is sandy bottom with hardly any kind of corals or other life. While the sand is quite barren, it also hides a lot of dangers. Divers, specially beginners have to be very careful and try to keep away from stepping on anything without careful scrutiny. In one of my dives, I was assisting a student diver at a dept of about 9 mts, on the shallower side, and my knees brushed the sandy bottom. I felt a sharp pain, like something had poked on my inside knee area, and looking down I saw something that resembled a tiny sea shell, and then as I bent down to take a closer look, it moved and swam away, sending a shiver down my spine. I knew instantly (or so I thought) it was a stone fish or something from that family, as I could clearly see the spines on it back. Quickly, I looked at the spot where it had nicked my leg, and I could see a tiny discoloration. Immediately, I squeezed as hard as I could all around and I could see a green slimy fluid come out of the cut. I continued to squeeze till all the fluid had oozed out and the blood started to flow out. Going back to the surface and the boat, I cleaned the wound first with fresh water, and then vinegar, which my instructor, Funny, always carried in her first aid box. It could have easliy been a stone fish or scorpion fish, but looking back at the colours and after referring to many sites, I concluded it was a tiny wasp fish, though venomous, its not fatal as the scorpion fish. Thankfully, I did not have any other symptoms of a venomous sting, and was very relieved that there was no swelling or any further pain. Funny later on corrected me that it probably was not a stone fish, but just a shelled fish, and blood looks green at that depth due to the light spectrum change underwater. The incident further reinforced my respect for the aquatic life, and never to touch anything in the sea, unless you are absolutely sure and well protected and it is of absolute necessity, like for eg., if you have to hold on to something in the event of a strong current, or to relax, if you are getting too tired.
Further up north is the dive site Soyak island , the favorite spot of the dive shops from Salang. Almost a replica of Renggis in terms of setting, Soyak is also just off the beach at Salang bay. Although a similar small island, the sea floor around Soyak is quite different from Renggis. There is not so much widespread variety of corals, as the floor is quite rocky. There are quite a number of nudibranchs clinging on the rock faces, some of them not the commonly seen variety. Other uncommon sightings include the beautiful but dangerous lion fish. I was also lucky to have my first ever sighting of a scorpion fish there. Deadly and very, very lethal, this scorpion fish was about the size of my fist, and laying still perfectly camouflaged in a brilliant mix of red, orange, yellow shades, impossible to spot. The keen eyes of a lady diver, Dila, spotted the thin line of the mouth of the fish, and then the eyes gave it away. It was truly amazing and terrifying at the same time, the beauty of the colours and the knowledge that just a scratch, and the venom from its lethal 13 spines on its dorsal fins is said to be very, very painful and sometimes fatal. Sadly, we did not carry a camera on that dive to record its brilliance. Sea urchins, anemones are in abundance here and also, sea worms are particular only to this dive site. Different varieties of them can be seen in between the large boulders, one of them jelly fish like, translucent whitish, swaying in the current as they nibble out the soft corals. Quite a remarkable dive site, Soyak is not easy to forget because of its variety of aquatic life. The current on the surface can be quite notorious at times, as we found out on one of our dives. Going down, there was hardly a ripple, 45 minutes later, coming up, we were in the midst of 6 ft swells tossing us about even as we clambered aboard the boat. Even our very experienced instructor, Funny, was caught unawares, and had a little cut on the side of her head where she had hit herself on the boat ladder, when she was tossed up by the surge.