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PULAU SIBUAN

Ben van Wijnen

Sibuan is so small that you can walk around the island in half an hour. The islet is famous for its beauty even before Sipadan was discovered. Pulau Sibuan is shaped like a teardrop and is about 30 minutes from Semporna. Under the palm trees it is wonderful to stay here for everyone. It appears to have been constructed entirely from the eroded remains of adjacent coral reef. It has a height above sea level of only 1 to 2 meters. Limestone beach rock has formed in several places.
The flat island has a long point of sand that extends almost 100 meters into the sea and is quite shallow at low tide. You can walk to the end and it will look like you are standing in the ocean. In the center of the island is a large area with tall coconut trees and a small village, where about 10 families live.

The coconut trees must be very old, as most are over 10 meters high. There are a few primitive houses here built with leaves and wood overlooking the beach. Some local kids would come to you asking for money. The villagers there live in extreme poverty and do not live in a paradise. They are stateless and not citizens of Malaysia.
They are Bajau Laut, sea nomads, who have been sailing between the islands of the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia for over 1000 years. They spend most of their lives on a boat, including childbirth, and they only come to shore to bury their dead.

The problem is, they didn't own any land, so they don't carry the identity of a country to this day. The Bajau Laut is naturally born with a special ability because they have a body part larger than ours (want to guess what it is?). They can freely dive to great depths (approx. 30 meters) and - hold their breath for 13 minutes. They have been sea people for centuries, so their spleens have evolved to be 50% larger, to be able to supply more oxygen.
Their children cannot attend a Malay school without a nationality, as is customary in Malaysia). So they cannot read and write and will always remain a poor islander. We wish they had access to education, the only hope to improve their livelihood.
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Now you can only help them a little bit by buying coconut juice or seafood from them. The kids seem to enjoy hanging out with tourists. All the young girls wear a whitish mask, a great contrast to their dark skin. Actually, it is borak, a sunscreen paste made from rice powder and turmeric that can prevent sunburn. Sometimes you would see villagers digging a log to make the Boggo boat, a simple hollowed-out boat of 2 to 5 meters in length, mainly used for fishing in shallow seas.
The island is a favorite spot for lunch picnics. It is also known as one of the most picturesque islands in Tun Sakaran Marine Park, due to its largely pristine conditions. There are eight islands in this marine park. On the other side of the island is a military outpost protecting the tourists. It is not allowed to take pictures there. And flying a drone is prohibited on Sibuan (just like on many islands near Semporna). Please note that apart from a small and smelly toilet in the middle of Sibuan, there are no restaurant and other facilities in Sibuan. Bring your food and water, if you want to spend several hours on this island.

The sea all around has beautiful coral reefs and the clear waters offer glimpses of colorful tropical fish swimming among them. The island is surrounded by silvery beaches and the coral reef-filled waters break with sunlight and change fantastic colors. If you go to the island you must snorkel, there are colorful tropical fish. You will find pygmy seahorses, frogfish, mandarin fish, nudibranchs, crocodile fish, lion fish and scorpion fish.
Whether you choose to come here for snorkeling, diving or picnicking, you will find that Sibuan is really hard to beat in terms of beauty and underwater splendor .

Sibuan is 30 minutes by boat from Semporna , 25 minutes from Pom Pom , 35 minutes from Mataking and 1.5 hours from Mabul.

     

 

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