LAYANG LAYANG, BORNEO
Pelagic encounters in the South China Sea
Water Temperature: 27-29°C/81-84°F
Diving: Sharks, coral gardens, walls, critter diving, shore diving, boat diving
Can be combined with: Sipadan, Mabul and Kapalai.
In the middle of the South China Sea, 300 kilometres off the north coast of Sabah (East Malaysia) in Borneo, lies the remote coral atoll of Layang Layang. Here, thirteen coral reefs are linked together to form an atoll some 14 square kilometres in extent, yet only one reef breaks the surface of the deep turquoise ocean to form a mere scrap of an island. The island rather surprisingly supports a three-star diving resort, a 1,000-metre runway and a naval base as well as thousands of breeding sea birds! The combination of rich and nutritious ocean currents, the unique off-shore location and the deep water surrounding the atoll makes Layang Layang an exciting destination for pelagic encounters and stunning coral-rich diving.
The finest diving is to be found at the outer fringes of the atoll along the dramatic, coral-festooned, plunging walls. All the dives are slow drifts along the walls. The coral species found on the seaward edge of the atoll are of the Acropora and Porite varieties which have the type of structure which endures the wave action of the open sea. On the reef crest, coral gardens support superb populations of invertebrates with cowries, cone shells and several varieties of nudibranchs (the latter found particularly on ledges or shelves). Huge domes of brain coral, forests of staghorn coral and, at deeper depths, elegant gorgonians, bushes of black coral, sea fans and enormous barrel sponges all add to the diversity of this coral paradise. It is, however, the pelagic encounters that lure adventurous divers to the remote reefs at Layang Layang.
At most dive sites the crests of the reefs can be found at depths of between 5 and 10 metres and D-Wall is no exception to the rule. The pretty coral garden on the reef crest supports an abundance of small, brightly-coloured tropical fish that forage for food amongst the coral. On the wall, at deeper depths, Emperor Angelfish and Coral Groupers trawl the reef while several large ‘snarling’ morays can be found hiding in the crevices. Large schools of elegant Schooling Bannerfish, surgeonfish, jacks and fusiliers are also found in the open water and Manta Ray sightings are not unusual.
There can be few more awesome sights than a school of Scalloped Hammerhead sharks sweeping their weirdly shaped heads backwards and forwards in their search for food and at Gorgonian Forest you are likely to encounter a formation of these startling creatures cruising the open water. Close to the reefs it is possible to find individual hammerheads or maybe come across a Leopard Shark resting on a ledge. At more shallow levels are the ‘forests’ of gorgonians that lend their name to this dive site along with wonderful whirls of whip coral and the rare black coral.
At Dogtooth Lair some divers have described seeing ‘hammerhead wallpaper’ after they have witnessed the sight of weird and fascinating hammerhead silhouettes against a background of deep blue. Here the sometimes fierce currents bring rich nutrients which provide the essential base for the food chain which ends with these mighty sharks. As the name suggests, Dogtooth Tuna are frequently encountered cruising the steep walls.
Diving at Layang Layang can be quite unpredictable due to its off-shore situation but, at its best, the superb visibility and the possibility of exciting pelagic encounters offers the diver some most unusual experiences.
For those wanting the very best chances of seeing schooling hammerheads, we recommend a visit to Layang Layang in April or May. These bizarre-looking sharks can turn up at Layang Layang at any time of year, but for some reason they are consistently recorded within safe sport diving limits between April and May. Even then they can be unpredictable.
COMBINATIONS: Why not extend your holiday in Borneo and combine a visit to Layang Layang with a visit to world famous Sipadan island with its incredible diving and Mabul island with its fascinating ‘macro life’? No intervening night is required in Kota Kinabalu between Layang Layang and Sipadan & Mabul as one can travel between islands during a single day (but only in this direction). Alternatively, why not take in the famous Orang-utan sanctuary at Sepilok near Sandakan on Sabah’s east coast and the awesome bat and swiftlet caves at Gomantong en route to Bukit Malapai Lodge on the Kinabatangan River, set in a jungle area that is home to the strange Proboscis Monkey and numerous forest birds. Talk to us about the possibilities.
FLIGHTS: Prices from about $1350 to Kota Kinabalu from Los Angeles.