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Scuba diving: Gateway to a new world
Published on: Monday, June 07, 2021
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The underwater world in the marine park just off Kota Kinabalu.
IMAGINE floating in a weightless inner-space, totally at peace and surrounded by a kaleidoscope of colours, rocked by the gentle surge of a wave, listening to the unusual, soothing sounds of life on a coral reef. Well that was what Alex imagined as she started her Padi scuba diving course in preparation for her voyage of ocean discovery. 

Being able to dive and fully immerse herself in the marine world, she thought she would be able to really connect with the people and creatures that depend on the sea as she joined local production company Scubazoo Images to film her latest project: Borneo Ocean Diaries for the free online digital platform - www.scubazoo.tv. But there was a bit more to scuba diving than she bargained for.  

Borneo is surrounded by some of the most diverse coral reefs and marine habitats in the world as it makes up part of the coral triangle. It has an abundance of fish and invertebrate life that often goes unnoticed to most - out of sight out of mind - a saying as old as the hills but more relevant to the ocean realm and all its dependent inhabitants, now more than ever before. 

Apart from fishermen and coastal communities that rely on the life in the ocean for income and food, people may only be aware of what is in the sea by what they buy from wet markets and supermarkets.

 Whilst a wildlife documentary, an occasional trip to the beach or a snorkel in the shallows can give a glimpse to life below the waves, the best way to really appreciate the beauty, diversity and abundance of marine life is to join it on its own terms – by diving in and observing it first hand. 

Local presenter Alex Alexander is on a mission to learn more about the connection between people and the sea in Borneo, so she signed up for her Padi open water course with Mark Hedger, the Padi regional manager for Brunei, Malaysia and Singapore. 

Mark was to be her Cikgu/Shifu/Sifu/Guru/Instructor as she took her first steps into the underwater world and she was keen to find out more about the challenges ahead. Mark explained why he got involved with diving in the first place: 

“It’s a hard decision to make as a teenager for a lifelong career, but I knew I loved the ocean, the sand and the island life from my past family holidays. When an opportunity arose to live in Borneo at 18 years of age and to have a career as a professional scuba diver, I jumped at the chance and never looked back”. 

Is diving for everyone?

People often see diving as a sport or hobby that is very difficult to learn or commit too. But Mark explains it shouldn’t be like that. “Scuba diving is such an easy sport to pick up and it is really family orientated. You can learn to dive in a swimming pool or at the beachside and get your Padi license in a few days after going through the stages of the theory (online/eLearning sessions available too), confined and the open water training dives. 

Living in Malaysia we are really spoilt for choice with near perfect underwater conditions and so many great diving destinations in both Peninsula and East Malaysia and the abundance of marine life here is so richly diverse”. 

But what about the safety aspect? Surely it is not a natural thing to do, heading underwater with a small tank of air strapped to your back? Is it not a huge risk? “I have been diving for over 20 years accident free” says Mark, “seeking out a Padi dive shop to receive proper training is so beneficial in being able to dive safely as during the Padi Open Water course your instructor will teach you all the knowledge and safety skills to dive safely. As a diver it’s your responsibility to adhere to those guidelines.” 

Even at a young age it is possible to learn to be a diver, making it an experience for the whole family. “You can dive as young as 8 years old in the Padi Bubblemaker and Seal Team programs, however to get a Padi open water license the minimum age is 10 years old”, says Mark, who recently introduced both his young sons to the underwater world. 

The plunge!

After completing her training, with Mark at the Borneo Divers Mamutik Padi 5 Star training facility, Alex was ready for her first proper open water boat diving experience.

So, with Mark as her guide, Alex took off around the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park (Tarp), to discover what really lies beneath the waves – and what an experience it was! Swimming along with an endangered hawksbill turtle, one of the true dinosaurs of the ocean, watching a highly venomous, but very placid banded sea snake cruise over the reef in search of food and gliding over reefs teaming with a huge variety of marine life. 

This was something that Alex fell in love with immediately, and encourages more people to go and experience the same themselves. The joy of diving around Borneo is truly breath-taking. 

So what is next for Alex? Now safely qualified as a Padi open water scuba diver, she is on a quest to meet local scientists who study and help to protect the marine environment. Has she got what it takes to head out to sea, joining them on their latest research missions? Tune into Borneo Ocean Diaries every week to follow her adventures!

The new series of Borneo Ocean Diaries will be shown for free on www.scubazoo.tv with the latest episode released on the 7th June 2021. Being available for free, it is hoped that as many people as possible both here in Malaysia as well as around the world will learn about Malaysia, its marine habitat, wildlife and the local scientists that try to make sense of it and protect it. As Alex sums it up “It is very important for every one of us to know and be aware of what is happening to our environment. Be aware and make the right choices.”

Finding Nemo!

 

Alex and Mark after their first open water dive. (Pix courtesy of Scubazoo) 

 

A banded sea snake. 

 

A hawksbill turtle. 

 

"" Conquering fears to dive into the depths of the ocean, only to be greeted by endangered ancient mariners and venomous sea snakes – the excitement startshere! ""

* To see more of Borneo Ocean Diaries, and many other natural history productions, please visit www.scubazoo.tv. Follow Scubazoo on Instagram and Facebook: #scubazoo



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