Friday, March 8, 2013

Explore the marine life at the Swallow Reefs

Malaysia is home to many diverse habitats and ecosystems, like the dense rainforests of Peninsular and Eastern Malaysia, the thick mangrove swamps of Sarawak and the warm tropical waters of the South China Sea that teem with much marine life. It is this rich marine life that draws divers and marine enthusiasts to Palau Layang Layang, an atoll consisting  of thirteen interconnected coral reefs which is situated off the coast of Borneo, 300 km North West of Kota Kinabalu near the famous Spratly  group of islands.
Layang Layang Island is a man-made marvel that was built by the Malaysian government for its navy in 1985.  The island soon came to be christened as ‘Terumbu Layang Layang’ or ‘Swallow’s Reef’, after the numerous swallows that were spotted resting on the island’s rocks. These barn swallows belong to the group of the many migratory birds that frequent the islands of the South China Sea annually.
Layang Layang Island, which today hosts a somewhat rustic dive resort, attracts divers from far and wide for the island is surrounded by waters that abound with rich marine life. In fact the many nooks and crannies of this relatively small atoll encompass some of the best diving spots in the world so much so the island is often called a ‘Big fish and Wall diving Mecca of South East Asia’ where the wall refers the island’s reef wall which dips 2000 meters down to the ocean floor.
The coral gardens of the reefs surrounding Layang Layang Island are truly virgin and are thought to be the healthiest reefs in Malaysia, for they are untouched by fishing and devoid of any pollution. The visibility of the cerulean waters of the reefs is known to extend as far as forty meters, and thus they are extremely attractive to divers, eager to the glimpse the many wonders that lie beneath the sea.
The lagoon is also known to host several fascinating creatures like seahorses, pipefish and turtles. However, it is the pelagic fish like hammerhead sharks, leopard sharks, grey reef sharks, manta rays, hawksbill turtles and the silvertip sharks which are the biggest attractions of this underwater kingdom.
The best time to visit to Layang Layang Island is during the months of April and May when you are almost guaranteed a sighting of the scalloped hammerheads who head towards the outer walls of the reef to mate. However, the months between September and February are also considered to be a good time to visit, for during this period, the waters around the island abound with frolicking bottle nose dolphins.
Popular dive sites in and around Layang Layang include D’Wall considered to be a prime spot for viewing the hammerheads, the Dogtooth Lair which is home to large dogtooth tuna and schools of barracuda and the Gorgonian forest, which apart from being a viewing site for the famed hammerheads, also hosts pretty orange and yellow gorgonian fans  along with schools of stunningly beautiful fish like pyramid butterfly fish, unicorn fish and redtooth triggerfish amongst others.

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