A wonderful world beneath the waves

Joe Klakus and friend.

Kenyalang wreck. — Photos by Joe Klakus

Joe Klakus

WHEN one talks about scuba diving in Malaysia, one immediately thinks of Sipidan, Sabah.

A watery surreal scene will appear in front of one’s eyes. Fish swimming in shoals in deep blue water, with a shark probably swimming in a safe distance. And below, there are apparitions of sapphires, diamonds, rubies, and other jewels which are, in fact, live soft corals or normal corals, some of which are just a few years old while others may be hundreds of years old.

But truth be told, a new destination for scuba diving is the coral seas less than 50km from Miri. And, indeed, one can see all these imagined scenes just a few kilometers outside Miri.

Joe Klukas from the UK, a diving instructor now residing in Miri, said: “The coral reefs, in amazing shallow waters, just a few kilometers outside Miri, are pristine, unpolluted and surrounded by clear, almost transparent sea. This area is unexplored, unexploited and still untouched. It’s a dream come true for me when I came here a few months ago. I am glad I am now in Miri, enjoying diving.”

Joe hails from Dorset, England, where as a child, he was already exposed to beautiful seas and the natural environment of the wooded UK.

He has always been enthusiastic about nature and going for excursions and snorkeling.

The diving spots in Miri are excellent because they are near a city and people do not have to travel far to enjoy the sea, the sunset, good food and good social life.

Roy Jok Ngau, a newly-certified diving instructor from Marudi, is full of enthusiasm for his new career.

He is passionate about diving. At just 22, he has a huge dream, and, indeed, is now living that dream — an underwater dream that is.

He has many encouraging things to say about diving just off the Miri coastline.

“You could never imagine the beauty of our water world. You can explore, exploit and touch the coral reefs, swim with the fishes like barracuda and baby sharks. I have seen some sharks in the distance. And every dive I have taken is a thrilling experience. Young people should really consider taking up diving as a professional career. And one care travel to see the world.”
First CocoHouse Dives graduate

Roy is the first local to be trained under CocoHouse Dives in Miri two years ago. He has added advantages because he speaks Mandarin, Bahasa Malaysia and English besides Kayan and Iban.

When Mainland Chinese divers come to Sarawak, Roy will be the one to bring them out diving. Besides, in future, Roy can even go to China to help PADI train more diving instructors.

Roy is a natural, according to his trainers, and he himself feels very ‘comfortable and relaxed underwater’ although when he went out to sea for the first time, he felt seasick and thought that being a diving instructor was not the job for him.

He attended Chinese primary school in Marudi for six years and speaks fluent Mandarin. This helps him secure jobs at different levels but it seems he has now found his dream job.

In 2012, he came under the mentorship of Ross Kelly, general manager of CocoDive. Today, he has a secure professional career.

Rizaldy Tunggang is a new trainee of CocoDive.

He was initially worried about his own capabilities but now enjoys diving. Both he and Roy say diving is ‘very safe’.

Many people tease them about meeting Jaws in the sea but both say Miri waters is very safe. They have seen a few bamboo sharks in the distance and perhaps the most fascinating scene which makes their hearts beat faster is a beautiful shoalof barracudas swimming together — about 100 to 150 of them.

A friend who has gone into hobby-diving in West Malaysia said each time she went diving, she was very happy to be in a ‘special world, imagining Little Mermaid and Sebastian the Red Crab dancing in the water’.

With good diving friends, she really enjoyed another kind of social interaction.

“Very cool indeed,” she enthused.

PADI is the acronym for Professional Association of Diving Instructors. CocoDive is a PADI (International) branch in Miri and associated with Minda Travels. CocoDive is certified five stars and Sarawak’s first ever PADI 5 Star Resort.

PADI Five Star Dive Resorts excel in providing travelling scuba divers with memorable scuba diving experiences, customer satisfaction, scuba diver safety and underwater environmental awareness by providing professional and outstanding service.

Ross Kelly, general manager of CocoDive is from Salisbury, England.

He said Miri should be a totally beautiful diving destination, using Sipidan as a benchmark.

“Although Miri is not yet on the world map, the Miri group is going to make it happen. The coral reefs are beautiful. There are some old rigs which are good to visit. Also a few sunken ships are worth diving to. The Kenyalang wreck, for example, is a brilliant spot for any diver.”
Locals welcome to join

Ross welcomes the local people to join the team. Those who have completed Form Five in any of the schools in Sarawak can come and meet him for information on PADI and their potentials in the diving profession.

Ross is a most encouraging mentor instructor, kind, and enthusiastic.

“I started at Zero and now I feel I am a Hero,” he said.

That is really something a Form Five student still in school should consider. So there is this great opportunity for local
boys and girls to become professional divers before 22. Older people can also join PADI.

According to Ross, a woman, at age 65, joined PADI and has never looked back. One must not feel Scuba diving is a rich man’s club activity, especially if one can become a diving instructor.
Open water diving course

In Miri, one can take scuba diving lessons, experience unparalleled adventure and see the world beneath the waves with CocoDive. Besides, one can undertake the PADI Open Water Diver course — the world’s most popular and widely recognised scuba course.

Millions have learned to scuba dive and gone on to discover the wonders of the aquatic world through this course.

Ross said young children, above eight, could join the SEAL programme. In August this year,a group of young SEALS will start the programme.

All the kids need are adequate swimming skills and good physical health. No prior experience with scuba diving is required.

The CocoDive (Diving) Shop in Miri is located next to the Dynasty Hotel, along the Pujut/Miri Airport Road. It is situated in the CocoHouse, owned by Minda PADI with the world’s largest recreational diving membership. It is a diver training organisation, founded in 1955 by John Cronin and Ralph Erikcson.

Ross is very enthusiastic about the various diving spots in Miri. A video made by a professional for CocoDive is available at the diving shop for anyone interested to learn more about diving or before taking up the challenge.
Diving spots

The nearest dive in Miri is a mere 30 minutes from the Marina Bay jetty — the Anemone Garden which lies at depths from zero to 10 metres. At the site, divers get to see an abundance of anemones and their symbiotic clown fishes.

The Balais Reef with a reef top of about 15 metres, is a photographer’s dream.

The site is an open zoo in the sea with large gorgonian fans spanning over four metres, spread over a 19,000 square
metre complex. Batfishes hover gleefully over outcrops while being serviced by an entourage of cleaner wrasse and shrimps.

And there is another spot known as Siwa Reef where leopard sharks and huge marble rays hang out along the lower reef slopes during the day.

CocoDive has a big boat with two four-stroke Yamaha 200hp outboard engines (the latest model and newest technology). The boat is spacious (35ft x 10ft), specially designed for divers and tourists’ comfort. It can go quite far out to the sea to explore more wonders of Miri’s underwater jungle.

There is no limit in the time of diving. A diver can go out twice a day and perhaps in a year more than 600 times.

Normally, people come around to ask about equipment, wet suits and the like. Ross said all these could be also on loan.

There are many different kinds of diving courses available.

The corals of the Miri coast are compatible to those of the Maldives and Papua New Guinea.

They are rated the most prolific in the world, according to Michael Aw, top underwater photographer.

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