Apr 24, 2012

Pulau Bidong’s Time to Shine

Everyone knows Redang? nobody’s heard of her ugly sister Pulau Bidong. But that may be about to change.
If dive sites were beauty pageants, Pulau Redang would be Miss Malaysia. Few sites compare with her pristine, colourful coral. Perhaps the crowds are the only complaint about the place.
But question is, what else is there to see besides the coral?
Enter Redang’s sister island — an Ugly Betty that’s ready to grab a little bit of attention — Pulau Bidong.
Located just 25 minutes southeast of Redang, this island is known in Malaysian history as the site of a refugee camp from 1978 to 1991. Nowadays, it is increasingly on the radar as a muck dive destination.
Redang has the corals and the pelagics but Bidong is where you go for muck diving.
underwater41 Visiting Bidong Island
Here, you get to enjoy all the conveniences of Redang, but you just need to venture out a bit further.
It’s like a special room in the home that children don’t have access to.
Our first stop was Heritage Reef, a sandy-bottom site that epitomises the “muck” in muck diving. Aptly, this being our first dive, we were greeted underwater by a huge arch built in the traditional Malay style. A couple more structures sat not far away, together giving the site its heritage moniker.
underwater31 Visiting Bidong Island
A healthy layer of coral was already cloaking the structures and attracting fish of all kinds. We stayed around long enough to spot pufferfish and angelfish in the vicinity. Luckily we had Berjaya’s resident course director, K. S. Toh, to guide us. We finned further on as the water took on a pea-soup quality.
I wandered if there was anything else to see. Then the first of several large boats came into view. Silent and hulking, they were in good condition structurally and coated with coral of all kinds. A few batfish hovered over the bow of the third boat and followed us curiously.
Clown fish are always a hit. - VINCENT TOH
It was a little strange surfacing atop all these boats. Just in front of Heritage Reef were the remnants of the refugee camp, making me wonder just what the word “heritage” was alluding to. As the sun shone down hard on us, we drifted south.
After the requisite surface interval, we dove towards Midway Reef. Although another muck dive that lacked coral, the site was teeming with marine life. We practically bottomed out at 14m over a huge blue-spotted stingray whose eyes popped out eerily from the sand in which it was buried. It darted away at lightning speed.
Further on, Toh kept prodding a piece of rock in the seabed until it stirred to life. Out popped the legs of a hermit crab.
Our third dive was just off the UMT (Universiti Malaysia Terengganu) research centre which is currently undergoing expansion. A hard bed of coral finally stood out as we took a shallow dive. The bed is often carpeted by staghorn coral, brain coral and potato coral.
A mild current lifted us on an effortless drift. Among the marine life on parade were parrotfish, squirrelfish, a large moray eel and a couple of stonefish.
By the end of the day, we were a little tired and looking forward to our trip back to the jetty. Bidong has its fair share of unique underwater structures, but the fact that it provides muck diving opportunities adds a new dimension to the Redang experience, which is famous for coral. You still get all the land amenities and travel options available to Redang itself. So really, you get the best of both worlds.
Long overlooked for being an Ugly Betty, Bidong looks like it’s finally going to get her fair share of the limelight in the years to come

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