An Island Somewhere. Bombonon to Kota Kinabulu via the Cagayens: April 04-May12 (2012)

From Bombonon to Puerto Princessa is around 300 miles; that is if you go north up the coast of Negros to Sipilay and then run west, pretty much across the middle of the Sulu Sea. Most of the other boaty types that we know were going further north and day hopping up through Cuyo, but what with Gini on board and her longing for a trip to the Kinabatangan River over near Sandakan, the pressure was on to move a bit faster than usual and head south back into Sabah. We were down to two crew for the next month, Gini back to escape for a whle the approaching winter in Tasmania and getting back to PP with all haste was going to require at leat two overnighters after we cleared away from the Negros west coast. The good thing here though was we would no longer be pushing hard against tradewinds but hopefully picking up some of the last of the NE monsoon (Amihan) or at least get the transitional variables. So after about three weeks of idle lassitude, beach Karaoke (and normal boat repairs) we slipped out past the fishing boats at the Bombodon entrance, waved good-bye to Nigel and the bar by the water and headed west then north-west for a day hop to Sipilay. By the way, the beach bar Karaoke here was a scream, half a dozen Philippino fishermen sitting in a dirt floor bar drinking copious quantities of Rhum, not a woman in sight and all taking it in turns to sing love songs to each other; just brilliant.

We spent a couple of days above Sipilay at Cartegena Beach north of town and decided our lives wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t visit ‘Coral Beach’, described in a well known travel guide as one of the star beach attractions in SE Asia. Finding the place became a bit of a dilemma with our tricycle driver getting comprehensively lost along the way and then having to get a (banka) ferry ride to get there. After our visit we were left to marvel at the creative nature of travel book writers and to ponder what incentives those travel writing, researching, back-packer types get paid to write some of their stuff, enough said!!! The next day bright and early (2.00 AM) it was off for the longest hop of our Sulu Sea sojourn with a longish run of 150 miles to the Cagayens way out on their own in the middle of nowhere. The departure was great, pitch black, dodge the fishing boats and do not run onto the reef in the middle of the bay. Of course for our two days the wind went quite variable, all over the shop really requiring just about every combination of sails and trim imaginable; at least it wasn’t on the nose for the trip. The word here though is hot. Think of hot in the back of a boat then try and think even hotter, yea and then hotter again. With the sun frying our transom, rising as usual in the east and us running west, the only way to survive was temporary awnings using the dinghy cover. Nigel was on the money when describing the transition as the summer and bloody hot. Apparently this part of the world up until a few years ago was also something of a no go zone for many yachties with the ‘pirates’ chasing away any brave soul that ventured out on the water. Well at least that’s how it comes across from the locals when you talk to them although Nigel has been up this way for years and hasn’t at this point suffered any piratical outrage. There is of course the possibility that the stories are somewhat apocryphal or that after raising enough money the pirates are at home enjoying hard earned air-conditioning!

Anyway after two days of sailing sauna we got our first sight of the Cagayens and wondered whether our waypoints would get us into the lagoon. The charts here have an offset of around a quarter mile (500 yards) and when one plots the GPS latitude and longitude directly onto the electronic charts you end up running across the reef and eventually onto dry land behind the village; somewhat disconcerting. Of course the appropriate course of action would be to get out a paper chart and plot ones entrance using a compass, but when in Rome as they say, trust the force and follow the fishermen. So after seemingly running across the reef and becoming quite amphibious we dropped the pick in front of the town pier just in time to see most of the towns people jumping onto large banka’s’ (big Philippino style, outrigger, spider boats) and leaving. Initially we thought that perhaps we had offended everybody without even trying but then discovered that we had arrived in ‘Holy Week’ (basically Easter) and after doing the family thing half of the islands population was going on holidays for a few days.

Great place the Cagayens, clear water, reef to snorkel on, a really cool village to check out and aside from some diving types on live-aboard banka’s’, not a tourist in sight. The town here has to be one of the cleanest you could find in SE Asia and spectacularly different to the open tip and rubbish strewn waterways we had seen in many parts of Indonesia and Malaysia. At the local church (they are quite religious here but somewhat flexible on their application of religious pursuit….), they even keep score on how the local congregation is managing in the tidiness and sustainability stakes. Out in the lagoon there is the mandatory seaweed farm (Calerpa racemosa) and according to that guide book again, the main diet out here is fish and seaweed, shades of the sea-gypsies; the town is of course much more salubrious and not nearly as poverty-stricken as that guide book makes out.  There is a huge Spanish-Colonial church here that the locals are fixing up, interesting walls with hundreds of large sea-shells embedded in the mortar rendering. There is also the worlds smallest ambulance that for any average westerner would require amputation of ones feet before getting in. The locals still draw their water here from wells and after watching the water carriers it became very clear why it’s handy around these parts to have children.

The next part of our Sulu-Sea sojourn was the hundred odd miles across into PP running again almost due west trying to find somewhere to hide from the sun. This was another overnighter with an arrival nice and early into Abanico and a revisit of the old haunts of Puerto. Thyme (Simon and Amanda) and Rubican Star (Tim and Barbara) were not far behind and after getting in we were all forced to check out some of the local nightspots; Gini starred here with her cave-woman routine literally dragging Trevor (on his back) to the dance floor while Tim’s secret hippie background was on display with his attraction to the bands Bongo drum. A week later it was southward bound for another 300 miles in company with Thyme and island hopping back into Malaysia. More beaches, more villages, more pearl farms more sea-gypsies. After stops on Sombrero Island, Arrecife Island and Brookes Point we had plotted a night off Bowen Island, north of Bugsuk. Unfortunately we weren’t terribly welcome here and the pearl farm security very nicely and with many smiles escorted us through their farm to Pandanan Island five miles further west. It was explained of course that this was for our own safety (this is the standard line in this part of the world when the authorities or others want you to go away) and we weren’t inclined to argue too vociferously given the large piece of artillery the security guide was carrying (M14, big bullets and no photos allowed).

Next island on the southward progression was Candaraman, almost out of the Philippines and a few drinks for Trevor’s birthday. We had arrived here in the middle of  a ‘Christian Youth Camp’ although the local Parish Priest explained that anybody up to 45 was welcome as long as they were single; he explained that they patrolled the sleeping area and tents to make sure the genders stayed separate!!!  We were down into part of the more Moslem area of the Philippines and the army and police had a presence at the camp to discourage any ‘trouble’ although there “is no trouble around here”. Probably not very likely given the serious amount of hardware stacked in the trees next to the military and police hummocks. Next day it was off to Balabangan in Malaysia and an evening and morning thinking of things to give to the sea-gypsies; petrol, soap, apples, biscuits…etc etc etc. Thyme bid their farewells here heading for Kudat and new crew while the good ship Gadfly slipped around the most northerly point of Borneo and headed south for a one hundred mile overnight run into the Sutera Harbour Marina at Kota Kinabulu.

The plan at KK was to leave the boat and travel overland to the Kinabatangan River and Sandakan where Gini would take lots of photographs of every animal that passed in front of her camera.  There are a number of ecolodges along the Kinabatangan River where tourists can go to check out what’s left of some of the previously abundant and spectacular Borneo wildlife, orangutans, monkeys, elephants, birds, deer and so on and the visitors get taken on river cruises, day walks and night spotlighting trips. The trouble is that most of the rain-forest (jungle) has been removed, logged and then replanted with palm oil and what one sees is small remnant forest areas along the margins of rivers or isolated refuges around sites such as the Nyah Caves Park inland from Miri. The Kinabatangan elephants might be easy to keep track of but no surprises there really as most of their habitat has been destroyed and they have to stay next to the river. There are orangutan refuges and shelters at a number of places (Sepilok at Sandakan) with no shortage of animals as their habitat is being constantly destroyed and the orangutans are shot or persecuted if they walk into the palm oil plantations. These isolated and fragmented forest areas are also a problem for the larger mammals and especially apex predators of the forest as there is no opportunity for them to move between locations and the loss of habitat and fragmentation of the forests places survivors under significant (environmental) stress from multiple sources. The smaller mammals, birds and bats may manage to adapt but for the larger animals there is probably insufficient range to maintain long-term, viable breeding populations (not to mention loss of genetic diversity). Sadly this is the trend and a problem for most of SE Asia.

At the Tungog Rainforest Ecocamp, the guides speak in awe of the Australian fellow ‘Martin’ who had worked with the locals for 15 odd years to establish the ecocamp and encourage the locals to embrace nature based tourism and homestays as an industry involving their forest. Martin has been back in Australia for several years and since he has left stands of forest adjacent to the river and near the bridge at the ‘Kinabatangan’ village have been cleared and planted with palm oil. The locals in the meantime are growing seedlings, attempting to rehabilitate nearby, degraded areas and expressing interest in buying back areas to re-establish forest.  They explain that it is the ‘Chinese’ who are doing most of the damage but couldn’t elaborate as to whether that meant ethnic Chinese Malays, Singaporean Chinese, or Mainland Chinese. At the ‘Lubuk Bay’ Proboscis Monkey refuge near Sandakan the Chinese owners have made a video extolling their virtues for saving the Proboscis Monkeys in the area, this after they cleared the area to grow palm oil leaving a tiny fragment of habitat for the monkeys, habitat no doubt unsuitable for palm oil; quite staggering really. In the meantime the video they have produced waxes lyrical about the abundant rainforests that “stretch from the mountains to the seas of Borneo”, not to mention adjacent seas that apparently teem with huge schools of massive fish, clearly now fish and forest figments of somebodies imagination!  They also charge twenty dollars (Aus or US) a person to enter their ‘refuge’ and three dollars more to take photographs (one does wonder where the money goes but doubts it is going to forest rehabilitation). Still it is worth having a look at those parts of what was once a spectacular ecosystem and hope that common sense might one day prevail over greed and corruption. In the meantime the Government and operators in Sabah are selling tourism packages on the basis of come and see our abundant wildlife, spectacular forests and magnificent diving; just pay heaps and don’t look too hard!

After our river sojourn it was back to KK and Gini’s departure for her PhD program back in Tasmania researching Tasmanian Devils and Quolls. Fortunately her flight was cancelled and she was forced to stay another five days until the twelfth when Jeff, Hilary and Lasse arrived; new crew for southward moves to Labuan and Brunei.

Habitat fragmentation


As the name implies, ‘habitat fragmentation’ describes the emergence of discontinuities (fragmentation) in an organism’s preferred environment (habitat), causing population fragmentation. Habitat fragmentation can be caused by geological processes that slowly alter the layout of the physical environment (suspected of being one of the major causes of speciation]), or by human activity such as land conversion, which can alter the environment much faster and causes extinctions of many species.

The term habitat fragmentation includes five discrete phenomena:

Reduction in the total area of the habitat

Decrease of the interior : edge ratio

Isolation of one habitat fragment from other areas of habitat

Breaking up of one patch of habitat into several smaller patches

Decrease in the average size of each patch of habitat

Habitat fragmentation is frequently caused by humans when native vegetation is cleared for human activities such as agriculture, rural development, urbanization and the creation of hydroelectric reservoirs. Habitats which were once continuous become divided into separate fragments. After intensive clearing, the separate fragments tend to be very small islands isolated from each other by cropland, pasture, pavement, or even barren land. The latter is often the result of slash and burn farming in tropical forests. In the wheat belt of central western New South Wales, Australia, 90% of the native vegetation has been cleared and over 99% of the tall grass prairie of North America has been cleared, resulting in extreme habitat fragmentation.

One of the major ways that habitat fragmentation affects biodiversity is by reduction in the amount of available habitat (such as rainforests, boreal forests, oceans, marshlands, etc.) for all organisms in an ecological niche. Habitat fragmentation invariably involves some amount of habitat destruction. Plants and other sessile organisms in these areas are usually directly destroyed. Mobile animals (especially birds and mammals) retreat into remnant patches of habitat. This can lead to crowding effects and increased competition.

The remaining habitat fragments are smaller than the original habitat. Species that can move between fragments may use more than one fragment. Species which cannot move between fragments must make do with what is available in the single fragment in which they ended up. Since one of the major causes of habitat destruction is agricultural development, habitat fragments are rarely representative samples of the initial landscape.

Area is the primary determinant of the number of species in a fragment.The size of the fragment will influence the number of species which are present when the fragment was initially created, and will influence the ability of these species to persist in the fragment. Small fragments of habitat can only support small populations of plants and animals and small populations are more vulnerable to extinction. Minor fluctuations in climate, resources, or other factors that would be unremarkable and quickly corrected in large populations can be catastrophic in small, isolated populations. Thus fragmentation of habitat is an important cause of species extinction. Population dynamics of subdivided populations tend to vary asynchronously. In an unfragmented landscape a declining population can be “rescued” by immigration from a nearby expanding population. In fragmented landscapes, the distance between fragments may prevent this from happening. Additionally, unoccupied fragments of habitat that are separated from a source of immigrants by some barrier are less likely to be repopulated than adjoining fragments. Even small species such as the Columbia spotted frog are reliant on the rescue effect. Studies showed 25% of juveniles travel a distance over 200m compared to 4% of adults. Of these, 95% remain in their new locale, demonstrating that this journey is necessary for survival.

Additionally, habitat fragmentation leads to edge effects. Microclimactic changes in light, temperature and wind can alter the ecology around the fragment, and in the interior and exterior portions of the fragment. Fires become more likely in the area as humidity drops and temperature and wind levels rise. Exotic and pest species may establish themselves easily in such disturbed environments, and the proximity of domestic animals often upsets the natural ecology. Also, habitat along the edge of a fragment has a different climate and favours different species from the interior habitat. Small fragments are therefore unfavourable for species which require interior habitat.

Habitat fragmentation is often a cause of species becoming threatened or endangered. The existence of viable habitat is critical to the survival of any species, and in many cases the fragmentation of any remaining habitat can lead to difficult decisions for conservation biologists. Given a limited amount of resources available for conservation is it preferable to protect the existing isolated patches of habitat or to buy back land to get the largest possible continuous piece of land? This ongoing debate is often referred to as SLOSS (Single Large or Several Small).

One solution to the problem of habitat fragmentation is to link the fragments by preserving or planting corridors of native vegetation. This has the potential to mitigate the problem of isolation but not the loss of interior habitat. In rare cases a Conservation reliant species may gain some measure of disease protection by being distributed in isolated habitats. Another mitigation measure is the enlargement of small remnants in order to increase the amount of interior habitat. This may be impractical since developed land is often more expensive and could require significant time and effort to restore. The best solution is generally dependent on the particular species or ecosystem that is being considered. More mobile species, like most birds, do not need connected habitat while some smaller animals, like rodents, may be more exposed to predation in open land. These questions generally fall under the headings of metapopulations island biogeography.

(From Wiki…..).


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2 Responses to “An Island Somewhere. Bombonon to Kota Kinabulu via the Cagayens: April 04-May12 (2012)”

  1. Greg Harrison Says:

    where should i get a plane ticket to!?
    – Grasshopper

    • Trevor Says:

      Hey, Greg. Where are you and what are you up to? Want to come sailing in Aus. East coast and later (Feb-March) around Tasmania?? Either way let me know where you are at. Cheers, Trevor.

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