Thursday, 12 January 2017

8TV Film Crew Visit

This week TRACC hosted a film crew from 8TV, here to make a series of documentaries. The three episodes will focus on the bajau people who live on and around the nearby island of Kulapuan, spear fishing at Kulapuan, and TRACCs involvement with marine conservation. I was lucky enough to be able to join in with the different aspects of filming at Pom Pom, on Kulapuan, and in Semporna. The trip to Kulapuan was a huge highlight for me and is something that will stick with me for a long time to come.

We arrived in Kulapuan in the late morning and were greeted by the chief of the village, Chief Ibnu. He was our guide for the day and was a delight to meet. We began by checking out the resort that is In the process of being set up. The resort is being lead by one of the bajau people who returned to the island with the idea to give back to his community. The hotel will be staffed and built by local bajau and will have the potential to bring in much needed incomes to the people.

We were then taken to the burial ground in the centre of the island. This is a tomb where one of the first settlers of Kulapuan is buried. The bajau settled on the island and feel safe living there because they believe that this ancestor will protect them. The bajau are stateless people and are in a vulnerable position with no recognised country to belong to. They are usually seabourne people, so the Kulapuan settlement is unique.

We were then taken to the centre of the island to view the well that has served the whole island (without drying up) for the past 50 years. The water is clean to drink and locals (both land and seabourne) come by too fill up canisters and bathe.

We then went back to the village and we taken to Ibnu's house for an interview with a local spearfisher. His family were incredibly hospitable and showed me around their home. After this we headed out on the boat to get some footage of the spear fisherman. Jo and I were there to keep an eye on the crew while they were diving. The spearfisher was incredibly strong in the water and it was a
spectacle watching him dive amongst the coral.

Kulapuan was incredibly welcoming to both TRACC and the film crew. It was so valuable to be able to learn about the bajau way of life and to be able to share their stories to promote the need to be recognised in Malaysia.

The following day the crew filmed us conducting a reef survey, dropping a net to preserve our reef, and working with our shark holding cage. They were a lot of fun to have around and we are really looking forward to seeing the finished documentaries! Thank you 8TV!

Thursday, 5 January 2017


Allia is one of our superstar science officers. She is from Kuala Lumpur and has been at TRACC since September, bringing sunshine to Pom Pom everyday.  I sat down with her to ask her a few questions about her TRACC experiences and how she came to be here.

How did you end up at TRACC? What does your role involve?

I actually found TRACC through google. I had just finished my marine biology and ecology masters in Townsville, Australia and was looking for a  marine science experience that would give me hands on work. I found TRACC and learnt about the internship, and the opportunity to stay on as science officer beyond that, so I applied. My dream job is to work in marine conservation to improve marine parks in Malaysia.

What is your role at TRACC?

My Job is to lead the conservation dives, and scientific projects, and to work with the head dive master on planning conservation dives. I train new volunteers in scientific methodology, and explain why and how we do things at TRACC. Jo and I supervise science interns with their projects. We will also be helping teach some of the topics in the A level course beginning this month. Beyond this, I also help with general camp maintenance.

Allia doing the TRACC introduction

What are the science projects you are undertaking at TRACC?

I conduct Biodiversity surveys. So every week I focus on one or two marine families and go to different dive sites to ID every species I see from that specific family. My project is part of a larger long term project to create a database for TRACC that shows which species are here, and where they are located.
In the future we hope to compare diversity in species here with other islands in the area, particularly the islands within the nearby marine park. If we can show that we have similar numbers and species there is potential to push for Pom Pom to be protected as a marine park in future.

Allia and Jo 

What do you like most about TRACC? 

The People. There are so many different types of people from different backgrounds here. You wouldn't expect us to all get on, but we do. We learn from each other. Ultimately weare all here for same goal- to protect the marine environment and to help our environment. It's an amazing place to be.

What sort have experiences have you gained here that are unique to TRACC?

So many. Everything here is so hands on. I have learned how to use lift bags, how to lead Conservation and recreational dives. Before I came, I had learnt in theory why we do things but had never done things in practice. You learn how to problem solve here. We run on limited resources and in an isolated environment so you have to be resourceful and learn that there are many things you cannot control. You have to work around issues.

Spirit animal?
Nautilus - because I am an  introvertabrate 😂

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Sunday Funday!!

Once a week at TRACC we have a day dedicated to getting out and exploring other islands and reefs close to Pom Pom. Our funday usually falls on a Saturday or Sunday, after we have spent the week creating and maintaining reefs, and doing PADI coursework. In the four weeks I have been here I have to say my favourite was our Sunday funday trip to Bohey Dulang.

Bohey Dulang is an island that is part of the Tun Sakaran Marine Park and is a 20 minute boat trip from Pom Pom Island. It is well known for its beautiful panoramic views over the island and ocean. We organised permits and headed off on our trip early on Sunday morning. We wanted to be the first ones to hike up the hill so we made sure we arrived just as the park opened at 9am. We arrived on time and immediately started our 600m ascent. Bohey Dulang is home to monkeys, lots of bird life, and cicadas. Unfortunately we were only able to hear the animals- they liked to keep hidden away from the track! It was a steep climb- made even harder by the heat, but after about 30 minutes we had made it to the top. And boy was it worth the hike. The photos only partly capture how stunning the view was. Plus we had made it up first, so got to experience the view uninterrupted by throngs of tourists. What. A. hike.

We walked our way down, and were followed by some adorable stray puppies in the last leg. Drenched in sweat, I immediately jumped off the jetty into the water. We then took the boat to the nearby island of Mantabaun, where we set ourselves up with some music and lunch (cooked by Neng that morning- Thank you!!). We chilled out for a couple of hours on the beach, some of us walked around the island, and some of us played cards in the shallows. After we felt we had been cooked enough by the sun, we headed around the corner by boat to go diving. It was a nice dive, with very little evidence of bomb fishing. The highlight would have to be Diniy bringing the pack of cards with him, and managing to get a game of hearts in during our safety stop at the end.

It was an all round epic day - One that will stick with me for a very long time to come!

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Welcome 2017!!!

New Years at TRACC was a reasonably low key affair here on Pom Pom. We spent the last day of 2016 over at Mataking Island doing some fun dives and playing cards in the sunshine. The dives were beautiful- but there was the usual evidence of bomb fishing in the area too. There were some nice areas of coral where we spotted a blue ribbon eel (we also saw one swimming- a very rare occasion as they mostly stay in their holes!), and a huge amount of turtles, among plenty of fish. At one spot there was a group of about 8 mammoth green turtles chilling out- it was quite a sight. By the time we got back to Pom Pom, everyone was pretty tired. We had dinner, then a group of us sat around the table chatting into the evening until our clocks hit midnight, then off to bed for some well earned sleep. It was a perfect way to spend the last day of 2017.

In the lead up to New Years, TRACC posted on facebook four Eco resolutions. These were to encourage our followers to think about our planet as we come into 2017. The new year is always a good time to reflect on the year that has been and also on what is to come. Whilst the resolutions are basic ones to do with reducing, reusing, and recycling, they form part of a bigger picture about each of us taking responsibility to take actions in our lifestyles to combat environmental issues. Every act has an impact and if we can reduce our environmental footprint in some way, it will make a difference.

At TRACC We see first hand the impacts of climate change and humans everyday. While Pom Pom is a stunning white sand tropical island, we see plastic bottles wash up on shore by the hundreds, crabs choose bottle tops over limited shells, sea levels creep up each year, corals noticing the temperature changes and bleaching, and on the 29th we had tar wash up on our beach, presumably from some sort of oil spill, or boat disposal. Human impacts are inescapable, and need to be lessened if we want to continue to enjoy our beautiful planet for generations to come.

Coconut crab in a bottle top

So when you are thinking about your resolutions for 2017, don't forget to include ideas about our environment, to make less of an impact, and to encourage good habits in others. Our resolution ideas included stopping using plastic bags, not buying bottled water, investing in a moon cup (for the ladies), and of course- coming to volunteer at TRACC! There are many more small and large changes an individual can take- feel free to comment on the post if you want to share your own Eco resolutions.

On a positive note- this article highlights some environmental wins for 2016. (
Let's have even more in 2017!

Friday, 30 December 2016

Bye Bye Basil!

We recently sadly said goodbye to our favourite Swiss potato Basil. Basil has been with TRACC for around 12 months as a dive master, underwater photographer, and reef making extraordinaire. He is now heading off to work in New Zealand for a while. Before he left we got him to talk about his time at TRACC. We also managed to steal some of the incredible photos he took while at TRACC (He has only been taking photos for a short while!). We are already missing you Bas!

Our Potato, Basil

Diniy, Jo, Bas and Allia
What brought you to TRACC? I worked as a Carpenter for 7 years in Switzerland. My friends and I decided to spend 3 months travelling through South East Asia. While in Singapore we were convinced by a friend to head over to Lombok in Indonesia. I fell in love with the Gili islands in Indonesia. I then returned home,but only lasted 6 months before I went back to Indonesia train as a dive master. While I was training I met someone who had been to TRACC and recommended it. I decided to head there for 6 weeks to see what it was all about. I was then convinced by Steve to do my A level, so I stayed another 3 months for that, and then extended my stay till august. After a break travelling in Asia I came back for another few months until now. Most memorable TRACC moment? It's hard to think of just one moment- there have been too many- so many silly dive stories. I like the freedom of TRACC- you can just grab a tank go diving without being constrained like you would be at a resort. It also made a difference having a great team- being on Pom Pom you can't really escape people, but the team and people were great and we really got on. We had similar ideas and would smash out hundreds of bottle reefs to fill house reef. A memorable, hard, but rewarding time was when we had a group of 30 Chinese students join us for a short time. It was chaotic organising everything but it brought the team together into a little family. Best dive at TRACC? North tip. Or over at Timba Timba island. Favourite marine animal? Coral Any departing words for future TRACC volunteers? You will not want to return. Go to TRACC and make a difference. It's about doing good. You also have freedom to do what you want- Thomas made an octopus reef. TRACC is about volunteers taking things on and learning. You will be surrounded by people who want help you and show you how to create things. Go to TRACC.

Coral growing on a bottle reef (Credit Basil)

Please contact TRACC if you wish to reuse Basil's photos

Monday, 26 December 2016

A Very Merry TRACC Christmas

The number one question I was asked by my friends and family before I left to TRACC was "what will you do for Christmas?!". I had worried looks and concerns about my orphan status on a tropical island with no one I knew yet. I wasn't overly concerned about what my Pom Pom Christmas would hold- a perfect Christmas to me is about being relaxed and happy around family and friends, and sharing delicious food. The three weeks I had had at Pom Pom had already exceeded my expectations.

Nevertheless, when I arrived I couldn't help asking my dive instructor Gov in private- what does TRACC do for Xmas? He responded (in a classically Gov way)- well what do you do in New Zealand? I said, we eat food, go to the beach, eat more food, and pass out in a food coma. And he said well that's exactly what we'll do. Perfect!
Christmas Day began in the lazy Pompom way, with people awaking one by one with a "merry Christmas". We then pulled out the Christmas hats, dive tanks, and set up for our Christmas dive. On Christmas Eve, Allia and I had made a badass driftwood Christmas tree. We decided to attach some weights to it and take it into the ocean. At 30 metres a group of 10 of us met up with our beloved concrete octopus (made by past volunteer Tomo). After attaching a Santa hat to its head we took our seasons greeting TRACC Christmas photo (and plenty of selfies!) before checking out house reef. We had a little bit of trouble bringing the Christmas tree back to land after it became waterlogged- but it was all part of the Christmas fun.

After the dive we had a light lunch and lazed around in the sun. Around 3pm everyone started preparing a dish to share for our feast. We made a bonfire and shared some pina colada (with real fruit and coconut- thanks Vanessa!) before digging into an eclectic meal consisting of duck, baked potato, portagese rice, garlic bread, soup, green veges and more piña colada! We then hung out playing games and sharing laughs into the evening
My TRACC Christmas was one to remember, but in all honesty had everything a kiwi Christmas needs- sunshine, beach, great food and my fantastic TRACC family.

Friday, 23 December 2016

Reef Check Malaysia

Earlier this month we were lucky enough to have Alvin from Reef  Check Malaysia join us for 3 days of training with our science team to enable them to conduct reef check surveys on Pom Pom Island. I sat down with him to talk about Reef Check and the valuable work they do.

What is Reef Check?

Reef Check's core programme is basically monitoring the health of reefs around the world. Its head office in California and there are 92 different offices around the world.

In Malaysia we have gone a bit further than just monitoring reefs. We had the data, then asked ourselves- what are we going to do about it? We have been closely involved with the local communities close to the reefs.We operate education programmes in schools, and offer building resilience programmes by identifying threats to the reefs and trying to find solutions. Examples of threats include trash, tourism and lack of education. To target these on Tioman Island (where Alvin is based) we have done a range of things. For example there was no recycling for an island of about 3800 people, with 60 resorts. Trash was just being stacked in one village then sent on a barge to the mainland. The barge was like Hansel and Gretel- dropping bits of trash all the way back. so we set up recycling so we can send out plastic and cans. Paper is still an issue as it has to be dry and it costs a lot t recycle. Glass is an issue too- as it is cheaper to make new glass than recycle old ones. And set up better sewage on the island, when before then there was nothing.

Tourism is another issue, with bad snorkeling and diving habits. People standing on the coral and breaking it. The Malay word for coral is actually very confusing. It means rock. so many people do not see coral as an animal- they see it as a rock so it is ok to step on.

Another programme we have is training up locals to work in the dive shops and resorts. Owners prefer to hire westerners and mainland people, which is stupid, because the locals know the area, the marine life and know how to find the good sites. Reef Check funds local dive master training and link people up with jobs. Next year we are introducing a course together with a university to train locals in the hospitality industry, so that they have a qualification and are more employable in the resorts. It is all a big task and habits are hard to change. The good thing is that we are seeing change.

We have corporate sponsors and a little bit of government funding at the moment, but it will only last us another 2 years so we are currently looking for more sponsorship. It is hard to make our work sexy, to attract sponsorship, as people often want to make tangible things such as coral replanting- but Tioman has really good coral- the need is more in community education and training.

How did you come to work at reef check?
I currently manage the programme on Tioman Island. I started diving in high school, which got me interested in marine science. I did my degree in marine science, then continued my masters. At the time I was volunteering for Reef Check. after i finished my masters a job popped up in KL. I worked there until we expanded to Tioman three years ago.

What is the training you have been conducting with our science team?
I was doing the EcoDiver course. Basically this is teaching volunteers how to do the reef check survey. One of the biggest problems in collecting data is that we never have enough marine scientists around, especially in Malaysia. Reef Check was designed to use your average diver with good buoyancy skills and train them about how to identify things in the sub-straight so they can conduct surveys and collect data. The information Reef Check gathers is accessible by anybody that asks- universities, government departments. We use the information to lobby governments to protect marine areas.

How many volunteers and dive sites does Reef Check have in Malaysia?

In Malaysia there have been about 500 divers trained. Out of those 500 divers we probably have about 50 active volunteers.
We have about 200 sites around the country. Every year we will organise to go to each of these sites and then come out with a calendar where volunteers can sign up to conduct surveys. Very seldom do volunteers go out on their own and send data. This will only happen with organisations like TRACC.

Alvin teaching our science team 
A reef check survey

Trained EcoDivers!

Thank you Alvin for bringing your valuable knowledge and training to TRACC!

Monday, 19 December 2016

Our Canadian Friends

TRACC was recently joined by a wonderful family of four for a few days as part of their round the world adventure. Astrid is a teacher and Andrew is a computer developer. They decided to take a year out with their children, Sebastian (11) and Nicolas (9) to see the world. Along the way they have tried to volunteer and participate in the places they go to as much as possible. We have loved having them around, bringing new questions, mad monkey climbing skills, and creative ideas to TRACC. Malaysia was their first stop in Asia, after coming from South America. You can follow their adventure here-

What made you want to leave your lives in Canada for the year?

Nikolai-  mum and dad travelled round the world when they were younger and decided when they had us that they wanted to do it again so that we could have the same experience.

What is it like travelling with children compared with your previous travel experiences?

Astrid-  With kids it is very different. To begin with we are taking care of another persons welfare- so we have been a lot more reserved about things such as transport, accomodation, safety etc.
I think the most interesting part is to see the children's experience of it. They have a much different view- they are open and flexible, less attached about how things should be- so long as somewhere to sleep (even if it's the floor) they are happy. They are open to new experiences, more so than adults. They have unique interactions with locals that adults not have- they give hi five to other kids and get their hair touched all the time!

How did you find TRACC? And what made you want to come here?

Sebastian- we came here to volunteer- and I am definitely coming back.

Astrid- we actually found TRACC 3 days before we arrived here through the web. Knowing what we know now we would have planned to stay longer, but we have more booked for after this so can't be as spontaneous as we would have liked.
We have done some volunteering in South America (an animal rescue centre in Peru and a dog rescue centre in Ecuador). We tend to seek out places where we can be useful with our travel- the kids get bored of sight seeing, so going somewhere we can do something is great! The first time traveling
 it was about being a tourist, seeing museums and temples. Now we are doing experiences to learn, and meet people.

What have you done while you have been here? What was your favourite activity?

Sebastian and Nikolai- we have been Snorkelling, paddle boarding, coral BISCUIT making, eating, patting dogs, and doing monkey bars.
BISCUIT making was our favourite! Because we got Collect coral, make concrete, and put the coral plants underwater. The water is super clear but it is sad to see dead corals.i like the chillness of TRACC- we have structure but free times to go what we like too.

Astrid- the whole thing is a big learning experience. I had no idea you could garden underwater and grow coral. To be able to go see how it is grown and used by underworld world. It is great Snorkelling with a purpose- and seeing results of what is being done.

What is your favourite marine animal?

Sebastian: Sea lions, but here- turtles- and there are lots!
Nokolai: sharks or turtles, and Otters!

Thank you Andrew, Astrid, Sebastian, and Nicolas for sharing your experience with us!

Social Media Volunteer

Kia ora! Hello! Hai!

Maddy here, I am a social media volunteer at TRACC- here until the end of January to share with you what the TRACC experience is all about. Every few days I will be posting up interviews with people at TRACC, explanations about what we have been up to during the week and lots of photos!

About me:

I am a 23 year old kiwi from a little place called Nelson. I grew up loving the water- spoilt for choice in New Zealand. I spent the past five years studying at Otago University and decided that at the end of it I wanted to take a break, to challenge myself and to see a bit more of the world. I came across TRACC while searching the internet for dive volunteer opportunities. I got my open water dive licence in 2014 in Nicaragua- it was here that my eyes were opened to the incredible world that lives in our oceans. My first time diving brings back childish feelings of new discovery, of feeling like a true alien in an environment so different from our on shore world. Diving also made me recognise that there is so much vulnerable life beneath our waters that deserve protection. Being in a privileged position to be able to observe the underwater world brought to me a sense of responsibility. This was always niggling in the back of my mind throughout my studies, but I had little opportunity to get out and dive. TRACC offered to me a way to learn more about the oceans and to be proactive in their protection. I signed up as soon as I found it.

The arrival

After spending 1 week on peninsula Malaysia enjoying the sights and sounds (and food!) I took an early morning flight from KL to Tawau. I arrived at the small airport to be met by TRACCs "fixer guy", Ujang, who introduced me to three other volunteers before putting us in a shuttle headed for Semporna. We arrived in the bustling seaside town of Semporna and were dropped at the tourist jetty. We met a couple of TRACCs long term volunteers and then waited a couple of hours while the shopping was finished and the boat was loaded up.

The boat trip was spent observing beautiful surrounding islands, stilt house villages and flying fish, enjoying the breeze, and trying to figure out which island was PomPom! After about an hour we arrived in paradise. I had seen photographs, but in the early evening light PomPom exceeded my expectations. White sand beach, crystal blue water, and a rustic wooden jetty leading up to my new home. We were warmly greeted by the other volunteers and given a tour of the site- the classroom, the communal dining/living area, the kitchen, the longhouse, the bathrooms, and the tents.   I put my bag down in my tent (surprisingly spacious, with a bed, power and a fan!) and already felt at home.

We had a delicious meal together (see the picture!). After a round of introductions we were then given an induction by the science interns aboutTRACC, how it operates, and what we could look forward to seeing in the water. We sat around chatting a bit longer before I took myself to my tent- knackered and content.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Horse Shoe Crab Release

A short stop in Lahad Datu for breakfast around 6am today turned into another Marine-life Rescue Mission for TRACC. Two Pala'u ladies arrived at the morning market with 3 horseshoe crabs. Both of them hardly speak any Malay so couldn't find out the exact location where they caught these pre-historic looking creatures. 
Anyway, bought all 3 horseshoe crabs and took them to Pom Pom island. I personally have only seen one here last year but we have seen many small ones in Kulapuan. Hope the release of one big female and two smaller males will bring back the population of horseshoe crabs around Pom Pom island. Our staff and volunteers were so excited to have this rare opportunity to handle these living fossils and releasing them back into the sea! - Gon

Horseshoe crabs are easy to catch and are often found in the fish market. They don't have any "meat" to speak of and taste a bit like fresh seaweed (salty, rubbery, cold and disgusting).

Horseshoe Crabs are often called "living fossils". The earliest record of them is in the Ordovician period 450,000,000 years old and they haven't changed much since.

They're more closely related to spiders than crabs but have 10 legs rather than 8 and external gills like a prawn.

They also have a peculiar number of "eyes". There are two compound eyes where you might expect them to be, but then there are five additional "eyes" that have different resolutions and functions - two of them respond to visible light and three to ultraviolet. There are also light receptors along the tail that helps the Horseshoe synchronize its body clock with light and day. Finally, there are two ventral (on the underside) eyes near its mouth.