Diving into the wonders of Brunei’s underwater scene
BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN
SCUBA diving is becoming increasingly popular in Brunei as more locals and foreigners are heading underwater to explore the kingdom’s hidden treasures.
Beyond the lush tropical rainforest and picturesque water village often seen on tourism posters, the Adobe of Peace is teeming with hundreds of coral species and a diverse variety of fish life. Its coastline is also dotted with many wreck sites including several relics from WWII.
Wong Thye Sing, general manager of Poni Divers, said scuba diving in Brunei started more than 30 years ago as an exclusive activity for a selected few at expat dive clubs.
Over the past decade, a number of freelance instructors and small businesses took on the quest to boost diving tourism. However, the diving community back then remained a very small group without government support and social media.
With more dive centres cropping up in recent years coupled with growing exposure at regional dive shows and in the media, scuba diving finally began to catch the interest of the wider public.
Today, the fascination with aquatic realms has turned scuba diving into a mainstream activity with several established dive centres offering direct access to some of the country’s best dive spots.“Now diving is something everyone knows about,” said Wong.
Dive spots in the Sultanate
Wong pointed out that Brunei is home to over 20 shipwrecks including four WWII relics and a few listed as must-dive sites by Jack Jackson in his book Top Wreck Dives of the World.
The American Wreck, one of Johnson’s top-rated wreck site, is a classic WWII remnant that sunk in 1945 after hitting a Japanese mine during pre-invasion sweeps of the Brunei Bay. Alongside many soft corals and schools of yellowtail barracuda, live artillery shells can still be seen on deck.
Located 1.4km away from the American Wreck is the Australian Wreck, a Royal Dutch Navy ship taken over by the Japanese and renamed Imaji Maru. It sank after hitting a mine 34m off Brunei’s coast.
According to Brunei Tourism, Brunei Patches is favoured by local divers and likened by foreign reef experts to the reefscape found in the Caribbean. With a visibility of up to 12m, divers can find hard and soft corals home to a society of marine line including nurse and white-tip sharks.
Another photogenic site is the Blue Water Wreck, which earned its name from the clear blue waters it is located in. It is rated as one the world’s best wreck sites by Johnson.
Wong also considered the Oil Rig Wreck, one of the many artificial reefs initiated by the Fisheries Department, as a worthy mention. He described the wreck as unique to the international diving community and among the first of the “Rigs to Reef” project in the region.
Steven Ty Ng of dive centre Oceanic Quest said diving in Brunei is diversified, catering to both experienced and new divers.
“The abundance and beauty of the corals on the country’s pristine reefs are unrivalled in the South China Sea, and can easily stand up to comparison with those on Australia’s famous Great Barrier Reef. Not many people know that,” he said in a previous report.
Diving in Brunei is a year-round activity, but the best season is usually from March to November with water temperatures between 27 to 28 degrees celsius.
Becoming a diver
Local dive centres offer the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) Open Water Diver course, touted as the world’s most popular and widely recognised scuba course, which enables non-divers to become certified over a period of three to four days.
The course consists of classroom sessions to understand the basic principles of scuba diving, followed by confined water dives to learn basic scuba skills and open water dives to put those skills into practice.
Although adequate swimming skills are needed, Wong said those interested in diving do not have to start out as strong swimmers. However, there is a requirement to swim 200m to pass the PADI Open Water Diver course. Alternatively, students can swim 300m in mask, fins and snorkel.
He assured that “anyone can do it”, adding that his trained instructors at Poni Divers will also work with non-swimmers on their kicking technique.
“Just come and try it out. In fact, some non-swimmers become better divers than strong swimmers as swimmers are trained to use their hands and hold their breath in the water, which can be difficult to unlearn,” he said.
Many certified divers go on to enroll in the PADI Advanced Open Water Diver course to acquire the skills needed for specialty diving, while experienced divers also take up the PADI Divemaster course.
Future of diving in Brunei
Brunei Tourism Director Mariani Hj Sabtu said dive tourism is a relatively new phenomenon in the Sultanate that is still struggling to get worldwide exposure.
However, in recent years the department has stepped up efforts to develop the burgeoning dive tourism industry by partnering with many parties including the national carrier Royal Brunei airlines and local diving companies.
Coral restoration projects are also being undertaken in a bid to develop better preservation of the marine ecosystem as well as increase the fish population and provide more eco-tourism opportunities.
Poni Divers was the local dive centre to run a PADI instructors course in the country, where two Bruneians became the first locally-certified instructors this year. Wong described the achievement as “a big step for the local diving community”.
He remained upbeat about the future of diving in Brunei as it becomes an increasingly mainstream activity, adding his company will continue to expand their services to cater to the growing market.
Meanwhile, Rosland Hj Suhaili of Lantaran Recreation Dive Tour wanted more people to discover and explore the beauty of Brunei’s dive sites. Through his family-run business, he seeks to encourage the public to take up scuba diving and snorkeling.
He expressed confidence that the dive sites in the Sultanate will lure foreigners and locals. “If you don’t dive in Brunei, you’re missing out,” he said.
The Brunei Times