Treasure Island: Bohey Dulang, Semporna, Sabah
It was last Sunday when I met my small group of travel buddies in Bandar Utama. We talked about many things when the topic of hiking and marine life came up. Most of them kept praising Maldives, Barbados and French Polynesia but I couldn’t help feeling a little miffed. How could these seasoned travelers forget our own beautiful gem – Bohey Dulang Island in Semporna, Sabah?
Since I’ve only quite recently been to Bohey Dulang Island, I started reminding them why Bohey Dulang is as precious, if not better, than those they have listed to me.
What Makes Bohey Dulang Special?
The name Bohey or Bohi means water and Dulang means pools in the Bajau language.
A mountainous island formed of ancient volcano about 2.5 million years ago, Bohey Dulang was flooded with seawater, creating a large 25-metres deep of breathtaking sapphire blue lagoon. This island is one of eight islands – Bohey Dulang, Bodgaya, Tetagan, Sebangkat, Selakan, Maiga, Sibuan and Mantabuan – that are gazetted as part of Tun Sakaran Marine Park (TSMP) in 2004. TSMP covers a total land and sea area of a massive 350km2.
Separated from Bodgaya (the biggest island in TSMP) by a shallow channel, Bohey Dulang is the second largest island of TSMP measuring more than 313 hectares.
This beautiful island is well-known by many, especially for its glorious view at the top of its peak where you can feast your eyes of aqua-colored water at the bottom of the mountain. There is a ridge along the length of the island with three separate peaks. The southern end has the highest peak at 353 metres with a radio mast on top.
The view is not the only special thing about Bohey Dulang. Under the long stretch of sparkling water, housed coral reefs and marine life of many species, blessed with many unique and unusual plants, and a paradise to many bird watchers.
Have you heard of the legend of Princess Salamia?
According to legend, there lives a beautiful princess from Bum Bum Island named Salamia. She was hidden in Bohey Dulang by her family because a flagrant sultan from the Southern Philippines forced her hand in marriage. However, after a few days living in Bohey Dulang, Princess Salamia disappeared, believed to be hidden by spirits and turned into a fairy. The unique part? Some locals claims they can still hear Princess Salamia singing and her dog barking at night of the full moon.
Things To Do At Bohey Dulang
Even if you are not a nature person, Bohey Dulang is not a place to be missed because of it’s breathtaking view.
That being said, you might feel ascending the 600 metres nature trail to reach the peak would be too much. I thought so too at first, because I don’t really like doing outdoor activities but after perusing through some photos of Bohey Dulang online, I knew I had to experience the view myself. Let me tell you right now that the hike was quite a breeze – even for my untrained body.
Hiking Bohey Dulang
Be prepared to be greeted by scores of flora and fauna as you climb. If you’re not a trained hiker, you might take about 1 hour to get to the peak as you take some short breaks. What would help is by wearing proper hiking shoes because the trail can be slippery and quite steep at times. There are some short flat lands too and signs to remind you of your location at every 100 metre climb.
Make sure to bring water because it could be quite humid during the climb.
Look around you and enjoy the dark grey rocks that forms the high cliffs. These rocks are mainly volcanic rocks of late Tertiary (Pliocene) and Quaternary periods.
Flora On Bohey Dulang
Housing many unique and unusual plant communities in Borneo, some of the plant species on Bohey Dulang are endemic to Semporna Island and Philippines but not found in other locations in Borneo. These includes the Dracaena multiflora monocot, Paraboea leopoldii on cliff rocks, palm-like lycas rumphii, succulent Euphorbia lacei and the rare epiphytic orchid that can only be found growing on volcano rocks like the Trichoglottis geminata.
Bird Watching At Bohey Dulang
As I strive to haul my heavy backside to the top, I can hear melodious chirping in the trees next to my hiking trail. Bird watchers would call this island heaven because it houses more than 48 species of birds – some of them are rare.
Back in 1933, Bohey Dulang was declared a bird sanctuary but in 1978 it was revoked to give way for the establishment of the marine park. The island is still a bird sanctuary though, no worries, as you can find birds like black-naped fruit doves, hornbills, owls, metallic pigeon, nicobar pigeon, partridges and babblers roaming freely.
Giant Clam & Marine Invertebrate Hatchery
Did you know that the house on large wooden stilts and structure over the sea near Bohey Dulang jetty is Tun Sakaran Marine Research Unit’s Giant Clam & Marine Invertebrate Hatchery?
I didn’t know too at first until I peeked to see what was inside and saw that the facility has laboratorie, exhibition hall, spawning tanks, broodstock gardens and open sea cages.
Interesting information on giant clam spawning and seaweed farming can be found at the mini exhibition hall. Next to the hall, hundreds of baby giant clams can be found lying in settlement tanks.
Being home to 7 of 9 species of giant clams in the world, you can find these clams in Sabah which are also listed under CITES:
- Tridacna gigas (Giant clam, 140 cm)
- Tridacna derasa (Southern Giant clam, 60 cm)
- Tridacna squamosa (Pluted Giant clam, 40 cm)
- Tridacna maxima (Maxima clam, 20 cm)
- Tridacna crocea (Boring clam, 15 cm)
- Hipoppus porcelanu (China clam)
- Hipoppus hipoppus (Bear Paw clam)
Giant clams can help preserve and filter the sea water by absorbing nitrates, ammonia and harmful organics that harms reefs and it’s inhabitants. Sadly, excessive harvesting, climate change and pollution caused the giant clams to disappear rapidly from the waters of Semporna.
Hence why the collaboration between Malaysia’s Sabah Parks and United Kingdom’s Marina Conservation Society launching the Semporna Islands Project and opening the hatchery is highly applaudable.
Snorkeling & Diving
If you didn’t know already, TSMP is located in the Coral Triangle or sometimes called the Amazon of The Sea. This large area supports one of the richest marine ecological zones in Malaysia with over 320 species of hard and soft corals. Not to mention the variety of sea creatures ranging from eagle rays, barracudas, turtles, nudi branchs and many more.
Clear turquoise water allows snorkelers and divers revel at the beauty of the sea lives.
Bajau Laut Settlements
Known as the “Sea Gypsies”, I was curious to see the Bajau Laut’s settlements amidst the backdrop of the mountainous Bodgaya and Bohey Dulang.
Often found in their wooden sampan (boats) floating on crystal clear water, children of as young as 3-years old are happy and can be seen enjoying their seafaring life tremendously.
Bajau Laut remains as a “stateless” community since they reside in the waters and not on land owned by any countries. There are estimated to be about 3000 people still living as a pure Bajau Laut in Semporna.
As I stood on the peak of Bohey Dulang, allowing the wind to cool the sweat running down my temple, I know it would be a sad thing to say goodbye to a place and view that robbed me of my words. It is also hard to say goodbye to Princess Salamia and her lovely island in the Celebes Sea.
One day, I shall return here again.
If you would like to come to Bohey Dulang, the journey is about 30 minutes by speedboat from Semporna, 20 minutes from Mataking and 1 hour from Mabul. It is best to visit during the dry months between February to April. You may need to arrange your own land and boat transfer, permit, lunch, island tour and snorkeling gears. Tour packages defers according to your tour agents.