Days 6-7: Pom Pom, TRACC (Tropical Research and Conservation Center)

When thinking of scientists and research facilities, most people think of fluorescent lights, lab coats, and shiny white tile floors. This is not what greeted us on Pom-Pom island’s TRACC research facility (well, more like camp), and I’m glad it wasn’t. Upon arrival we were graciously welcomed by a group of weathered, tan scientists in swimsuits and sarongs who were accompanied by two energetic dogs. The people at TRACC taught us lessons about the palm oil industry, shark finning, mangroves, coal, blast fishing, and marine life. These lessons prepared us for what we were about to experience in the water that day. We snorkels twice, and for others, dove. We snorkeled right off the beach in groups with a TRACC guide. When we snorkeling there was beautiful, lively coral. The further we swam parallel to the beach, the more the coral turned to just rubble. The TRACC team had previously told us about blast fishing-when fishermen make homemade bombs and blast the coral; killing and stunning the fish. This is a much easier way for fishermen to catch many fish in a short amount of time; but in the process they break and kill coral. This type of fishing is very harmful to the environment but not illegal in Sabah. Blast fishing has created a tremendous amount of coral rubble. It is a barren place where no fish go to live or nest. Later that day we traveled by boat to a coral reef in the middle of the water. This coral reef had not been impacted by blast fishing and the difference is so noticeable. There were tons of different types of coral thriving and growing on top of each other. It is amazing to have this experience of not only a classroom style lesson, but afterwards going out and seeing what was just taught with your own eyes and having the hands on experience. The trip to Pom-Pom island has been my favorite part of this trip. I hope to come back one day.
~ Elizabeth Cummings

We are on Pom Pom Island with the TRACC members. The day starts with some swimming in the ocean and a nice breakfast. After the breakfast we have two presentation about palm plantations and about dangerous marine creatures like the crown of thorns starfish, which is an invasive spiky starfish.
In the afternoon a lot of people are going snorkeling, but Mendi and I are going diving with 2 chaperones and experts from TRACC. We see a lot of species, like the moorish idol (Zanclus cornutus), a crown-of-thorn starfish (Acanthaster planci), which we had to kill because they devour coral, a chocolate chip starfish (Protoreaster nodosus), a cushion starfish (Choriaster granulatus), and also 2 Green Sea Turtles (Chelonia mydas).

Unfortunately, we also see a lot of dead coral. After the diving trip a small group and I stay on the island to make bottle reefs. The rest of the group is going on another snorkel trip. In the evening we have two more presentations about Shark Finning, which is the removal of fins of sharks and the sharks are thrown away in the ocean, mostly alive, and Corals and Mangroves, which is a habitat for many shrimp.
At last we eat dinner and watch a documentary about sharks.

~Jasmin Da Silva Welter

Green sea turtle and chocolate chip starfish, with coral

Green sea turtle and chocolate chip starfish, with coral

   — Video created and published by TRACC

Day 5: River rafting on the Kiulu River

Today, We took an hour long bus ride to the outskirts of Kota Kinabalu city, where we were guided to a famous river which we white water rafted in. Rafting through the jungle of Borneo was an exhilarating yet relaxing adventure where we saw a range of things, such as beautiful mountainous landscapes, villages that get smothered by the river for months at a time, and even thousand year old trees and mangroves which each have eloquent stories behind them. It was remarkable to see these beautiful sights and how momentous this lake was to the people who surrounded it.  Aside from the immense visual that came along with rafting, the actual activity was very strenuous, yet very stirring. it was a a huge rush of energy every time we moved swiftly through the rapids and paddled to make it through with all of our strength. After getting through a big rapid, we would let the current take us by itself and lay back and enjoy what was around us. After the rafting, we arrived at the end of the river, where we enjoyed a barbecue and made up for all of the burned calories.

~Ben Bijur

Today, Our group of students and teachers when to Kota Kinabalu to go white water rafting. We met with some of the experienced locals who gave us lessons on the do’s and dont’s of rafting. We split into groups of four to six and got started. While we were floating through the river we were surrounded by breathtaking sights such as the thousand year old trees and the massive mountains in the distance. The river was generally calm but every now and then we would hit a patch of rapids and get a rush of adrenaline while having to paddle as hard as we could to make sure we didn’t crash into any rocks. While we were gently floating among the still areas, we would learn stories about the history of the trees and people. There was one tree which hung over the lake which had somewhat of a disturbing story behind it. It was believed that an old woman who used to live in a house not far was killed by a man and buried in the tree. Her spirit lives in the tree and comes out at night. Our guide called it the “Dracula Tree”. It was amazing to learn about the old folk tales of the Kota Kinabalu people.
~ George Cortes

Days 1-4: Finally here in Borneo!

We started our trip to Borneo on Monday the 27th with a total of 25 hours of being on a plane. This was the most exhausting thing most of us have ever done. We landed on Wednesday March 1st, going through three time zones in 24 hours. After arriving at the hotel most of us wanted to sleep. We had a quick dinner and then went off into our hotel rooms. Today we all had breakfast around 8:15 and then took a jetty to Gaya island. We then trekked for about an hour and a half, learning about local trees and plants. Once we were done with the hike, we took another jetty to Sapi Island. There we snorkeled, swam, ate, and ventured around the island. Then, we went back to Gaya island and ziplined from Gaya Island to Sapi Island! It was really fun! We then came back and got ready for dinner. We ate at an authentic Malaysian restaurant. When we were done, we walked over to a market and then some of us got sim cards and ice cream. By the time we arrived back at the hotel, we were very tired and ready to go to bed.

~Sabrina and Jenna

Guilherme getting ready to soar over the tropical water, from Gaya to Sapi island.

Guilherme getting ready to soar over the tropical water, from Gaya to Sapi island.

Journey to the “Last Frontier”

Borneo is the third largest island in the world, making up only 1% of the world’s land, yet it shelters nearly 6% of all the species on planet Earth! The rain forest and coral reefs surrounding the island rank as the most biodiverse habitats in the world. They are also the most vulnerable and threatened, as mass deforestation, mining, and forest fires have cut Borneo’s original rain forest area in half. As stewards of our planet, students help restore forests by planting trees. They observe critically endangered species, like orangutans, one of our closest primate relatives, and participate in local and global rehabilitation initiatives.

This is a physically challenging and rewarding adventure. Students hike rain forest mountains, zipline over clear tropical waters, river raft, snorkel, and enjoy white sandy beaches. There may be opportunities for scuba diving for those who are certified prior to the trip. Through underwater and seashore exploration, students learn to identify the creatures of the sea and understand the ecological benefits of Borneo’s marine protected areas. In addition to preserving the natural environment, travelers immerse themselves in indigenous cultures. Many of the native tribes of Borneo have preserved and passed down their traditional, sustainable ways of life for hundreds of years. This is impressive in the wave of modernization sweeping the world.

Borneo offers an inspiring example of collaboration between three countries—Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei—which all share the remaining rain forest and must work together to preserve its rich habitat, natural resources, and ancient traditions. Lodging will be a combination of comfortable modern hotels with standard amenities, rustic longhouse dwellings, and brief tent camping. Join us on a life-changing experience to preserve and play in paradise!