What is it about Borneo? Few places carry such exotic connotations. Jungles filled tree-to-tree with pygmy elephants, proboscis monkeys, sun bears and orangutans.
Head Hunters, crazy-looking bugs, rainforests, mountains. And that’s just above the water.
Borneo from below does little to dampen the romance. This massive coastline – Borneo is the 3rd largest island in the world – is home to world-class coral reefs that are visited by pods of pilot and sperm whales, mantas, whale sharks, gigantic schools of devil ray and more.
But Borneo’s not just about the big things: some of the planet’s weirdest and most downright bizarre underwater critters also call these waters home.
This includes blue-ringed octopus, bobtail squid, hairy frogfish, pygmy seahorse and more.
And then there’s Sipadan Island, a dive spot that legendary explorer Jacques Cousteau referred to as an “untouched piece of art.”
This extinct volcano cone is a shoe in on lists dedicated to the world’s top dive sites due to its tornadoing barracuda, giant schools of sharks, bumphead parrotfish and jackfish.
It’s also one of the last remaining places where 30-40 turtles can be seen on a single dive.
The London-Borneo express
Borneo isn’t much like Covent Garden. Particularly on a cold and rainy afternoon in December. Yet this is where my journey to those fabled jungles begins.
I’d arranged a meeting with Scubazoo’s Simon “Pieman” Christopher. Founded in 1996, Scubazoo are one of the most well respected and established underwater production houses in the business.
Pieman explained they were in the process of launching a new online channel: Borneo From Below (BFB) would be the first ever ongoing series dedicated to Borneo’s marine world.
BFB would showcase some of the island’s top dive spots and fascinating marine life, whilst offering viewers tips to improve their photography.
Some Complex Issues
Far from fluffy, the series would also tackle complex issues and the trades and practices that are pushing many species to the brink of extinction.
This includes overfishing, the trade in endangered species for use in traditional medicine, pollution, dynamite and cyanide fishing, and more.
We would also get to meet those working tirelessly to preserve these waters, such as local operator Scuba Junkie, and spend time with tribes including the Bajau Laut, aka sea gypsies: nomadic seafaring people who traditionally spent their entire lives on the ocean.
In terms of ideal jobs, it didn’t come much better. So quicker than you could say “skinny Frappuccino”, I was bound for Borneo, laden with lenses.
What’s in the Pipeline?
In the process of filming BFB, Cameraman Will and I have been fortunate enough to shoot some incredible sequences.
We went on board with the Bajau as they caught mantis shrimp, before they stuffed them into bottles and sold them to local restaurants.
I also travelled out to sea with one of the last remaining sea gypsy families who still live on their boat.
Having watched a hawksbill turtle nest just two months earlier, we captured a rare timelapse of a ‘turtle volcano’ as hatchlings made their bid for freedom.
I also attended a sweaty, colourful festival in celebration of the Bajau’s traditional boat, the lepa lepa, swam with scarcely believable schools of fish at Sipadan, filmed baby devil rays at local markets (that were sold for little more than the price of a Mars bar), wrangled turtles in the name of science, and, in what could be a world-first…even photographed a nudibranch with two heads!
All this and we’ve barely scratched beneath Borneo’s surface.
The first episode I’d like to showcase on Go World Travel focuses on the one and only Sipadan Island.
Whilst most people won’t get a chance to visit this extraordinary location, this film might just be the next best thing. So come diving with me for the day…and prepare to be dazzled!
We hope you enjoy watching our films as much as we enjoy making them.
Aaron (aka Bertie) Gekoski is a photographer, journalist, presenter, adventurer, travel writer and film-maker. He is the host of Borneo from Below, produced by Scubazoo, one of the world’s leading underwater production companies. Read more from Aaron Geokoski’s blog.
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All previous episodes can be viewed on www.borneofrombelow.com.