See The Rare and Precious Black Coral
Mantabuan is a volcanically formed and mostly submerged island that is paradise for divers who want to see magnificent coral and with unsurpassed visibility. Located northeast from the ancient volcano of Bohedulang, Mantabuan is one of the best islands in the area for manta rays, especially when the currents pick up. Eagle rays and devil rays can often be found in the blue as well. The real star of Mantabuan though is the black coral.
Usually found at much greater depths, this rare and precious coral can be found in just 22 meters of water. Black coral has long been valued by humans for purposes ranging from protection against curses to decoration in jewelry. Black coral is Hawaii's official state gem, but divers must go well past 40 meters in order to see it. It's a surreal feeling swimming through the huge bushes, ranging in color from white to green to purple (the term black comes from the color of it's skeleton). We hesitate to give the exact location of the bushes as black coral is frequently harvested for use in jewelry, and it's market value approaches that of gold.
In addition to the black coral, pristine soft coral and large table coral can be found throughout the entirety of the island. Huge coral boulders in the shallows provide shelter to a large number of marine life, including myriad nudibranches, painted lobsters, blue-spotted ribbon rays, and thousands upon thousands of reef fish. When the tides permit we usually have lunch along the palm tree lined white sand beaches where you will feel like Robinson Crusoe!
The Black Coral Garden is a fairyland of large pristine bushes, located between 22 and 35 meters. The bushes can be found in large patches if you know where to look (we do!), and many of the bushes are more than 2 meters high. There is an eery, fairytale quality to black coral, and divers are usually amazed at the iridescence of the bushes, created by the same protein that gives pearls their beauty. This is a special dive that allows divers a glimpse at a rare and fascinating species!
This site is home to many blue-spotted ribbon rays and blue-spotted sting rays who make their home amongst the stunning coral. Often shoals of streamlined barracuda are seen in the shallows a well as cuttlefish and squid, and if you're lucky flamboyant cuttlefish. Ribbon eels can be found hiding inside the crevices of large boulders, as well as many-banded pipefish. This is a nudibranch lover's dive, and flatworms are a common find as well. The hard and soft corals found in the shallows are some of the most pristine to be found anywhere in Malaysia.
Currents are often strong here, though the maximum depth is only about 14 meters, making for a perfect afternoon dive after a few deeper dives on the other sides of the island. The coral is absolutely pristine here, and turtles can be found in large quantities, as can barracuda, moorish idols, angelfish, damsel fish, and myriad other reef fish. This is a great dive for small critter hunters as well, with numerous varieties of shrimps, crabs, and nudibranchs frequently being spotted.