by Paul Jambunathan; Co-authored by Dr. Stephen Jambunathan
SERENDIPITY: the faculty of making happy and unexpected discoveries by accident (The Concise Oxford Dictionary); the lucky tendency to find interesting or valuable things just by chance (The Cambridge International Dictionary of English).
The above definition explicitly describes the experience at this new dive site we1 discovered.
I am a relatively new diver with nearly 40 dives since May this year. I had the great fortune to learn diving at the Redang Aquatic Adventure Dive Centre, based at the Redang Beach Resort. I say fortunate for several important reasons. Reasons I believe should be central to any enthusiast wishing to take up diving and for those discerning divers or 'connoisseurs' of the diving experience.
First, the instructors were 'very educated' divers. Educated with regard to marine fauna and flora both macro and micro. They would readily share their in-depth knowledge of 'macro' things as sharks, sting rays, giant groupers, wrasse etc. - about their differences, feeding, resting, habits, etc. They would also be as quick to educate us about the micro stuff like flatworms and the different types of nudibranchs.
Second, there is absolute fun and interaction between all divers. No discrimination and above all, with absolutely no compromise on safety standards. Third, the instructors, divemasters and buddies were themselves interested in a variety of life forms and were keen to share and learn from one another. This was evident when after every dive, we brought out our reference books, and over several cups of tea and coffee, discussed our sightings.
Fourth, Redang is a wonderful spot to learn. One of the things I enjoyed most was the educational opportunities presented to us at our safety-stops. These were no ordinary, mandatory stops. They were always extended because of the great variety of life forms visible even at that depth. It was as though we were viewing a 'National Geographic'- type documentary. We were unfailingly surrounded with great spectacle of 'plankton performances'. We were treated to a variety of life forms dancing around us; oblivious to our presence and interference. There were millions of sea creatures that were as unlike as snow flakes. They probably represented different stages of development and in themselves a myriad of species. It is recommended that safety stops be taken to a new level, whereby they no longer are restricted to safety issues. They should include the new dimension of micro appreciation. It is worth noting how odd one's buddy may seem to be while delving into this nearly microscopic and transparent world. At a safety stop you would observe your buddy pointing at something which apparently looks as though he is pointing at plain water. You do not know how far away from his fingertip to focus on and would initially think that your buddy is narcotic, pointing at nothing, seemingly in a dance of his or her own. However, when you get closer, you soon realise that you are surrounded by a totally different world, made myopic by the routine expectations we have of what we 'ought' to see when we go diving.
At Redang there is a great variety of dive sites to select from offering super multi-level visual and intellectual stimulation. Muck diving is a relatively new interest among divers to Redang. I was fortunate to be part of a group led by dive instructors Liu, Lam and Tee. We invested a considerable amount of time at two particular muck dive sites, namely, Sandy Bottom and Serendipity Garden. The latter being named after a group brainstorming session upon returning and discussing the significance of our discoveries by chance - "serendipity"!.
Lastly I must comment on the conservation minded team at the resort. Conservation is high on their list of priorities and it is reflected in their behaviour during dives. It is hard not to be infected with such enthusiasm and values. What with the quality of dive sites, illustration and exchange of knowledge - it is without doubt that I am fortunate!
As a new diver my feelings when first introduced to muck diving are not dissimilar to many who try it for the first time. My first muck experience was at a site very aptly named Sandy Bottom. You descend directly to about 80 feet and remain there. One cannot describe the disappointment when confronted with acres of muck! Hardly any colour and the only things moving were ourselves, or so I thought. Apparently not! However, once you got your buoyancy perfected, reorganised your focal length and restructured your mind to expect nothing yet everything, a whole new experience slowly unfolds. In trying to belong to learning dive culture at Redang Beach I found that I had to hone up on my memory skills. With the amazing variety and multitude of minute creatures memory played a big part in the discussion process during surface time.
The realisation of learning and surprise discoveries at Sandy Bottom set the scene for another muck dive site - a site we discovered to be 'Serendipity Garden'. On one visit to Sandy Bottom we had the opportunity to spot about 10 sea hares (Aplysia dactylomela) feeding, on solo sojourns and their eggs. Among the other forms of nudibranchs and sea hares we also spotted a few varieties and an abundance of 'exotic' and rarely spotted nudibranchs such as the giant Melibe fimbriata - a beautiful specimen of nudi. Now onto Serendipity Garden.
It all started as an exploratory dive on 4th June 2001 at 1.25pm. We had decided to explore a spot generally known as Selat Kampung. It was not a dive site. It literally was a waterway where a Kampung had once been. We descended to about 9m and spent 27 mins exploring the muck. We were surrounded with stag coral and while surfacing spotted a single nudi, very much like the regal looking, purple and white Phylidiella zeylanica. The trip was not a total failure. Among a variety of marine life, we were visited by a very friendly cuttlefish who graciously gave us a display of its chromatographic abilities. The dive was exploratory and promised 'chance' for new discoveries.
4th June 2001, 5.10pm. The historical day! We were down at 9m for 60mins. Visibility was good - about 10m and it was a great day for spotting and discovering.
A list of what we saw is available on the following page.
All in all, Serendipity Garden was a lesson in life. It provided the opportunity for resilience, persistence and a reorganisation of thoughts and expectations. The ability to find something valuable in apparently nothing is worth living. I highly recommend a visit to Serendipity Garden and Sandy Bottom. To be able to enjoy your muck dives it is important that your guides are experienced and knowledgeable. Don't just do it once and let disillusionment invade your serendipity. Remember, at Serendipity Garden, if at first you don't succeed, dive, dive, and dive again!
1. We: the divers who were part of the Serendipity discovery team as listed below.
- Mr. Liu Saow Hong,
- Mr. Larry Lam Joo On,
- Mr. Tee Kok Yau
Advanced Open Water Divers:
- Dr. Stephen Jambunathan
(Consultant Psychiatrist, Univ. Malaya Medical Centre),
- Ms.Fennie Chin (Sr. Strategy & Bus. Manager - Cell Network)
- Mr.Paul Jambunathan
(Consultant Clinical Psychologist, Sr. Lecturer in Behavioural
Sciences, International Medical University),
- Mr Chua Yeow Chuan (Staff Member, Redang Aquatic Adventure Dive Centre)