Pulau Sipadan has long been considered one of the world’s top diving sites, but few people know that Sipadan also hosts a population of one of Borneo’s rarest figs.
Until 31 December 2004 tourist divers could stay in one of five resorts on the island.
We were lucky to be some of the last few tourists before the five resorts were closed to visitors and permanently demolished. Divers can now stay on nearby Mabul island and have to pay for a permit to dive around the Sipadan reefs. Access to Sipadan itself is now very restricted.
The photos in this article were taken before the resorts were (rightly ) demolished and illustrate one of Borneo’s rarest figs Ficus glandifera growing next to the main landing jetty -in the middle of the photo above. At the time of our visit in December 2004 we were unaware of the identity and rarity of this fig.
Ficus glandifera is found in Sulawesi east to New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. F. glandifera has crossed Wallace’s Line across the Makassar Straits at least twice (east to west) but remains extremely rare in Borneo confined to two sites, Pulau Sipadan and the Derawan Islands off the coast of East Kalimantan. This photo was taken before the resorts closed in 2004. This particular F. glandifera fig tree has since died but F. glandifera remains common on Pulau Sipadan.
Magnificent beach forest lining the coast of Pulau Sipadan in 2004. On the left Terminalia catappa (Ketapang or Sea Almond) leaning over the sea so that the fruit can drop straight into the sea and drift away. On the right a large Pandanus dubius which also produces large sea dispersed floating seeds. It is obviously no coincidence that the vegetation of the isolated islands surrounding Borneo are populated by trees with sea dispersed seeds. However these floating seeds are surrounded by a fruity pericarp and are secondarily dispersed by fruit bats and crabs.
Football sized fruits of Pandanus dubious (bakong) a common palm like tree on many of Borneo’s small islands.
Two species of pandans are common along the coast and on the islands around Borneo. The both have large pineapple like fruit. Individual fruits are shown above. These fruits can travel long distances by sea but are also eaten and dispersed by fruit bats and crabs.
Fruits of Terminalia catappa (ketapang or sea almond). The corky fruits float between islands but the green flesh on ripe fruits provides food for fruit bats and crabs which disperse these plants inland from the beach.
One of the resort buildings before Sipadan was closed to tourists on 31 December 2004. Nutrient rich waste water run off from the 5 resorts was killing the corals surrounding Sipadan.
Fortunately the original beach forest rich in figs remains as pristine as ever
And the abundant fish and corals have been saved for future generations to enjoy.