Pier at Manukan Island KK

Apart from sharks and piranhas I never realised that the small fish who I usually swim with would come and bite me and hard. The fish in Kota Kinabalu have different ideas however, they come and bite again and again before you can even get your mask on to confront the little devils

Manukan Island a paradise except in jellyfish season

After my two days of enforced rest, I finally made it out of the hotel blinking in the bright sunlight with my new friend DD, armed with all kinds of beach paraphernalia, chattering on like over-excited children. We were heading for the harbour for a boat over to that beautiful little island, Manukan, that I had been to on my last visit, the one with the idyllic pier that leads you to the white sand beaches. This protected island was to show me its darker side this time with its now-famous nipping fish and stinging jellyfish.

DD or Darling Daughter!

The speed boats mad and reckless ride over the heavily swelling sea was thrilling and at the same time irresponsible. Like children, we screamed at each particularly high flight into the air followed by the thwunk as its metal hull hit hard the unforgiving sea. DD was entranced, and I just delighted, that we had survived when we arrived. At the pier, we looked down on one very large pipefish loitering around the boats. Mr greedy was obviously being fed by irresponsible tourists despite being told to the contrary, he was a sign that indeed fish were being fed….sometimes human flesh. We paid our tickets to go on this wildlife reserve and given a small lecture about not feeding any wildlife there and rushed on to what had been my favourite corner of the beach. We raced into the water and clever DD was wearing swimming trousers and long-sleeved top (as she is Muslim) so didn’t get it and looked bemused when I started shouting profanities she had had a lovely time.

Monitor lizard beach

‘Ow ow owwwwww! What the fuck was that? Jesus somethings biting me over there. Shit man, it’s coming at me again!’

As I put on my mask and went under I saw the little sod doing an eye to eye standoff with me! The audacity of this little bugger with its white spot on its otherwise dark brown body. At this point, my mask went Ping and I was left nipped and furious with a broken mask in one hand and camera in the other. Time for me to regroup and up on the beach I went. I could see it was just in one area so I felt it was just territorial and on the walk into the water had already seen some purple jellyfish (Pelagia noctiluca) washed up onto the beach. This side of the pier seemed fraught with danger.

Alert: There will be times when you hit jellyfish season. In some places it is dangerous. The box jellyfish has arrived in some parts of Malaysia on the freight tankers from Australia apparently as I found to my cost on another trip. This obviously means you cannot enter the water and will sit gazing at the sea from the beach only able to imagine how wonderful it would be to have a dip. Research your area as the seasons are different. This potentially could ruin a trip so check before you book. Jellyfish are more prevalent now due to us humans polluting our planet so be warned.

DD and I discussed the problem for me with my bare arms and legs. She was nonchalant with her very sensible anti biting fish outfit, I was bleeding from one bite and piteously whimpered for more sympathy as I showed her the other places I had marks. By then we had also noticed some weird jelly-like strands of mucousy material much like a ribbon of frogspawn with the black dots. We went to the other side of the pier.

Paradise with a sting in its tail!


Now to be fair the weird eggy ribbons we later found out are called Salps and mean you no harm. So quick fact “….. a barrel-shaped, planktic tunicate. It moves by contracting, thereby pumping water through its gelatinous body, one of the most efficient examples of jet propulsion in the animal kingdom.” Wiki. So don’t worry about those chaps they look off putting but in fact are harmless.

Chains of Salps in Bunaken- Jelly and I scream! - Two Fish Divers

No, the sea is not safer on the other side of the fence…

Now I must admit I had been showing off my local knowledge and this all was brand new to DD so I was a little disgruntled to say the least that the wildlife had mocked me thus far. We went and had a calming drink under the shade of the palm trees, then I started again on my quest for a fruitful snorkel with my broken mask and pride. Cautiously I went and cooled myself in those turquoise waters beer in hand, so far so good. Leaving my empty bottle I swam boldly where no old bird had gone before and sighted some very large translucent white fish. This was better then boom! A sharp pain all over my back which I knew only too well was a jellyfish sting. I’m a very fast swimmer when needed and my return to shore was rocket-like as was my run to the lifeguard. He doused me with vinegar then used some plastic device to scrape off the long tendrils attached to my back. Suitably shocked I demanded the prognosis. How fucking dangerous were they? Although he tried to calm me I was having none of it. I was going to die, wasn’t I? With my new injury, I staggered across the burning sand to find refuge in another beer (it didn’t matter now if I drank too much, I was sure to go into toxic shock any second, and I certainly wasn’t going back into that beautiful but lethal fucking soup of monsters.) I, of course, was fine (I’m here ain’t I?) but it took an English couple to calm me who had suffered the same fate. I think that a large monitor lizard ambling past dripping its poison sealed the deal. I was out of here.

DD waiting on the monitor lizard!

DD and I did go onto another island and all was well but after that drama, I was very glad to get back onto the quey back in town with its hullabaloo and afternoon heat shimmering from the pavement. I crossly returned my broken mask to the tour man and sneered that they hadn’t warned about it being jellyfish season and that the fish had turned into cannibals. Our car came and the air con was bliss, by now we just wanted the hotel, a shower and of course to meet up on the sunset roof.

Licking my wounds

At cocktails the tasty food in little bite-size pieces were delicious, much as the bite-size pieces that the cannibal fish had nibbled off me, probably had been to him too.