Borneo From Below

By Patricia Hului
patriciahului@theborneopost.com
@pattbpseeds
Photos courtesy of Borneo from Below

 

Double headed Nembrotha kubaryana.

Double headed Nembrotha kubaryana.

 

After being known as the first creature to conveniently grow its own disposable penis, now a newly discovered nudibranch is responsible for impressing scientists worldwide by having two heads.

The double headed Nembrotha kubaryana was found at Kapalai, a sandbar off the coast of Sabah.

The team credited with finding this out-of-this-world creature was none other than award winning filming and photography company Scubazoo. Based in Kota Kinabalu, the company produces an online web series called ‘Borneo from Below’.

According to its social media manager Vinay Datla, Scubazoo contacted Clay Bryce, a nudibranch expert and marine biologist at the Western Australian Museum in Perth.

Bryce stated, “I have never seen the like in 10,000 hours underwater chasing nudibranchs, or another two-headed marine creature like this before. Usually this sort of deformity sets the animal up for an early death, but it does appear to be adult or at least subadult – so perhaps this is a case of two heads being better than one!”

It is most likely a simple birth defect – a slight mix up of genes – but there’s also the outside chance the deformity was caused by pollution.

“However if this was the case, one would expect more incidences to have occurred, Bryce informed us. We left this creature in its natural habitat, so until more are found there won’t be any follow up studies,” Vinay said.

Still, they are constantly on the look out for similar specimens.

Founded in 1996, Scubazoo is one of the most well respected and established underwater production and photography companies in Southeast Asia.

They have spent the better part of 20 years working with the likes of the BBC, National Geographic and Discovery Channel, to share the wonders of the natural world with the public.

Through ‘Borneo From Below’, Scubazoo wishes to showcase the island’s truly remarkable marine world, as well some of the threats it faces, offering a voice for those striving to protect it in short but impactful five to six minute videos posted online.

“The great thing about the internet is that they can release these immediately, have control over the content, can tell the stories they wish to tell, and can also build a relationship and interact with their viewers.”

The ‘Borneo from Below’ web series aims to raise conservation awareness as well as be helpful to underwater photographers.

In choosing this method, Vinay commented, “Whilst this model continues to be very successful, it has been a long-term vision of Scubazoo’s directors to produce short format web series. There are so many stories that they want to tell and online channels offer the perfect platform to do this.”

Scubazoo is proud to call Sabah home and wants to bring their small piece of paradise to a wider audience.

Vinay shared, “Our crew has returned from Miri to film wrecks and are currently looking into other stories in Sarawak.

“Who knows, perhaps the series will expand in the future and end up being Asia From Below!”

Scubazoo has worked on many projects about shark finning, so this is a subject that is very close to their hearts and one they will be covering in more depth.

“We are all passionate marine conservationists and are particularly interested in highlighting the plight of endangered animals around Borneo.”

Every year, an estimated 100 million sharks are killed worldwide, primarily to fulfil a demand for shark fin soup here in Asia.

“Compare this to the number of people sharks kill – on average around 10-12 and most due to a case of mistaken identity.”

The team wants to change peoples’ perceptions of these truly unique animals from fear, to respect.

“After all, our future is closely intertwined with theirs: as apex predators, sharks are critical players in marine ecosystems – without them, everything is thrown out of kilter.”

He pointed out that Borneo, in particular Sipadan, remained a hugely important region for sharks and shark tourism brings in millions of dollars every year.

“Diving or snorkelling with sharks is an experience you will never ever forget.”

Filming underwater is not easy. Vinay shared that their team had come across many challenges, thankfully none due to dangerous animals.

“While filming the Bajau recently and documenting their incredible freediving skills, the boat started taking on water and the engine stopped working,” he said, “After bailing and unsuccessfully attempting to fin it back to shore, we had to be rescued.”

 

The Phyllodesmium longicirrumich is commonly known as the Solar-Powered Phyllodesmium

The Phyllodesmium longicirrumich is commonly known as the Solar-Powered Phyllodesmium for being able to draw energy from sunlight.

 

Scubazoo’s in-house presenter Bertie or Aaron Gekoski is known as the Shark Selfie guy.

He is also an award-winning underwater photographer, journalist, adventurer and presenter.

His work has appeared in many international publications including National Geographic Traveller, Men’s Health, BBC Wildlife, FHM, Travel Africa and many more.

When asked which diving site in Borneo was the most memorable so far, he answered Sipadan.

“It is not known for being one of the world’s top dive sites for nothing. There are very few places where you can experience such biodiversity and sheer fish numbers: schools of jackfish thousands strong, tornadoing barracuda, schooling bumphead parrotfish, almost guaranteed sightings of sharks and turtles, all encased by remarkable seascapes and coral formations.”

According to Gekoski, the site is simply breath-taking and an experience he urged all Borneans to experience at least once.

“However I’d also like to make a special mention for Si Amil Island. Despite its proximity to Sipadan, this diving experience couldn’t be more different. Here, the emphasis is on rummaging around in the ‘muck’ for weird and wonderful critters. It’s like going on an underwater treasure hunt!” he said.

Gekoski also pointed out that ‘Borneo from Below’ had shot episodes on diving in both Sipadan and Si Amil, hence he invited all Borneans to check out the episode.

 

Hypselodoris apolegma

Hypselodoris apolegma is a species of colorful sea slug or dorid nudibranch.

 

The group initially shot 12 episodes over a three-month period. They are now on their third leg of filming and planning another 10 episodes.

“However the aim is for it to go on much longer – there are still many important issues we wish to cover, plus incredible species and destinations to bring to our fans!”

They would love to hear from all readers and learn what they would like to watch in the future. Message them on their Facebook page www.facebook.com/borneofrombelow, watch the episodes at www.borneofrombelow.com  and learn more about Scubazoo at www.scubazoo.com.

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