Island life… research or relaxation?


Paya Bay- Pulau Tioman.

I just returned from my week in Tioman, an island off the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia. It seriously exceeded any expectations I had. The island had thick rain forests dotted with small sandy beaches around its perimeter. Think The Beach (that one book made into a movie featuring Leonardo Dicaprio) meets Jurassic Park. Although the trip was a part of my biodiversity program, most the time it felt like vacation. Probably because we were housed in a resort and the research I conducted required me to snorkel all day and explore some of the most beautiful coral reefs I have ever experienced. Other than snorkeling, spent most my time eating and drinking, and was even able to log three more dives during R&R day.

Tip #1: If you are traveling to/from Tioman and often experience motion sickness, make sure you take medicine prior to boarding the ferry. It is an hour and half trip from mainland and a barf bag is given to you as you enter. 

The Research.

Things we surveyed: urchins, coral, parrot fish.

The marine team and I conducted surveys to determine the status of the coral reefs surrounding Tioman. We surveyed Paya Bay, Melina Bay, and areas off Pulua Tulai. Every place surveyed was like a scene from national geographic. The water was clear and the colors of the fish and the coral were vivid.

Unbeknownst to my TAs, I am a terrible swimmer and slightly terrified of being on top of the water. Yes… even as a certified diver. I actually contemplated signing up for the marine group. The compulsory life jackets helped ease my fears and encouraged my decision to join the marine team. Embarrassingly enough, the life jackets were “inflate in the case of an emergency” jackets, not the normal flotation device I was hoping for. Luckily, my experiences as a diver helped me trust the buoyancy provided by my snorkel. I actually ended up feeling extremely comfortable right off the bat. I even became a master at duck diving and setting my own transects. Spent a total of 3-5 hours a day for 4 days straight snorkeling.

Tip #2: Sometimes sucking it up and facing your fears can lead to amazing experiences. 

Anthony in action. Coral ID sheet in hand, running a transect, floating around.
Various shots of the marine team chilling and in action.


Paya Resort.

For the first three days we stayed at a resort behind the resort pictured above. Although it was not as nice and further away from the dining hall, long-tailed macaques and giant squirrels were often seen outside our rooms. For the last three days, we stayed at the Paya Resort. Definitely an upgrade with better AC and home to several giant monitor lizards aka Dragon Monsters.

the notorious Dragon Monster


One of the greatest challenges I faced, aside from differentiating research from relaxation, was making my everyday choice between Magnum Almond and La Cremeria Absolutely Almond. The Magnum was about 2 ringgit more then the La Cremeria, but was definitely better quality. After running out of Ringgit due to the large quantities of ice cream I ate, I’d recommend sticking to the La Cremeria.

Tip #3: After spending time on over 5 small islands similar to Tioman, I’d recommend always bringing more local currency then you expect to spend. Most of these smaller islands have no ATMs or unreliable ATMs or high exchange rates. 

Some of The marine life.

The life I was able to see and experience off the coast of Tioman was phenomenal. There were far too many photos to include in this post and some things we were unable to capture on film. During some leisure snorkels, we were able to swim with some black fin sharks and during one of my dives, I met three sea turtles… or maybe two… chance that one just reintroduced itself to me. Aside from the marine life, the other research groups were able to capture so many unique plants, insects, and animals endemic to Tioman. I saw and learned so much in one week. An unforgettable trip!

Photo cred to Gavan, one of the Marine TAs. (Yes, all the pics were taken on this trip. They are not google stock pics, even though they may seem like it.)