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Book Review

by Brian Pitkin

Reproduced from in focus 43 (February 1992)

SIPADAN Borneo's Underwater Paradise by Michael P. Wong.

Publisher. Odyssey Publishing Size: 292 mm x 265 mm. Pages: 216. Colour plates: 260 +. ISBN. 981-00-2821-0. Price: S$120.00 (incl. post and package).

SIPADAN Borneo's Underwater Paradise by Michael P. Wong

Between the Indian and Pacific Ocean is a sprawling archipelago of many thousands of islands. One of the largest is Borneo. One of the tiniest, lying off Borneo's north east coast, is Sipadan, which contains a coral ecosystem so perfect and unspoiled that is unrivalled in the whole of Malaysia's waters.

Unique, as the only deep water oceanic island in Malaysia, Sipadan teems with a vast range of elusive marine life species, many of which can only be found around Sipadan's pristine coral.

A diver's dream, Sipadan's undersea life was discovered a mere decade ago, and has become the centre of pilgrimage for many of the world's most renowned undersea explorers.

Born in Sarawak, Borneo, Michael Wong trained at the Royal London Hospital, and now has a successful dental practice in London. He took up SCUBA diving in 1982, and was soon accompanied by a camera on every dive, with which to capture the fascinating images of undersea life.

His love for underwater photography has led him to dive many of the world's most renowned reefs. However, it is to Sipadan, off the coast of his native Borneo, that he returns, time and time again.

His stylish and unique marine photographs have won many awards in National and International competitions. in covering the Sipadan project over four years, Michael Wong logged over 1,200 underwater hours, photographing the island's marine life in all seasons to produce the stunning images of Sipadan contained in this, his first book.

The 260 + colour photographs reproduced in the book were taken by Michael Wong using either Pentax LX SLR cameras in Hugyfot underwater housings or, in strong currents, with Nikonos 11 and III amphibious cameras. Lenses ranged from 16 mm full-frame fish- eye to 100 mm macro on Pentax cameras and 20 mm and 15 mm on Nikonos cameras. Illumination was provided by Sea and Sea YS 200 strobe units. The film used was either Fuji RF50 or Fuji Velvia.

Michael Wong's colourful book starts with a Preface by The Right Honourable Chief Minister of Sabah and a Forward by the Honourable Minister of Tourism and Environmental Development of Sabah. Following an Introduction there are four chapters - The Living Reef, Kaleidoscope of Life, Fish in Abundance, and Turtle Odyssey.

The bulk of the text is contained in the 15 pages of Introduction. The rest of the book is devoted entirely to photographs with appropriate legends. There are very many superb photographs reproduced in Michael Wong's book, in fact every opening contains one or more.

As one might expect the Living Reef chapter covers the corals, sponges and anemones with some additional photographs of sea- squirts and marine worms.

The Kaleidoscope of Life chapter includes photographs of starfish, brittle-stars, feather-stars, shrimps, crabs, lobsters and molluscs (including sea-slugs, squid and octopus).

The Fish in Abundance chapter reveals shoals of barracudas, lacks, anchovies, surgeon fish, fusiliers, goat fish, banner fish, caranx, bat fish, humphead parrot fish, squirrel fish, fairy basslets; and catfish as well as individual shots of sharks, rays, puffers, lion fish, scorpion fish, leaf fish, blennies, hawk fish, file fish, gobies, cleaner wrasse, sweetlips, squirrel fish, groupers, parrot fish, crocodile fish, flashlight fish, clown fish, moray eels and garden eels.

The final chapter is devoted to photographs of Green and Hawksbill Turtles and the remarkable caverns in which some individual turtles have become sadly and permanently entrapped.

Many photographers have compared Michael Wong's book with David Doubilet's 'Light in the Sea' and Christopher Newberts 'Within a Rainbowed Sea'. Although similar in format, all three books are, in my opinion, unique and reflect the individual styles of three talented underwater photographers.

Michael Wong's 'Sipadan, Borneo's Underwater Paradise' will appeal to all serious underwater photographers, those interested in marine life and all who have dived or intend to dive in Malaysia, in particular Sipadan


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