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“The experience of a lifetime”

Tropical Research and Conservation Centre
Ranked #7 of 15 things to do in Semporna
Certificate of Excellence
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Attraction details
Owner description: TRACC is a conservation organisation on Pom Pom Island near Semporna, about 50km north of Sipadan, Mabul and Kapali. With volunteer divers who stay for 1-12 weeks, we are protecting the reef by replanting the coral reef, protecting the sharks and turtles, conducting surveys and actively demonstrating the value of marine protected areas. Accommodation at the moment is in tents on the beach, with good food provided 3 times each day. Showers and toilets are in a purpose built block nearby. Staying with TRACC is about diving with a purpose - conservation diving with scientists and marine biologists, every visitor contributes to the reef rebuilding, the turtle and shark monitoring surveys and the building of the fish aggregation devices. If you want part of your trip to be about contributing to the environment as well as diving on great coral reefs visit TRACC in Malaysian Borneo.
Johor Bahru, Malaysia
Level Contributor
7 reviews
5 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 5 helpful votes
“The experience of a lifetime”
Reviewed December 30, 2013

I came I dived, I planted corals. Some of the reefs we dove were superb and so much better than Mabul. The underwater coral planting is just amazing, it is great to be able to see the reefs created by tracc making a real difference to the environment of pom pom island. The oldest reefs were planted in 2012 and they have double handful sized corals and a mass of fish. The reefs planted in 2013 have fist sized branching acropora corals. The coral biscuits are clearly being covered by the porites massive corals which is spreading and growing.
I helped create bottle reefs to stabilise the reef creat and this is fantastic. One end of a ribbon reef is 8 months old and is colonised by clouds of fish and the corals are just starting to grow. Planted corals are there but if you look carefully baby coral which settled this year are just forming into recognisable shapes and hiding the bottles that support them. The other end of the ribbon reef is more recent and we worked at planting the corals on the bottles. The crate reefs are also doing well, clouds of fish are a sure sign that the reefs are doing their job but the main purpose is to stabilise the reef slope and that is less obvious but much more important.

I must say that the previous review by linda 99 “One look & that was enough” is simply incorrect. Sure she saw loads of rubbish in front of TRACC, If she had asked she would have learnt it was in transit for recycling or disposal. The volunteers clean all the turtle beaches - including the trash dumped by the resort she stayed at - and all the rubbish is sent by TRACC to the mainland. Did linda get up early and watch her resort staff, burying the plastic in the sand of the beach so that it washes out at the next high tide.
Did Linda appreciate that the large number of fish at the north tip and in front of her resort are a result of the effort that lots of volunteers have made to plant reefs on otherwise barren rubble slopes.
Did linda realise that TRACC saved over 8500 turtle eggs last year so they were not sold in the Semporna market. The resort she stayed at is invited to watch turtles nesting because the TRACC volunteers patrol the beaches every 2h through the night to stop poachers.
Linda came, took video of the results of the work that TRACC does and then writes a poor review. She did nothing positive for the reef during her visit, what gives her the right to critisize the work that all the volunteers do to protect, conserve and rebuild the reef of Pom Pom Island.

LINDA you should be ashamed.
I and all the volunteers at TRACC work hard to repair the damage created by fishermen in the past. - WHAT does your resort do. Creates more damage and pollution because i and every other volunteer watched the resort destroy reef and jetty..

TRACC does not pretend to be a resort, the TRACC staff and volunteers are making a tremendous difference to the pom pom reef and the enthusiasm is infectious. This was a great trip, the best volunteer expereince I have had and I would recommend this place to anyone who actually cares about coral reefs. There will be sharks on Pom POm in the near future and that will be because of the amazing work done by TRACC. The progress towards a marine protected area is commendable and I cannot help feeling that the world needs more dedicated individuals like the TRACC staff. well done everyone!!

Visited November 2013
Helpful?
Thank josec s
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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Bellbrook, OH
Level Contributor
159 reviews
55 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 116 helpful votes
“One look and that was enough”
Reviewed November 23, 2013

I arrived on Pom Pom at the beginning of October with intentions of staying on at TRACC once I finished my BSAC professional underwater video course which was being conducted at the neighboring resort, Celebes Beach Resort. I was horrified by what I saw. They had trash everywhere, in front of their camp, and all down the beach. You would think someone who wanted to help save turtles could at least pick up the beach and get rid of the plastic rather than leave it lying around in heaps. As has been suggested by others, this appears to be some kind of place for gap year students to learn to dive and play at marine conservation. I am an older, more experienced rescue certified diver who wanted to learn more about marine life and while I was there make some contributions to their effort by making videos which they could use to promote their conservation efforts. After seeing what their place looked like with all the trash and also the reef restoration efforts with plastic and all kinds of rubbish they have intentionally placed on the reef I decided not to stay and be involved in promoting a type of "conservation" that I did not agree with.

Visited October 2013
Helpful?
8 Thank LindaA99
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
London, United Kingdom
Level Contributor
20 reviews
6 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 11 helpful votes
“Playing at conservation”
Reviewed November 12, 2013

I arrived on Pom Pom at the end of July with the intention of staying for 12 weeks. Of the 30 plus volunteers and staff on the island, the average age was 19, and I would echo a previous reviewer in saying this was a summer camp for gap year/students to learn to dive and play at marine conservation rather than an experienced, older diver with a genuine interest in increasing their marine knowledge and helping the local environment.

The actual conservation was hit and miss- questions about the planting of the artificial reefs (as in when and why) couldn't be answered, no data had been collected or if it had hadn't been passed onto the subsequent staff members.

The turtle aspect of the project appears to be much more fruitful, and genuinely ensures that the turtles have a better chance of survival. The training and hand over from one set of turtlers to another however was poor, and the equipment haphazard.

TRACC is extremely disorganised, from the website not reflecting what was actual on the island, to over booking volunteers to the point we couldn't all sit down at the same time, to day to day running, with boats breaking down, staff going missing, inadequate food supplies and people not having a guaranteed route of the island- one girl missed her flight and it took 3 attempts for my group to get off the island on our last day.


This project has good intentions but lacks the administrative power to pull it off. Great if you want to learn to dive but the safety is dubious with no radio/phone contact or oxygen on the boats. On the plus side I met some great people and did some great diving.

I reduced my stay by 50%- book more than the minimum stay with caution!

Visited August 2013
Helpful?
3 Thank JSRScuba
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
aphanius, Manager at Tropical Research and Conservation Centre, responded to this review, November 23, 2013
Hi Jules
Thank you for your feedback. I am very sorry that you trip was not what you expected. You met great people, did great diving and helped save turtles, that is a large part of what we do. I am sorry that our dis-organisation made you so upset. This was our first busy summer and we were learning how to organise a large group, do conservation, balance logistics and give everyone a memorable time. As a result of your expereince we are learning how to make the project better for everyone.

We obviously have no control over the age of the volunteers that arrive. During the summer we get lots of keen young people who want to make a difference, they don't want the repetive nature of solid science. These young people are the backbone of our reef replanting efforts. From Oct to May our volunteers are more mature and they help us with our documentation and science. For the whole of Oct and November we have not had any of the young people that you object to.

Unfortunately you are misinformed, you suggested that we don't document what we do. That is incorrect, we have comprehensive documentation. We have science publications being written. We surveyed 50 coral reef sites in October and November so that we can compare our data with a wide range of other areas. Over next few months we are doing only a little of the reef repair conservation because we are concentrating on creating a marine protected area. You clearly came at the wrong time and for that I apologise. It is obvious from your expereince that we need to guide people like yourself to come when we are doing what you want to see.

Your observations about safety are incorrect, The radios you wanted are a backup not essential. They didn't work when you were there because one was lost before you arrived and has now been replaced. Everywhere that our boats go is within phone signal and that is much more reliable than the handheld radios. We also have plenty of oxygen on the island, we do not tell volunteers where it is because it is for emergencies, we don't want the oxygen beng used to cure hangovers.
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This response is the subjective opinion of the management representative and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
kuala lumpur
2 reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 1 helpful vote
“Pom Pom: an encouraging ecologically sustainable model”
Reviewed October 18, 2013

the resort grows much of its own fruits - coconuts; dragon fruits -and captures rain water for use. It is also encouraging coral growth and marine life around the beaches!

Visited October 2013
Helpful?
1 Thank keghee2
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Level Contributor
8 reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 13 helpful votes
“A unique and wonderful experience for the right person”
Reviewed October 5, 2013 via mobile

I spent 4 days visiting TRACC and learning about their research and conservation projects. Overall, I really enjoyed my experience. The living conditions were like camping with electricity, an air mattress, a jungle kitchen, and local staff to help out. The living conditions were a bit basic and are most appropriate for people looking to rough it a bit. I had no problems with the food (i.e. diarrhea) and felt it was normally tasty. While there, I learned about TRACC's coral planting work, their turtle monitoring program, and an upcoming environmental impact assessment. Also, I was given and introductory presentation on TRACC and their conservation work, dangerous marine life to watch out for, and attended two great fish ID lectures. By Western standards, at times the group can seem a bit disorganized but this is the reality of working on a remote island in a developing country and with an organization supported mostly by volunteers. Anyone planning a visit to TRACC should try to keep an open mind and flexible attitude. In terms of the people, I was surprised how open and friendly folks were. Most people stay for a several weeks so I was the newcomer and yet I felt very much included. So, if you are interested in learning more about marine research and conservation, TRACC is a wonderful and unique experience for the hardy traveler.

Helpful?
1 Thank Bvmandell
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

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