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“The perfect ending to my travelling”

Tropical Research and Conservation Centre
Ranked #6 of 16 things to do in Semporna
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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.
Reviewed April 23, 2014

My time on Pom Pom Island could not have been any more perfect. Arriving at the island I couldn't believe my eyes; the island was spotless and clean and simply stunning.

I worked as a turtle volunteer for two weeks and that amount of time was no way long enough as I fell in love with island life. Surveying the turtles was amazing, getting to see and be so close to such incredible animals. I felt like the work I did was useful and was documented to then be continued by more turtlers that join the project and I really felt a part of the team.

I made some very good friends and everyone was so welcoming and friendly from the moment I arrived. I am jealous of everyone who is staying there for a longer time than I did as they really are living the dream!

Everyone at TRACC had the environment in mind, from doing daily chores to ensure that the camp was clean to doing beach clean ups where all rubbish from the beach was collected and sorted. Everyone at TRACC was enthusiastic and proactive in their approach to the conservation of the area and this made it an amazing project to be part of.

I can't thank TRACC enough for the incredible opportunity and for the lifelong memories I have taken away with me. I would recommend this project to everyone of all ages as people at the project ranged from 19 to 60, it really is accessible to all.

I hope to be back in the very near future!

1  Thank OliviaWilson
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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Reviewed March 18, 2014

TRACC on Pom Pom, AKA my second home.
I just got back from my second tour at TRACC and I am already booked for my third starting at the end of the year.

So what makes TRACC so special? It's a unique combination of several factors that I've never found anywhere else in a lifetime of travelling across 5 continents:

1) LOCATION: it's in an idyllic spot on what can only be described as a true paradise island. Pom Pom is a semideserted island, with no village, no shops and no vehicles. It's cosy (you can walk around along the white beach in under 40 mins - and you will want to do it again and again) and it is surrounded by a reef that starts as shallow as 3m and drops down into the blue, so it is equally suitable for snorkelers and seasoned divers alike. I am an avid technical diver and found my role in doing deep surveys of the reefs around the island: in over 3 months I have not run out of places to explore, so much so that I left a bunch of my personal stuff in the camp for my return. As I said, a second home.

2) THE DIVING: the macro diving is superb, simple as. After nearly a decade of diving pretty much every spot that you see highly rated in the magazines and online, I would still see something I'd never seen before even after hundreds of dives around the island. THE NIGHT DIVING IS UNREAL!! I was never a fan of night dives, but not only that changed in Pom Pom, it actually became my favourite diving to do. Expect octopi, cuttlefish, all manner of crustaceans and molluscs, sleeping turtles, every rare and exotic critter you can find in a macro book, giant bumpheads, barracudas... The house reef is one spot I will never grow tired of diving at night - or at sunset and dawn, as we often did. Seeing the seamless switch between night and day and all the associated critters is an experience that even I could never cease to be fascinated by. Of course the diving during the day is just as good if you're not the adventurous type. Although the reef has been badly damage by bomb fishing, thanks to TRACC's efforts and its volunteers' hard work it's regenerating astonishingly fast.

3) THE LIFESTYLE: it just doesn't get better than this. Imagine living in a minimal-impact setup with a near non-existent footprint, where you live in close contact with nature and are surrounded by likeminded people whom you share a profound passion with. Live right by a gorgeous beach, dive or do turtle work during the day, watch the most picturesque sunsets on the jetty and drink some beer and young coconut water from the local trees in front of a bonfire right by the water at night, hanging out with some genuinely cool people. And tomorrow it starts again...

4) THE STAFF: All the staff are truly phenomenal in their own right, from the boat captain right down to the maintenance boy. While the conservation staff all speak English, the local staff ranges from fluent to none at all, and finding ways to overcome the language barrier together is a true heart-opening experience. These guys will stop at nothing to be nice to you! Then there's Steve, AKA TRACC Daddy. The beating heart of the organisation, Steve is one of the most unique characters I have ever met. Between his seemingly endless knowledge of anything from marine life to engineering and chemistry to the consistency of budgie crap and his bouncing boyish enthusiasm you just won't know if he's 15 or 150. I called him the 40,000 year old man from the homonymous novel. I'm not sure he likes that.

5) THE WEATHER: Well this goes without saying. It's in the low to mid-30s year round, very warm but not too hot. It's very rare for it to rain during the day, it's usually a night time affair and by morning everything's dry as if it never happened. The water is a very comfortable 27º at its coldest and 30º at its warmest and most people do not need to wear a wetsuit or get away with a shortie (although not me - I am way too acclimatised!).

6) THE SAFETY: Although a very informal and relaxed environment, nothing is left to chance and all equipment is maintained and serviced to high standards (I should know - I did it!). The food is clean and the hygiene standards in the kitchen are top-notch. Never has anyone had a diving accident or got sick from the food, which I rate highly in a travel destination. You just feel taken care of without being babysitted .

MAKING A DIFFERENCE: This is something unique about conservation volunteering and TRACC in particular. It gives the chance to make a difference not only to the environment, but to oneself. Of course you can dive and chill by the beach just about anywhere, but the chance of playing a direct role in repairing what man has spoilt and the sense of achievement that derives from it is something you can only get here. At no point will you feel like a volunteer, but more like a permanent member of a new and amazing extended family. In over 6 months on the island I have seen dozens of people arriving as volunteers and leaving as good friends, and from both first hand experience and talking to others, no one leaves TRACC feeling the same as when they arrived. It's an incredibly rich experience that will stay with you for as long as you live.

As for length of stay? That's a no-brainer: As long as you have. People who did Pom Pom last complained they wished they'd done it as a first stop and not bothered going anywhere else... it's just that sort of place. I planned a month, then 3 and a half months and a visa extension later I had to force myself to get back to my normal life, albeit with one goal in mind... to come back and do it all again! I'm now looking forward to the day in the very near future when my foot steps off the boat, splashes through that clear, warm tropical water and sinks in the fine white sand, where that box with my name is waiting for me to open it, and once again be at home.

1  Thank Dr_Yen
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed February 6, 2014

I spent a week on Pom Pom island in January 2014, as a certified diver. I've done some volunteering work in the field of marine biology before, and I knew that a week was not going to be enough :-)
It was a great experience, in terms of the diving (work and fun dives), the educational aspect, and the social aspect (staff and other volunteers were absolutely lovely).
There were 8 volunteers at the time, and I found that this group size worked quite well. It was easy to get organised for the work-dives, and fun to socialize afterwards.
The facilities are basic, but perfectly acceptable if you're okay with camping (if you're a bit precious, you may not enjoy the cold jungle shower and the bouncy air mattress).
I'd definitely do this again (preferably with more time to spare!).

Thank Ans V
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed February 4, 2014

TRACC was an awesome experience for me, I learnt so much and I had the opportunity to complete my EFR and rescue diver through Padi while I was there. The course was delivered in a really interactive way, away from the text books which for me, was the best way to learn. The diving is great - visibility is generally very good and the variety is great considering how devastated the reef is. There is so much to learn from work that is done at TRACC - from the materials used to how they're placed on the reef, to harvesting coral and replanting it, every day represents a new challenge. Go with an open mind and you'll have a great time - the living is basic, as you would imagine it would be on a campsite with limited power, cooking facilities etc. Having said that, the tents are comfortable with airbeds and fans, I really liked the food cooked and who needs hot water in Borneo?! The people I met there, volunteers and staff, where amazing, and I hope to get back to Pom Pom soon. Thanks again to everyone at TRACC, big love :)

Thank Jen F
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed January 4, 2014

I can honestly say that deciding to travel to Pom Pom was one of the best decisions I ever made! I went with the intention of performing research on the effectiveness of artificial reef building for my dissertation and was hugely grateful for the amount of support I received in terms of scientific guidance and the resources I needed to collect my data (divers, tanks, quadrats etc..) The diving in the area is magnificent with some real hotspots of extraordinary biodiversity (and I've dived in Fiji, Egypt...) I even got to see a flamboyant cuttlefish!!!

The conservation side of the project is very hands on with a broad range of project dives you could be assigned to: coral collecting, coral planting, ribbon reef dropping, larval fish counting...the list goes on...and I learnt so much about how to help a degraded reef using only recycled materials. I strongly believe (especially following my research) that the work tracc does is vital to helping mitigate some of the outcomes of the coral crisis, especially when considering the colossal damage caused by blast fishing. I wasn't a turtleler but it seemed to me that the work they were doing was making a huge difference to the survival of such amazing creatures. and there's nothing quite like the experience of watching a huge female turtle nesting on the beach at night, incredible!

The camp was very comfortable with fans in the tents, air mattresses and fresh water showers. I was also very surprised by the quality of the food (although I had expected rice and beans). Pancakes, french toast and spring rolls were always a highlight! The day trips to other islands in the area were the best days when the group would spend the day playing volleyball, snorkelling, diving off jettys, drinking beer and soaking up the rays. and of course I could not go without mentioning the famous saturday nights when the bonfire would be lit, the group would don fancy dress items (typically parts of trees..) and the tanduay rum would come out for a night of fun, games and dancing (using headtorches to improvise for strobe lighting...)!

I met some incredible people on Pom Pom from all over the world and miss them all very much! Tracc made me realise that diving is my passion and I'm planning on embarking on more diving adventures after I graduate this year. I'm hoping to even return to Pom Pom to work as an intern! I hugely recommend visiting Pom Pom and if you can, stay for a minimum of 4 weeks because it takes a little time to get into the swing of things and to get to know everyone better!

1  Thank Georgia C
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

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