Long known as the booming oil town in Sarawak, Miri had a low profile start to a new fame as a diving haven.
It may have a diversity of coral species comparable to any other locations in the world, but not many people know this secret of Miri outside of Sarawak.
The “Land of the Hornbills” is only well known for its Mulu National Park, the Niah caves and longhouses which attract thousands of tourists every year.
But if Sabahan Voo Heng Kong has his way, Miri will be the top diving destination in the country in the future.
There are over 20 diving sites off Miri, some of which are just a 20-minute boat ride from Miri, and there are no less than 206 hard coral species alone, said Voo.
He said according to coral expert Dr Douglas Flenner, there are far more coral species in the Miri waters that in the Caribbean, which has about 60 identified hard coral species.
The soft and hard corals are pristine and undamaged, unlike those found in many locations in the country, he said, adding that the popular sites include Eve’s Garden, Anemone Garden, Batu Belais and Siwa Reef.
“Sipadan, the most popular diving location in the country, do not have the corals like ours,” Voo told Bernama recently.
Sipadan’s main attractions, he said, are the many big fishes.
Aggressive marketing of Miri as a diving location started about two years ago through write-up in magazines and newspapers. It was also featured in a local television programme, said Voo, a retired police officer, and now the dive manager of Tropical Dives, a diving outfit.
The promotions this year would include participation at the Asia Diving Expo in Singapore in April, he said, adding that the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak had caused the company to cancel its participation at the expo in Thailand last year.
The most effective promotion, Voo said, is still by word of mouth.
“Diving is a peculiar type of travel. People will not go just because there are advertisements. Since they will spend a substantial sum for travelling and a few days diving, they will not go to a place unless they already heard something about it from other people who had already gone there,” he said.
However, the word of mouth is slow to spread and Voo is counting on the more adventurous divers who seek different experiences and challenges.
He is glad that he has many happy divers who came back for more.
Tropical Dives, the dive outfit of Seridan Mulu Tour & Travel Services Sdn Bhd, is a pioneer in offering diving packages in Miri, starting from a one-day fun dive of two sites for RM280 per person.
The peak period is from April to October.
Last year, it took about 800 divers from outside Miri to over 20 sites.
He said most of the divers are from Germany and Holland, but there is growing interest from diving fans from Singapore and Peninsular Malaysia.
At the moment, the majority of the divers are expatriates working in Miri, said Voo who took diving as a hobby and started diving in the Miri waters in 1995.
He said the locals are slow to
take up diving as a hobby and sports because they regarded it as dangerous and expensive.
Seridan Mulu’s general manager, James Wan, said divers in the Miri waters might have the chance to see the migratory whale sharks which come around March to April.