Pom Pom Island

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Pom Pom Island
Pom Pom Island beach.
Pom Pom Island beach.
Country Malaysia
State Sabah

Pom Pom Island is a small coral reef island in the Celebes Sea approximately 30 km North East of Semporna town, Sabah, East Malaysia.

TRACC classroom on the fishermans jetty

The island is 2.3 km in circumference at the high tide line with a fringing coral reef 4 km long. The island is flat sand with a maximum elevation of less than 2m above the HT line. The reef flat is only 50-75m wide to the west and several hundred metres wide around most of the island. The island has a white sand coral beach and is a significant nesting location site for Green and Hawksbill turtles. The island has no village, minimal human impact, no pollution and is one of the popular dive destinations in the Semporna district.


Pom Pom Island beach looking towards Tun Sakaran Marine Park

There are six islands to the North-east of Semporna which are outside the Tun Sakaran Marine Park. The islands are linked by the presence of turtle nesting. The islands are mostly separated by deep water and all are surrounded by a fringing coral reef with minimal lagoon development. There are coastal stilt villages on Kalapuan and Bohayan islands, while the other islands have fewer inhabitants. There are operational resorts on Pom Pom Island, Mataking and Kalapuan, while resorts are planned for Timba Timba and Pandanan islands. The island is being eroded from the NE side and in an effort to stabilise the shoreline the Pom Pom Island Resort has built a long sea wall at the high tide line.


Both Pom pom and Mataking islands featured in the Swedish version (second edition 1998) of Expedition Robinson, or Survivor as it is referred to in some countries.[1]


Terrestrial Biodiversity[edit]

Pom Pom island is densely wooded with small trees especially from the pandanus family. There are no monitor lizards or snakes even though these are found on the other islands.

Marine Biodiversity[edit]

Giant Frog Fish

The marine biodiversity of Pom Pom Island is amazing with many rare and uncommon species. The region is part of the coral triangle which has 500 plus coral species. A recent study .[2] by UMS, WWF, Sabah Parks and Naturalis Biodiversity Center, Netherlands in the nearby Tun Sakaran Marine Park found a world record of 43 species of mushroom corals and suggested that the region may have the worlds highest marine biodiversity. “At some of the more diverse reefs, fish species counts rivalled the highest counts that the fish team found in the Philippines and were greater than what they have encountered in Indonesia.” The fish team encountered 844 species of fish in Semporna.[3] The ongoing survey by TRACC.[4] based on Pom Pom island have a fish count of 220+ species and a coral count of over 250 species. The NE Semporna islands are part of the Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion and have been prioritised by both WWF.[5] and the Fisheries Dept Sabah.[6]

Pom Pom island is an important nesting and feeding site for Green and Hawksbill turtles. All the 6 NE Semporna Islands are nesting beaches and many of the stakeholders in the area are working towards protecting the turtles and reef environments. The Green turtle nests all year round but peak nesting is May to September. The Hawksbill nests in small numbers. Both turtles are present on the reef throughout the year with an average of 7 green turtles seen per hour on a dive or snorkell. The hawksbill is both less common and more territorial with the same individuals being regularly seen at Lobster wall, the North tip and Magic rocks.

Green Turtle

The Celebes sea from Mabul and Kapalai in the South to Pom Pom, Mataking & The Tun Sakaran Marine Park in the north are arguably one of the richest single destinations for exotic small marine life anywhere in the world. The area is within the coral triangle and biodiversity records are greater for most species than elsewhere on the plant. Flamboyant cuttlefish, blue-ringed octopus, mimic octopus, wonderpus and bobtail squids are just a few of the numerous types of cephalopods to be found on many of the reefs.

Many types of gobies can be found including the spike-fin goby, black sail-fin goby and metallic shrimp goby. Frogfish are everywhere -giant, painted and clown frogfish are regularly seen along with almost the whole scorpion fish family.


Diving Pom Pom[edit]

Blue ribbon Eel

The reef is on the edge of the continental shelf and the seabed surrounding the reef slopes out to 100 to 130 m deep. There are deep - near vertical - walls starting at 27-30m deep located at the Northern tip, Eastern plateau and lobster wall. Depending on tide the current at these locations can be strong giving excellent drift dives with many seafans and pelagic fish. There are two dive resorts, (Pom Pom Resort and Celebes beach resort) and a marine conservation project Tropical Research and Conservation Centre (TRACC) operating on Pom Pom island.

Starfish in Pom Pom Island lagoon
Starfish in lagoon
Bottle reef shark in Pom Pom Island
Replanted reef using bottles

The island is a macro divers paradise with many small creatures located in the shallows in front of the resorts. The protection from the resorts and the coral planting by TRACC has helped to reduce fishing and increase the numbers and diversity of fish species. The water varies from 25 to 29deg C, the visibility is always good and sometimes excellent. The island lies below the monsoon belt and gets good weather all year, there are occasional short squalls during thunderstorms but these rarely last more than an hour. The two resorts provide a variety of PADI courses, dives & accommodation for recreational scuba divers. Marine Science students and marine conservation volunteers are working underwater to replant the reef and stay at the TRACC Expedition camp.

Getting to the island[edit]

There is no public transport to the island, the resorts carry their own guests and TRACC arranges transport for its own students and volunteers. There are occasional day trips from dive centres in Semporna. The boat trip takes 35–60 minutes using the resort boats.


2013 Pom Pom kidnappings[edit]

On 15 November 2013, a group of Abu Sayyaf militants raided a resort on the island.[7][8] During the ambush, a couple from Taiwan was on the resort when one of them was shot dead by the militants and the second victim was kidnapped and taken to the Sulu Archipelago in the southern Philippines.[7] The victim was later freed in Sulu Province with the help of the Philippines security forces.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Svensson, p. 45
  2. ^ [1], Semporna Marine Ecological Expedition 2010.
  3. ^ [2], Semporna Marine Ecological Expedition Report 2010.
  4. ^ [3], TRACC Marine Biodiversity project,
  5. ^ [4], WWF SSME project,
  6. ^ [5], Fisheries Dept Sabah SSME project.
  7. ^ a b "Pom Pom Island: Tourist killed, wife kidnapped". Emirates 24/7. 16 November 2013. Retrieved 6 April 2014. 
  8. ^ "Militant group Abu Sayyaf behind Taiwanese woman's kidnapping". Want China Times. 22 December 2013. Retrieved 6 April 2014. 
  9. ^ Farik Zolkepli (20 December 2013). "Semporna kidnap: Rescued - Taiwanese tourist kidnapped from Pom Pom island resort (Update)". The Star. Retrieved 6 April 2014. 

External links[edit]