Borneo Marine and Turtle conservation FAQs

You will find below answers to many frequently asked questions. If your question does not appear then please click here to open the 'contact us' page to ask us your question.
01. What languages do I need?
You need to be able to speak English, as this is the common language at the centre, and PADI Dive courses are also conducted in English. Travelling in Malaysia is easy as English is widely spoken.  Despite that, learning a few words of Bahasa Malaysia is appreciated and a great way to make friends with locals.
02. What living conditions can I expect?
Although camping is basic, the shared tents are made comfortable by inflatable mattresses, bed sheets and pillows. There is a plastic storage box in each tent, and electric light. There are showers and a plentiful supply of water and the toilets are western style flush toilets. There is also a communal area to relax, socialise, read a book, play games or occasionally watch a movie.
03. What kind of food will I be eating?
There is a communal cooking area where volunteers can prepare extra snacks for themselves if they need a between meal snack.

All food is provided by the centre, so if you have a particular need, special diet or culinary desire, you need to make sure you give the centre plenty of advance notice. Being a Muslim country, pork is not widely used, and not served at the project. 

Vegetarians, vegans and special requirements can be catered for if advanced notice is given. Hot drinks and toast are self service and available all day. Soft drinks and alcohol are also available at an extra cost.
04. Do I need to be qualified in diving or have experience of diving or snorkelling?
No, you don’t need previous experience. Snorkelling with fins makes things easy, and volunteers are not expected to snorkel to depths more than 4m. Two week diving volunteers will be trained to PADI Open Water level, and 4 week volunteers are able to achieve PADI Advanced Open Water certification. For these qualifications (and for general safety) you must be able to swim 200m with mask, snorkel and fins.
05. Is there access to a telephone and internet?
The centre has no wifi available, but trips are regularly made to places where the 3g signal is good enough for internet use.  You are welcome to bring a laptop or other internet enabled mobile device. Many smart phones can get very slow internet at camp.  Phone signal coverage is patchy but skype and calls can be made using local sim cards can be bought at minimal cost.
06. Do I need insurance?
We advise all volunteers to have adequate travel insurance arranged before arrival.

To help make getting insured easier we have formed a partnership with award-winning travel insurers, World Nomads. They provide insurance to travellers from over 140 different countries and are the only insurer we have found that will allow you to take out a policy even after you have left your home country.
If you purchase an insurance policy from World Nomads through this link -Travel Insurance - they will also make a donation to Globalteer and the many projects we support.
Please note that Globalteer can accept no responsibility for your travel or insurance arrangements and encourages you to fully research all travel and insurance options available to you.
07. Do I need a Visa?
Nationals from most countries (including UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and most EU countries) receive a 3 month Single Entry Visa on arrival. This is the simplest visa, and easily renewed by making a border crossing. Your passport must have at least 6 months validity left on it, and be in good condition. Immigration may refuse entry if your passport is in any way damaged.

Dual nationals should also be aware that Malaysia does not recognise dual nationality, so technically you can be refused entry if you are found to be holding two passports of different nationality. If you are a dual national it is advisable to enter Malaysia on the passport on which you exited your last country of departure.

For more information, please see this link:
08. Which vaccinations do I need to visit Borneo?
We require that all volunteers have their vaccinations for DTP (Diphtheria/Tetanus/Polio) up to date. This is mandatory. Other vaccinations you should consider are: Hepatitis A and B, Rabies, Japanese Encephalitis, Tuberculosis and Typhoid. Pom Pom Island and Semporna district is not a malarial area, but if you are travelling in Malaysia before or after your stay, you may require anti-malarial medication.  If you do require anti malarial medication before your volunteer placement in Borneo, please avoid Larium – the side effects when diving can be severe.
Please consult your travel doctor for the latest health advice. Some information can be found online on the following websites:
World Health Organisation 
MASTA (Travel Clinic Network in the UK)
Centres for Disease Control and Prevention

Please note that some of the above-mentioned vaccinations require a course of injections over a period of 3-4 weeks and may be expensive depending on your health service. Therefore you are advised to organise this in plenty of time before you travel and include it in your budget.
09. What cultural differences should I consider?
Malaysia is a multicultural nation, where Malays, Chinese and Indians have lived together for generations. In addition, the Sabah region has a myriad of ethnic groups, all with their own cultural heritage. One of the minority groups of Sabah are the ‘Bajau’, also known as ‘Sea Gypsies’, who are traditionally nomadic and responsible for the majority of the blast fishing that has devastated the reefs.

Around Semporna, before you take the boat to the island, you’ll notice that most of the local inhabitants are Muslim, or Indian – mainly from the Tamil Nadu area of Southern India. Borneo is more conservative than other South East Asian destinations, and you are encouraged to dress accordingly – beach wear is fine for the beach, but not in town.  Pork is not readily available, and neither is alcohol, except in the restaurants aimed at tourists, such as Arthur’s Bar or Scuba Junkie in Semporna.

Some customs worth remembering for greetings are that it is impolite for a Malay man to shake a woman’s hand, so instead he may bow while placing his hand on his heart. Women do shake hands with each other. The Chinese handshake is light and rather prolonged. Men and women may shake hands, although the woman must extend her hand first, and many older Chinese lower their eyes during the handshake as a sign of respect. Indians shake hands with members of the same sex, but when greeting someone of the opposite sex, nodding the head and smiling is usually adequate.
10. Can I drink alcohol and smoke?
Yes you can. There are several bars close to the centre or in town, but not a great deal of choice of drinks. Alcohol is available at the project too, however drinking is really only done on a Saturday night as volunteers have a free day on Sunday. Smoking is permitted at the project but we ask that you dispose of cigarette butts responsibly, and not litter the beach or ocean further.
11. How dangerous is this project?
While diving, as with all adventurous activities, accidents are always possible. These risks are minimized by requiring that divers achieve PADI training first if they are not already certified. Divers are taught about the effects of pressure on the body, and carry equipment to monitor depth and time, are taught how to use it properly, and to dive within their limits. Trained divers know how to use dive equipment safely and how to perform safety checks on themselves and their dive buddies. All dives for pleasure or while conducting volunteer duties on the reef are supervised and lead by qualified staff. The project does not offer decompression diving, so the risk of the bends is all but eliminated.
Underwater hazards:
The most dangerous thing underwater for volunteers is a jellyfish. You can’t always see them and while the poisonous species are extremely rare they have been seen in the area. Stings from all jellyfish are best avoided by wearing a stinger suit.  Scorpionfish, stonefish and lion fish are all painful if they sting you but are easily avoided by wearing wet shoes in the shallows. If you put your hand in a hole in the coral reef a fish or possibly a moray eel may bite you. Sea snakes are rare and not aggressive.

Of course a diver may forget their training or panic. While volunteering, all work is conducted in shallow areas, where the surface is always in easy reach. Pleasure dives or deeper research dives are closely controlled by experienced staff, and permitted only when a volunteer is ready. The possibility of seeing a reef shark, which are harmless, is slim, and the chance of seeing any bigger sharks is incredibly unlikely. There are also a few skates and rays, and while they can sting they are not aggressive and it is very rare to get close to them. 
Hazards on land:
The biggest hazards on land are sunburn, dehydration, trips, falls, and minor cuts and scrapes. Cuts are slow to heal in tropical environments, especially if you are in and out of the ocean several times a day. The project has a well stocked first aid kit on site, and there is always a trained first-aider nearby. The nearest doctor is in Semporna on the mainland, 1 hour away by boat. There is always a boat available for emergencies.
12. What equipment should I bring?
All specialist dive equipment is supplied, but you will need to bring your own snorkel, mask and fins. Your own mask is important as it needs to fit your face, and ‘snorkel value packages’ are easily purchased online from scuba diving retailers. Good quality snorkel, mask and fins are available for less than 50GBP.  The type of fins you buy are important. They must be the open-heeled type with an adjustable strap, rather than a closed heel. This is so that you can slip them on over your neoprene shoes, after wading out into the ocean to snorkel or dive. Neoprene shoes are essential too, as much of your work will be carried out on the shore, where the broken coral fragments and shells can be too sharp for bare feet.  Loading and unloading the dingy in the shallows is also a task far more easily achieved with wet-shoes on. A basic pair of neoprene shoes cost no more than 20GBP. A cheaper alternative are plastic croc type shoes. These protect your feet on the beach and work well in open heel divefins.The links below will give you a clearer idea of the fins and shoes needed:
If you are already traveling, these items can be purchased easily in Kuala Lumpur or Kota Kinabalu, but there is very little choice in Semporna and no shops on the island of Pom Pom.
Other necessary items are a towel, a torch, a camera, suncream and aftersun, mosquito repellant, sun hat and a nylon t-shirt or rash vest (an old football shirt will do) to keep the sun off you in the ocean. Sanitary towels and feminine hygiene products can be bought in Semporna on the mainland, but are not available on the island. A full packing list is provided in your orientation guide.
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