Lankayan Island is a small, coral resort island located a one and half hour speedboat from Borneo Island. Surrounded by the deep blue waters of the Sulu Sea, Lankayan is best known for its extensive marine life and coral. The island is a popular destination for divers worldwide. Over the fall break, students and faculty from HKIS visited the island. This included Isabel Phillips ’26, Roderick Shum ‘26, and Issac Cheng ‘24, who sat down with us to share the story.
The Dive Trip group: (L-R) Issac (top row, nd), Isabel (middle row, 2nd) and Roderick (middle row, 5th)
Diving wasn’t a new experience for any of the students. Isabel’s parents are divers, so as soon as she turned 10, she worked towards getting a diving certification. As she grew older, she became interested in the science behind diving. She quickly gained a love for the science of diving. Roderick, who wants to be a marine biologist, was excited about the trip to observe sea creatures. Issac picked up diving a year ago, and looked forward to dipping his toes into deep waters once again. The students had never dived outside of Hong Kong before. They were excited to see what the trip to Lankayan would bring.
On the trip, students were able to experience moments underwater they’d never done before. “One of my most memorable experiences was seeing a sea turtle and a shark up close. This was the first time I’d ever done so” says Isabel. She loves nudibranchs, vibrant sea slugs that she thinks are not appreciated enough. Roderick follows up that for him, it was rather the variety of coral that he’d never seen in Hong Kong waters.
Issac was more wrapped up in structures seen underwater. He recalls seeing many shipwrecks on the ocean bed, many of which weren’t 'natural'. “The ships are actually taken from fish bombers. [Fish bombing] is illegal there by the way. These ships are taken from the bombers, and then money is raised to sink them underwater and they serve as homes for the fish and corals.”
The wildlife on the trip, including the aforementioned nudibranch and coral
Coming back to fish bombers, the students expressed a rather poignant experience about the bombers. “When we were diving, we could hear fish bombs go off, and it could happen anytime” says Roderick. According to Isabel, the bombs had explosions where “you can feel the vibrations of the bombs in your chest” . “There was this one dive where we could see the aftermath of fish bombs, and there were these craters that were 2 meters wide and surrounding them was dead coral” Issac reflects.
The divers worked on different specializations, like navigating and taking underwater photos. Everyone had to choose the naturalist specialization. It involved studying marine organisms, drawing them, and identifying the creatures. The second specialization was up to the divers though. Isabel selected night dives, Roderick selected Fish ID, and Issac selected search and recovery. For the divers, this was either something they were familiar with, or a completely new experience. Issac reflects on his experience in the search and recovery specialization, saying “I got to work with these lift bags that would help me lift naturally buoyant objects to the surface. You have to put a specific amount of air in them to make sure they lift to the level they want, and to make sure they don’t fly up really fast.”
Throughout the trip, the students bonded with each other over a common love for diving. “A lot of the people on this trip were already my friends,” Roderick remarks, “but I also got to meet so many people I wouldn’t have met before, and that was amazing”. It’s like an extension of a classroom environment, but completely different. You’re still with your classmates and teachers, but it also feels more intimate. The students compare the trip to Interim, a hallmark of the HKIS experience that none of them have taken due to Covid.
The students bonded with each other and the faculty members during the "Interim-esque" trip
“It felt like a taster for Interim, and although we’ve signed up for our choices this year, we’ve never gotten to do an interim outside of Hong Kong”, Roderick explains. Issac, who’d been on a diving interim in Hong Kong before and also the only senior, agrees. “I initially picked up diving through an Interim, and I was sad we couldn’t go outside of Hong Kong to dive, but I got this opportunity and I do think it’s a pretty similar experience.”
An experience mentioned by the divers was a rather infamous bus ride that took 8 hours. How did they kill those 8 hours? According to our divers, eating snacks and “Singing, a lot of singing” jokes Roderick “And a lot of Taylor Swift”. “It was good character building” quips Isabel, who describes it as everyone suffering together, yet finding ways to spend time through listening to a variety of music, sharing snacks and sleeping.
The dive trip furthered the students’ desires to explore the secret of the deep sea. Roderick has plans on diving in Hong Kong with some of the others on the trip, and gain new specializations. while both Isabel and Issac mentioned returning to the island soon and finding their place in its deep blue sea once again.
“I definitely think that the trip made me look at organisms differently, especially coral since it was the first time I saw so much of it since I don’t get to see them often.”
Isabel reflecting on her trip
All photo credits to Mrs Mulligan and Zahra Brady ('25)