Kakaban Lake, East Kalimantan – Swimming with Stingless Jellyfishes

Submitted by mumunmumun on 7 July 2014   •  Destination   •  Borneo

Tags: , , , , , , ,

When I was a child, a blue bottle jellyfish stung me. It was a sharp sting followed by a month of itching along the contacted surface. It still gives me goose bumps just remembering the experience. I’ve avoided all kinds of jellyfishes ever since, except the dead ones. I like poking the dead ones with sticks, kinda like a small vendetta for the trauma I had. I’m definite that I’m not the only one with this belief. Most people in the world have been taught the same. We are all vulnerable when it comes to these jelly-like marine organisms. However, it’s not Indonesia if it can’t break what you believe. Forget about all the things that life has taught you about jellyfishes! In the Kakaban Lake (also the name of the island), Kalimantan Timur (East Kalimantan), you can swim with these glutinous creatures. Yes, swim with stingless jellyfish and not without.

Swimming in Kakaban Lake

Kakaban Lake is one of the two known lakes to inhabit stingless jellyfishes, aside to Palau Island. There’s actually a third lake in Raja Ampat, Papua, which you can read here. The fourth is in Togean Islands of Central Sulawesi, but we have yet to confirm if the jellies are stingless.

The Kakaban Lake is said to form since the Holocene era, which is about thousands of years ago. It was once part of the ocean, but through the rising of the island, some parts were trapped forming this brackish lake. The base of the lake consisted of white sand, which is shows this part of the world was once part of the ocean. Also trapped are the four identified species of jellyfishes, and a few other creatures.

The way to Kakaban Lake

The fact is, these jellyfishes have evolved and have lost their stinging abilities. This was probably due to the fact that there weren’t any predatory species hence they didn’t need their stings. The four species are the translucent Aureli aurita (Moon Jellyfish), the abundant Mastigias Papua (Spotted Jellyfish), the tamed Tripedalia cystophora (Box Jellyfish) and the confused Cassiopea Ornata (Upside Down Jellyfish). Now imagine swimming with box jellyfishes, one of the most lethal species of them all. How crazy is that?

Kakaban Lake stingless jellyfish

It was definitely a challenge to swim amongst them without causing any harm. They were everywhere. The Upside Down Jellyfish, and my favorite, would be the first to greet you once you dip in the water. It’s easy to spot them, as they seem to swim towards the lake floor like a drunken man trying to walk through walls. Swimming further into the lake, visitors will then meet the other three species. The Spotted Jellyfish is the most and easiest found in the lake. They come up during the hottest hours of the day. But one must keep their eyes open to see the Box Jellyfish and Moon Jellyfish. The Box Jellyfish is pretty small and the Moon Jellyfish is transparent, difficult to see in in the rather murky water.

Finding all four species of stingless jellyfishes is a relatively hard challenge. We could have saved tons of jellyfish from a genocide caused by our reckless movements. It was bad enough for Narco, who can swim and dive quite well, to split a Moon Jellyfish in one kick. I can’t imagine the death toll caused by the less educated tourists that had struggled swimming and ignorantly lifted the jellyfishes even though the officers of the lake had prohibited them. That’s just sad. Having said that, I don’t think this should keep any one from exploring the nature. You can still visit Kakaban Lake if you do it in kind.

Upside down jellyfish

The ultimate tip to enjoy the presence of the Kakaban Lake jellyfishes: swim a bit to the middle of the lake during midday and just float still. These blind creatures would bump into you like crazy. It’s a tickling moment that brings a lot of happiness. It was as if they really liked you.

Here are some things that you should keep in mind so as not to hurt the adorable jellyfishes:

– Avoid visiting during long weekends because Kakaban Lake is chaotic during these kinds of holidays. Check the Indonesian calendar before you go.

– Don’t wear sunblock. The chemicals in your sunblock pollute the waters.

– Don’t wear fins. You’ll be blowing the jellyfishes constantly and smacking them silly.

– Don’t jump in from the pier. The splash will create shock and stress. There aren’t as many jellyfishes around the pier as there used to be. They probably learned that humans like to jump in, but it doesn’t mean we should make a habit out of it.

– Be kind and don’t lift them out of the water. It’s the same thing as someone pushing you down into the water. Suffocate much!

– More love. Be gentle to these creatures. They don’t hurt you, so why must you hurt them?

So go on now! Head yourself to Kakaban, bewilder yourself with these seemingly mythical creatures and be amazed!

How to get to Kakaban Lake

First, you have to get yourself to Derawan Island. More of that on this link.

Other option from Jakarta is to fly to Jakarta, with return tickets that start at IDR 1,700,000 / pax from various airlines and book far before you leave. From Tarakan you would then have to rent a speedboat to Derawan Island that could cost IDR 6,000,000 for a return trip. It’s about 3 hours on the boat to reach Kakaban Island, the location of Kakaban Lake. Although many have said that this route is cheaper, especially if you’re traveling in a group, it’s also challenging considering the 3-hour boat ride.

Entering Kakaban Lake

To get to Kakaban Island from the Derawan Island, you can then rent a speedboat that can take you to the island. A speedboat would cost about IDR 1,300,000, which caters also for a trip to the surrounding islands like Sangalaki Island and is for a whole day. Thus, it would be better to travel in a small group. Speedboats can be organised by the accommodation where you’re staying.

This was a modified blog from my post from this link.

0 0 vote
Article Rating
Notify of
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
6 years ago

I always thought jellyfishes are poisonous! What a wonderful experience you had. I wish I could do the same thing =).

6 years ago

Masih mimpi bisa renang bareng stingless jellyfish Mba :(. Thanks buat info transportasi kesananya.. *buru-buru masukin itenarary

6 years ago
Reply to  Irfan

Hi Irfan, ikut yuk arranged trip ke Derawan akhir Sept ini 😉


[…] More information on Kakaban Lake and tips to enjoy it responsibly has been written by Mumun after her visit there last year. Just click this link. […]