Layang Layang is a ring of 13 coral atolls in the midst of the South China Sea. Your best chance of spotting hammerhead sharks school in large numbers between the month of March and July. A world class dive site of unique character awaits.
Your best chance of spotting hammerhead sharks here. They school in large numbers between the month of March and July, mesmerising divers with their form and gracefulness through the water. Beyond these months they tend to descent into deeper waters. In fact, many kinds of pelagics call Layang Layang home. Layang Layang, known as ‘Swallows Reef’ is situated 300km north-west of Kota Kinabalu. This island is man-made and was constructed for the Malaysian Navy and later developed for the only dive resort, Layang Layang Island Resort. The island location offers absolute isolation, luckily there is an airship with regular flights from Kota Kinabalu visiting Layang Layang.
The extreme location of Layang Layang, the pristine reefs, excellent visibility, steep walls down to 2,000m and regular sightings of pelagic has given Layang Layang a much deserved reputation of being one of the top ten dive locations in the world. The diving here is Characterised by walls that descent as low as 2,000m although most divers do not venture beyond 30m depth. Hammerheads are visible in almost all dive sites as they swim proximity to the atoll. Buoyancy control is your key to enjoying the diving here. With resident schools of barracuda and big-eye Trevally and frequently seen green and hawksbill turtles, the reef has something to offer everyone. The coral are plentiful and healthy with sea fans stretching to more than 3m across that filter plankton from the passing currents.
The 20m deep lagoon has some great macro creatures to be found including sea horses, cuttlefish and pipefish but it is the pelagics visiting the outer walls that truly excite divers. Schools of scalloped hammerhead sharks, grey reef sharks, leopard sharks and the occasional threshers and silvertip sharks can all be seen. Stingray are also regular visitors including manta rays, pygmy devil rays, marbled rays and eagle rays. Rare sightings such as whale sharks, orcas and melon headed whales have all been seen over the last few years.
Sinner and bottlenose dolphins frequently follow the the dive boats to each location and divers are sometimes rewarded with snorkeling and diving with these amazing creatures with its pristine reef, diverse fish life and visiting pelagic marine life. Layang Layang has also generated some excitement in recent years with the numerous appearances of short-finned pilot whales. Measuring about 7m in length, with a bulbous forehead, these whales are docile and usually feed on squid and schooling fish. Pilot whales are normally found in groups of tens or even hundreds, providing a spectacle unrivalled by any other diving experience. Layang Layang has rightly gained world wide recognition.
May to October
Up to 30m in the best season, 10m otherwise.
Situated at the eastern point of the atoll, features the large tuna that lends the site its name. The reef topography starts at about 8m and slopes down into the depths. Passing schools of barracudas can be seen at the shallows along with fusiliers and surgeon fish. The wall is typical of those around Layang Layang, featuring steep walls of corals, interspaced with small ledges. There is also a popular site to encounter the schooling hammerheads swimming against the current. Dogtooth Lair can sometimes experience fierce currents due to its location at the corner of the atoll. However, currents bring rich nutrients and attract a chain of predators. These schooling fish are not the only hosts you can find here. Fusiliers, jacks and even turtles can be spotted on a good day. The large and elusive sun-fish has been sighted here on occasions but hammerheads are also likely.
Besides offering the obvious, is home to a wonderful range of soft and hard corals. Their colours are abundant and saturated. Plenty of flat table corals lie here, providing refuge for the smaller reef fish. Of the pelagics, you may find turtles and hammerheads on their many forays as well as the occasional trevally.
This will enthrall you with a Leopard Shark encounter if you’re lucky. More common encounters await divers who visit the site’s famous cavern – a dream pose for those with cameras!
Most dive sites around Layang Layang follow a similar dive profile with the reef top starting at 5 -10m and sloping steeply down. Gorgonian Forest, as the name suggests, is a virtual forest of fabulous sea fans swaying with the currents along the slopes from about 15m down to 40m. Bushes of black coral and whip corals share the seascape with small marine reef fishes. The stillness of the dive site is interrupted by the presence of scalloped hammerhead sharks, either solitary, swimming close to the reef or in a school, cruising off the wall in open water usually against the flow of the currents. It is a magnificent sight to be hold, their heads swaying from side to side unlike any other shark, swimming in formation. An advice to underwater Photographers: These animals are easily spooked, especially if you utilise a flash. They are best photographed with available light, capturing their silhouette shapes in the blue water.
This is an interesting wall dive, with the reef top starting about 5m and plunging down rather steeply at an inverted angle, cutting off the sunlight. Visibility is usually better than most site around and is about 40 plus metres. Coral life on the face of the wall is quite spartan, probably from the nature of the steep wall. Several black coral bushes, colourful dendronephthya soft corals, sponges and clusters of tunicates carpet the wall. The coral garden is populated with small reef fishes darting about, red coral trout and several big emperor angels. Big moray eels make their home in several crevices on the wall, playing hide and seek with divers, popping in and out of the lair. In the open water, schools of surgeon fish, fusiliers, jacks and sometimes manta rays cruise by. Large schools of Pennant Butterfly fish also can been seen hovering around the coral garden, probably seeking out food. White tip reef sharks are frequently sighted, and after a while you stop noticing them. The reef top is quite interesting with abundant marine creatures foraging for food among the hard coral formations, keeping the diver occupied during his safety stop.
An easy dive located at western tip of Pulau Layang Layang is a gentle slope beginning at about 10m and slopes to about 20m. This site features excellent hard coral growth with small reef fishes in habiting the coral garden. You will find countless fish ranging from tiny gobies, blennies and wrasses to reef sharks. Numerous nooks and crevices provide a hideaway for interbrates like crabs, shrimps and also fishes such as red coral trout and other snappers. Also look out to the sandy patches – you might see the occasional leopard shark resting on the sandy bed.
The nearest kickoff point to Pulau Layang Layang is from Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. Where direct flights are available from Tokyo, Taipei, Kaoshiung, Seoul, Hong Kong, Manila, Cebu, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. From Kota Kinabalu, a private charter company flies clients to Layang Layang Island Resort.