Pulau Sipadan, Malaysia’s only oceanic island. Pulau Sipadan Island Sipadan offers more than just turtles, it guarantees that every dive is a memorable experience. Only a few islands in the world offer such prolific marine and coral life. This magical isle was made famous by renowned French oceanographer, Jacques Yves Cousteau, in his documentary ‘Ghosts of the Sea Turtle’.
At the drop off, five metres of white, soft sand in knee-high water suddenly gives away to a precipitous drop of discovery. follow the vast wall around as you drift with the current, exploring the corals that inevitably form refuge for the fish. Bumphead parrotfish often rumble past in bison-like hordes. A night dive here may yield a chance encounter with these large fish as they sleep. Bumphead parrotfish weave a transparent cocoon before they sleep to keep their scent from predators, and this nocturnal sight is as impressive as the one in daytime.
The reef life is always varied – porcupine pufferfish, clown triggerfish, unicornfish and Moorish idols call this dive site home. Giant moray eels lurk in their grottos, observing the traffic going past while huge gorgonian sea fans protrude like the plum of a proud peacock. Pulau Sipadan is shaped by volcanic activity a eons ago, this 35 acre island rises about 700m from the sea floor, attracting diverse marine life from the blackness of the open sea. A popular features of this islands is the precipitous reef wall: just a mere 8m from the dive station of the ‘Sipadan Dive Lodge’ the wall plunges to about 680m.
Many divers have remarked that staying and diving on the island is similar to doing so from a live-aboard ship. You enjoy the ease of multiple shore and boat dives, with up to 5 dives per day. Sipadan Island, formerly declared a bird sanctuary, is also home to monitor lizards, fruit bats, the unique coconut crabs, and a luxuriant rainforest. About 47 known species of birds frolic and feed about the natural vegetation, providing yet an-other attraction for the visitor.
The dive usually begins with the reef on your right, as you descent to the reef top at about 6 – 8m, you will be greeted by schools of fusiliers and bumphead wrasses congregating at the reef top. Growth of coral life extends to depths between 30 – 40m with huge barrel sponges, black coral trees, sea whips and soft corals. Huge black marble stingrays, schools of surgeonfish, large tunas, manta rays and clouds of pyramid butterfly fish greet the divers along the wall. Currents that sweep the valley section of the site attracts school of batfish, white tip sharks resting at the sandy bottom, barracudas, jacks, turtles, hammerhead sharks, grey reef sharks (Carcharhinus Andlyrhynchos) and or even the leopard shark (Stegostoma Fafciatum) at the valley pass. As you ascend from the 18m depth of the valley to the gentle slopes at the side you can observed garden eels, triggerfish and even exceptional macro marine animals like the leaf-fish, frogfish, blennies, mantis shrimps and numerous nudibranchs.
The furthest dive site from the island jetty is a 10 minutes ride in a dive boat. South Point, as the name suggests, is located at the southern tip of the island and similar to Barracuda Point as currents sweeps across the reef. Depending on the currents, it is the best to start your dive with the reef on your left. The reef topography follows a gentle slope from about 7 – 55m at the sandy bottom shelf. Here, chances are usually good to sight big animals like manta rays, leopard sharks, Napoleon wrasses, groupers and kaleidoscope of smaller reef fish. Assuming you are diving with the wall on your left, you will come across sea fans and sea whip corals at 25m depth. You might also encounter a school of jacks prior to cloud of dark mass approaching i this is the largest school of barracudas to be seen anywhere. The school usually swims against the current, and if approached cautiously, will permit divers to swim alongside. Further along the sloping wall about 25m is a ledge with coral rubble, where white tip sharks and leopard sharks rest on the bottom. If you dive this spot often and at the right time, you may chance upon observing the mating ritual of white tip sharks.
As the name suggests, this pretty dive site has a profusion of colourful soft corals; some shape like cauliflower plants and even grape-like shapes growing from under hangs along the wall. The reef top begins at about 6m and plunges steeply to the depths. here, you will encounter colourful crowd of reef fish such as butterfly fish, angel fish, squirrel fish, box fish and lots of nudibranchs. Friendly sweetlips and groupers will curiously check out divers, great for underwater photography. Small ledges encountered usually have small shrimps wedged between bubble coral, fire tail gobis darting about their burrows and the occasional lobster peering out between crevices. As the site is located on the western part of the island, dives should be in the afternoon, with better sunlight penetration. The soft corals come alive and extend their body size by almost three times when currents sweep the reef. Providing a breathtaking view.
Much has been written about the turtle cavern, referring it to as a Turtle Graveyard. In reality, the turtle enter the cavern accidentally to rest but get lost in the labyrinth of the tunnels, then become disorientated and drown. The cavern is situated at the northern end of the island right below several huts. Divers are often warned during their first orientation dive that they are not allowed to enter the cavern for their own safety. A signboard is also erected at the entrance of the Turtle Cavern providing further warning, so a curious diver won’t end his stay in the cavern. However, visits into the cavern can be arranged with qualified dive master leading 3 divers at a time.
A cave diving certification is offered for the adventurous who wish to explore the labyrinths. The dive begins along the wall of the drop-off and descends to about 20m. Depth in the cavern is about 21m, and you find the various connecting cavern rise to less than 4m from the surface. You will notice skeletal remains of perished turtles scattered randomly on the silky cavern floor. There is even the remains of what was once an egg-carrying female turtle. No coral growth is observed in the cavern. The only life forms are schools of silver sweepers, soldier fish and the flashlight fish.
Accommodation is no longer allowed on the island. However, divers can still experience the wonders of Sipadan on day trips from nearby Pulau Mabul.
Pulau Sipadan is reached by flight from Sabah’s capital, Kota Kinabalu, then a connecting flight to Tawau, followed by a 2 hour drive to Semporna and finally 1 hour fast catamaran boat transfer to the island. To avoid disappointment, prior bookings must be made.