|In this new millennium SCUBA diving is well on its way of becoming one of the fastest growing recreational sports enjoyed by both young and old. Divers travel thousands of miles to experience amazing wonders of the underwater world and where would diving be better than in the biodiversity hotspot of Southeast Asia: Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. With its sandy beaches, tropical islands, blue waters, coral reefs and atolls, Sabah has several dive sites rated to be amongst the top ten in the world and many more yet to be truly explored. Over the years many prominent marine biologists have visited and have dived Sabah's waters, including oceans' greatest ambassador, Jacques Cousteau. He commented 'I have seen other places like Sipadan, 45 years ago, but now no more. Here we have found again an untouched piece of art... a jewel'.
In fact a diver may find many rare or endangered sea prenatal and hawksbill turtles, napoleon wrasse, giant clams, as well species of sharks and schools of thousands of barracuda and jacks. Sabah is not only known for the larger inhabitants of its reefs, but also as a 'muck diving' paradise with such rarities as the mimic octopus, flamboyant cuttlefish, mandarin fish, harlequin ghost pipefish plus many types of weird and wonderful frogfish and nudibranchs. These underwater delights are not restricted to the certified diver; snorkelers and hopeful divers may enrol in one of the many PADI affiliated dive courses run at any of Sabah's dive resorts. Whatever your underwater wish, Sabah's seas and coral reefs can easily fulfil your wildest dream.
THE WORLDS’S TOP DIVE SITES!
Sabah is blessed with some of the most beautiful islands, coral reefs and atolls. The clear waters and exotic treasures of marine life found here have captivated visitors and divers from all over the world.
The internationally famous island of Sipadan lies five degrees north of the equator in the Sulawesi Sea (Celebes Sea). Lying 35km south of Semporna, on Sabah’s mainland, like many tropical islands it is thickly forested and surrounded by sandy beaches. Sipadan is an oceanic island and was formed by living corals growing on top of an extinct undersea volcano, which rises 600m from the seabed.
The geographic position of Sipadan puts it in the centre of the richest marine habitat in the world, the heart of the Indo-Pacific basin. More than 3000 species of fish and hundreds of coral species have been classified in this richest of ecosystems. Sipadan is well known for its unusually large numbers of green and hawksbill turtles which gather there to mate and nest and it is not unusual for a diver to see more than 20 turtles on each dive. Another unique feature to divers visiting Sipadan is the turtle tomb, an underwater limestone cave with a labyrinth of tunnels and chambers that contain many skeletal remains of turtles that became disoriented and then drowned.
The residential schooling barracuda and big-eye trevally, which often gather in thousands forming spectacular tornado-like formations, are one of the highlights of every diver’s wish-list. With the possibility of seeing pelagic species such as mantas, eagle rays, scalloped hammerhead sharks and whale sharks, each dive at Sipadan is a highly anticipated event.
It is not only the big fish that amaze divers coming to Sipadan, the macro life is equally mesmerizing. Garden eels, leaf scorpion fish, mantis shrimps, fire gobies, and various pipefish are guaranteed at various dive sites. The diversity and abundance of marine found at Sipadan gives it its reputation of being one of the ten best dive locations in the world.
Conservation efforts in Sipadan
Mabul Island first became popular due to its close proximity to Sipadan Island. However, in the last few years, it has gained its own recognition as one of the best muck-diving (a term used to describe limited visibility dives at shallow sites with usually sandy bottoms) sites in the world.
Mabul is a small oval shaped island fringed by sandy beaches and perched on the northwest corner of a larger 200-hectare reef. The reef is on the edge of the continental shelf and the seabed surrounding the reef slopes out to 25–30m deep.
Mabul is arguably one of the richest single destinations for exotic small marine life anywhere in the world. Flamboyant cuttlefish, blue-ringed octopus, mimic octopus, spike-fin gobies, frogfish, snake eels and moray eels and practically the whole scorpion fish family. It would be easier to list the species not found in Mabul, it is undoubtly a magical macro site!Semporna (15 minutes by speedboat from Sipadan)
Between Sipadan and Mabul Island lies a sand bar known many years ago as Kapalai Island. Unfortunately, erosion has taken its toll and now the sand bar sit on top of the reef known as the Ligitan Reefs, a very extensive stretch bordering the deep and vast Celebes Sea. Hence Kapalai is truly unique because it is not quite an ‘island’. A 45-minute trip from Semporna by speedboat, Kapalai Island is one of the many beautiful diving havens in this part of the world.
The Sipadan-Kapalai Resort, made up of 40 chalets, is built on high wooden stilts in the middle of the ocean. Visitors can enjoy the sights of marine life in action as they stroll along the boardwalk, a sturdy construction that connects the various sections of the floating resort and observe the antics of squids and needlefish from their chalet balcony.
The underwater scene together with nearby Mabul offers some of the best “muck-diving” in the world. Rare subjects such as flamboyant cuttlefish, blue-ringed octopus, sea moths, and mating mandarin fish are seen on regular basis. Giant frogfish, ribbon eels, harlequin ghost pipefish and crab-eye gobies are seen on many of the dive sites.
The jetty dive itself has plenty to offer including leaf scorpion fish, pink-eye gobies, ammonium shrimps and the comical antics of the mantis shrimp. Other frequently seen creatures such as crocodile fish, lionfish and scorpion fish are almost ignored as being too common!Semporna (80 minutes by speedboat from Sipadan)
Mataking Island is an island not far from Sipadan. Located to the north of Mabul, it is about 40 minute’s boat ride away from mainland Semporna. With its sparkling white sand, mesmerizing blue waters and top-class resort, Mataking Island is the ideal getaway for both the avid diver and non-diver. Diving in Mataking is a combination of Macro and pelagics which is suitable for photographers, new and advanced divers. The eastern shore is a sloping reef dropping to a depth of 100 meters whereas on the western reef is mostly wall diving with depth of 100 meters. Divers can gear up and explore the Eel Garden, Coral Garden, Nudibranch Garden, Turtle Playground, Lobsters Lair and Hump Head Point. Other marine lives found are rainbow runner, bat fish, barracuda, green and hawksbill turtles, lobster, giant clams, blue spotted rays and many more.
Non-diving activities include a luxurious pampering experience at Jamu Spa, batik painting, kayaking, canoeing and jungle-trekking to name a few. A must-do during your time in Mataking is to take a leisurely walk to Palau Mataking Kecil (literally meaning Small Mataking Island) which is a 20-minute walk from the main island. The best time to take this walk is in the morning when the tides are low, allowing you to walk on a sandy stretch that leads directly to the smaller island. With the sea surrounding you on both sides, you will feel almost as if you are walking on water!Kota Kinabalu (Capital City)
The marine park is a cluster of islands comprising Gaya Island, Sapi Island, Manukan Island, Mamutik Island and Sulug Island, all only 10 - 20 minute speedboat ride from the city of Kota Kinabalu. The five islands of the Marine Park are characterized by shallow waters, sumptuous coral gardens and all boast splendid white sandy beaches.
Amongst the sandy seabed a good variety of marine life can be found such as Scorpion fish, Blue-spotted rays, cuttlefish, mantis shrimps and the occasional green or hawksbill turtle. At some locations, rare creatures such as the harlequin ghost pipefish and mandarin fish can be found especially with the help from local dive guides.
During the cooler months from November to February, plankton blooms attract krill which in turn attract whale sharks, the world's largest fish. At times, the density of the krill can be so thick in these murky conditions underwater encounters with these colossal animals can be exciting as they suddenly appear out of the gloom.
Non-diving visitors can still have as much fun in the islands with other optional activities such as snorkeling in Sapi and Manukan Island and seawalking in Sapi Island. If water sport is your cup of tea, you may contact any local tour companies for more information regarding the water sport activities that are available.
The Tunku Abdul Rahman Park is open daily from 8.30am to 5pm.Kota Belud
Mantanani is a group of three isolated islands northwest of Kota Belud. The largest island houses the only dive resort, Mantanani Resort, which is situated at the western end on the edge of a white sandy bay. The journey to the island begins with a two-hour drive to Kampung Kuala Abai jetty in Kota Belud, followed by another hour of riding on a speedboat.
The fun literally starts with the hour-long boat ride. Depending on the sea condition, the experience may even resemble that of white water rafting in Padas River—minus all the paddling. Don’t hesitate to ask your tour guide for seasick pills if you cannot handle the rough ride.
Three wrecks have been discovered which still hold plenty of secrets and are now home to a menagerie of marine creatures such as Lionfish, Scorpion fish, octopus and glassfish. The term ‘diver’s paradise’ may sound trite, but Mantanani Island is exactly that and more. As you plunge into the Mantanani underwater world, you’ll be simply mesmerized by neon coloured fish in intoxicating swirls, adorable clownfish playing hide and seek amidst the sea anemones, vivid coloured finger corals waving about, and vast garden of living coral reefs. Each dive site in Mantanani offers something unique. Other than sporadic encounters with dolphins, divers have also encountered some of the rarer underwater species such as the bumphead parrotfish, moray eel, marbled sting ray, blue spotted ray, eagle ray, and several turtles.
For more macro photography enthusiasts, the “muck diving” is amazing, seahorses, imperial shrimps, pink-eye gobies, jaw fish, blue-ringed octopus, ribbon eels and many nudibranch you will not be able to find in the books!
The sun also seems a lot prettier in Mantanani. After a whole day of diving, snorkelling or kayaking, sit back and feast your eyes on the gorgeous layers of orange hues penetrating the clouds as the sun sets. In the morning, nothing beats sitting on the jetty with your legs dangling over the water, watching the sun rising as gentle breeze caresses your skin and ruffles your hair. Be spellbound also by the magnificent view of Mount Kinabalu veiled in chiffon-like clouds and morning mist.Sandakan
Lankayan, a tiny jewel-shaped island located in the Sulu Sea, on the northeast coast of Sandakan, is a small island paradise with only one dive resort, surrounded by stretches of white sandy beaches, swaying casuarinas and beautiful sunsets.
Described as a true macro-world paradise, there are also larger marine creatures such as leopard sharks, marbled stingray and giant grouper as well as schools of bumphead parrotfish, yellowtail barracuda and scads. Lankayan Island is also a nesting site for green and hawksbill turtles as Turtle Islands Park are nearby. You can watch as the baby turtles are released back into the sea. The availability of jungle interior and interesting diving attracts both divers and non-divers alike to Lankayan.
The Langkayan Island Dive Resort has sixteen attractive wooden chalets with beach fronts and the common dining area extends to a sundeck jutting out to the beach.