Sipadan

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(4 REVIEWS)

 

Sipadan in a Nutshell

 

For those people lucky enough to visit Sipadan island, a plethora of amazing marine life such as turtles, baraccuda, sharks and bumphead parrotfish await you in large numbers. Nearby Mabul offers world-class critter diving.

 

Sipadan Overview
 

Sipadan lies off the Southeast coast of Sabah, a province of Malaysia that is actually on the exotic sland of Borneo. It’s been fought over between Malaysia and Indonesia a few times but is officially part of Malaysia. Sipadan is one of the most richest marine habitats in the world and has over 3000 species of fish and hundreds of coral species classified in this ecosystem.


Sipadan Marine Life

 

Sipadan is a mushroom shaped island with the bottom of Drop Off wall reaching 2000ft. The other side of the island has a wider mushrooming head below the water line with 40-60 foot reefs before sloping down to the steep walls. These are great areas to find sleeping turtles, lounging white tips reef sharks, and resting crocodile fish.

 

The dive sites are named for the inhabitants most likely found there. You’ll see gigantic staghorn corals at Staghorn Crest, plenty of white tip sharks at White Tip Avenue, and gorgeous soft hanging corals at Hanging Gardens. You’ll see plenty of turtles at Turtle Patch as well as on every dive at Sipadan. Every dive site at Sipadan is amazing, and each one is loaded with your usual schools of anthias, jacks, trigger fish, angel fish, anemone fish, nudibranchs, lionfish, eels, octopus, and more.

 

Underwater Video of Marine Life at Barracuda Point

 

Underwater Video of Sipadan's Amazing Marine Life

 

Diving Barracuda Point, Sipadan

 

One of the most popular dive sites there would have to be Barracuda Point. Each morning you can see the chevron barracuda forming their massive spiraling schools off the reef. I’ve swam among them many times, and am always amazed at how close they let you get to them. You’ll also see schooling big-eye trevally pouring over the reef in the shallows and in the deep. The occasional tuna will swim by and you can see zebra sharks, manta rays, and even a hammerhead swim by off the walls at both Barracuda Point and South Point.

 

All over the island you’ll large numbers of  turtles. There is a turtle ranger on the island, who gathers the turtle eggs and protects them from predators until they hatch. When they hatch, the ranger releases the turtles at the shore. Once they do this, the turtles always return to the same beach when they are ready to lay their own eggs. There is only a 10% survival rate once they hit the water, but that’s obviously been enough and the rangers protecting the eggs from lizards and other predators is a great help.

 

Best Time to Visit Sipadan

 

November to March is rainy season, and April through October are the best months to dive Sipadan.

 

How to get to Sipadan

 

Getting to Sipadan takes several flights and a couple of days. After flying into Kota Kinabaluyou need to transfer to a local flight to Tawau on the southern tip of Malasian Borneo. In Tawau, you’ll board a bus arranged by your resort, and ride 1 ½ hrs. to the port town of Semporna. This is where you’ll board a boat to your resort.

 

 

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The marine life here is incredible. No wonder this is a top rated dive destination!
My favorite dive site was Barracuda Point. There were constantly large schools of jacks and schools of barracuda every time we went back...and we kept asking to go back.
Turtle Cave was a cool dive site. It's where turtles go to retire and there are turtle bones and shells even at the entrance of the cave. Eerie but different.
Hanging Gardens is not a "famous site" but it was really beautiful with all the colorful soft corals.
There were lots of black tip, white tip and grey reef sharks and lots of turtles on every single dive. I even spotted a hammerhead on my first dive.
Most dives start deep > 100ft so get yourself nitrox certified and dive with it along with a computer to extend your bottom time. Even in the winter it was warm in the mid 80s and I think the worst viz I got on my trip was 60ft. Most dives was over 100ft viz.
Book early and let the dive operator know that you want to dive Sipadan coz a limited number of divers are allowed on the reef per day.

Visited on 12/2006 - Submitted on 07/29/2014
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Just one dive at Barracuda Point was all it took to convince me why Sipadan is rated one of the top dive destination in the world. Our dive started at the edge of the reef wall where my buddy and I were greeted by thousands of jacks with the occasional tuna and giant trevally swimming amongst them. In the shallow reef, we can see white tip reef sharks resting on the sand. After spending a few minutes taking photos, we drifted with the current and head towards a school of bumphead parrotfish. The bumphead parrotfish were not concerned with divers and allowed us to approach them.

As we head deeper, the currents picked up. A few more fin kicks and we see a large school of barracudas swimming easily against the current. After a few minutes, we tear our attention away from the barracudas and continue drifting. For the rest of the dive we saw many turtles, garden eels, a humphead wrasse and anemone fishes.

Other popular dive sites at Sipadan Island are Turtle Tomb and South Point. You can actually start your dive near Turtle Tomb and end it at Barracuda Point. Besides sharks and turtles, you can see giant clams, pygmy seahorses, nudibranchs and barramundis.

There are no accommodation on Sipadan Island itself and most divers will choose to stay on Mabul Island. Accommodation on Mabul range from the luxurious water bungalows to budget homestay. Nearby Kapalai is an option as well.

Only 120 permits are issued daily for Sipadan by Sabah Parks. These permits are distributed to a few resorts only. When booking accommodation, it would be wise to ask about permits. You need a permit to dive Sipadan.

Kapalai's housereef and Mabul's Paradise 1 are great dive sites as well. Cuttlefish, turtles, crocodile flatheads, mandarin fish, pipefish, frogfish, sweetlips, snappers, flamboyant cuttlefish, seahorse, mantis shrimps and nudibranchs are some of the life you can see here.

Water temp: 28 – 30C
Recommended for: Advanced divers for Sipadan. All levels for Mabul and Kapalai.
Dive conditions: Mild to strong currents at Sipadan. None to mild at Mabul and Kapalai.

Visited on 08/2013 - Submitted on 02/26/2014
  • Top Reviewer
Brisbane, QLD
Australia
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Sipadan has been a world class performer for decades and offers the best chance of red-hot blue water action without the need to spend a small fortune or trek for days out to the likes of Layang Layang, Tubbataha in the Philippines or Rangiroa out in Pacific. Results do vary but even in the off-season we experienced large numbers of White-Tip & Grey Reef Sharks, schools of Chevron & the odd small group Giant Barracuda, large Napoleon Wrasse and schools of thousands of Oceanic Triggerfish & Bannerfish all set against breath taking drop-offs. We even heard reports of everything from reasonably regular groups of Hammerheads deep on the South side to Sailfish, Tiger Sharks & even Killer Whales. Always worth keeping an eye out to the Blue.
The remains of an ancient Volcano situated far off the continental shelf of Borneo, Sipadan sits in around 600m of clear Oceanic water with a sloping wall of hard corals on the North of the reef & sheer, soft coral draped drops on the south. Dives always start sedately on the reef flat amongst the stunning hard table corals before plunging off down the drop-offs to the pre-determined depths. Currents range from non-existent to raging with tricky down-currents reported off the back of the reef though I did not encounter any problems while diving on the North & South walls. Intervals between dives are spent on the island proper with tables & toilet facilities provided.
I was last there in May 2013 shortly after incursions from Filipino ‘bandits’ on the mainland though we always felt safe both in town and out at the islands. A force of Malaysian Navy is stationed at Sipadan and regular patrols are carried out throughout the area.

I first encountered Mabul during a 10 week dive trip through SE Asia. The availability of Sipadan passes was so good that we didn’t have a spare day to dive Mabul, though one check out dive there at ‘Paradise 2’ on the first day was enough to entice us back the following year. Most divers come here for the stunning drop-offs and big-fish action of Sipadan and talk down Mabul as a poor substitute when you lose in the ‘Sipadan pass lottery’, however macro fans will love it and new converts to diving couldn’t find a better practice area before tackling the currents & excitement of the glittering island off-shore.
Although known for its sedate sand dives populated with all the classic weird and wonderful critters found in SE Asia - We found Pygmy Seahorses, Flamboyant Cuttlefish, Nudibranchs aplenty, various different shrimp species and a multitude of lionfish big & small being just a start – Mabul is in possession of some wonderful shallow coral and features fantastic drop offs of its own right on the edge of the continental shelf.

As a final thought, the transit town of Semporna on the mainland is certainly an experience and I enjoyed my stay there for a day & night once on my way back , though you would do well to avoid it if you have not spent much time in Asian towns. It is also a much cheaper alternative to staying on Mabul, Kapalai or the Seaventures Rig though most will find the 1 hour + boat journey out to Sipadan to be prohibitive.

Flights: Prior to the advent of Air Asia most divers flew to Kota Kinabalu on the North coast of Sabah and then took an onward flight though with the arrival of Air Asia it is possible to take a direct 3 hour flight to Tawau from Kuala Lumpur – a 1 hour bus transfer from Semporna. This is a simple journey from KL though the ‘Cattle shed’ KL LCCT is certainly not an A+ International Airport. As always, it’s part of the experience and will soon be replaced by a custom made terminal that is current in construction elsewhere in the airport.

WARNING: Of countless Air Asia flights I have taken, the return journey from Tawau to KL is the only one for which I have had my carry on weighed. Twice. If like me you are carting a large amount of gear in your carry-on be prepared to be forced to check a lot of it. Extra baggage is affordable on Air Asia but the decision of which of your delicate gear goes into the hold is a difficult one.

Visited on 05/2013 - Submitted on 02/17/2014
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Sipadan is a ‘Robinson Crusoe’ style Island set in the Celebes Sea, Malaysia. You aren’t permitted to stay on the Island (any longer) and most of the diving takes place on the wall that descends, in a fairly vertical column, from the white beach sand to the sea floor 1000 feet (600m) below.

The diving was beautiful.

Sipadan is mostly wall diving and generally with strong currents. The viz. was mostly excellent and we dived Sipadan Island twenty three times from the Celebes Explorer liveaboard in the week we were there, (which you’re unlikely to get right if you’re staying in one of the many resorts in the area – this is a detail you must definitely pay attention to…) It means you get to dive the same sites several times and when we are talking about Barracuda Point (which CNN Travel rates as the top dive site in the world – ok, that is always going to be a matter of opinion) or North Point (huge shoals of jacks and batfish) or Turtle Cavern (the infamous turtle graveyard) then, trust me, you will want to visit the same sites as often as possible. We also saw innumerable white tip reef sharks, leopard sharks and spent quality time with the huge school of bumphead parrotfish that regularly feed in the shallows – fascinating-to-observe coralivores. And, of course, the turtles are omnipresent - the extent of the turtle action has to be seen to be believed. It is deeply gratifying to see them in such numbers, relatively safe from exploitation.

Turtle Cavern – discovered by Jacques Cousteau apparently – is as unusual a dive as you are likely to come across in the sea. You enter the cave-mouth from the sea at 22m and penetrate approximately 70m ‘into the Island’ and you’re inside for approximately 50 minutes. Believe me I am no cave diver, but it was absolutely fascinating and I was astounded that time was up ‘so quickly’. Apparently turtles enter the narrow throat of the cave to sleep and when it is time to surface for air they are unable to find the exit in time and drown. So at every turn there is a turtle carcass in some state of decomposition. You definitely wouldn’t want to contemplate Turtle Cavern without a (very) experienced guide and a good quality torch is also useful…

There is also plenty of macro activity, especially in the shallows. We saw pygmy sea horses although try as I might I couldn’t get a decent photo! (One of the reasons I upgraded to DSLR this year!) And the corals are varied and beautiful. Having said that Sipadan is ideal for divers who prefer open water and big shoals of pelagic fish… it isn’t Lembeh.

Every evening we travelled from Sipadan to anchor off Mabul Island. This because overnighting on / near Sipadan is not allowed (in any case the water is very deep so anchoring would be impossible.) The night-diving off Mabul was diverse: the biggest turtle I have ever seen seems to live there and we saw sea horses, pipe fish, mandarin fish, frog fish and cuttle fish – what a privilege.

I don’t like flying very much – and it took four flights to get from my home in Durban, South Africa to Tawau, Malaysia where they collect you. And, believe me, it takes a special effort to find a beer in Tawau. And, the liveaboard we stayed on leaves much to be desired. But the diving and the photographic opportunities make these inconveniences seem minor. It is a special place.

Sipadan really should be on your bucket list.

Visited on 07/2013 - Submitted on 02/17/2014