Sipadan and Mabul are both located on the eastern side of Sabah, Borneo, in the region of Semporna. These stunning tropical islands are only accessible by boat and Mabul is the ideal spot to reach diving in the world-famous Sipadan.
Off the North Eastern coast of Borneo lies a tiny jewel of an island, Pulau Sipadan, with a marine ecosystem so perfect and unique, it is renowned as one of the best dive spots in the world. Above the water, it’s just a tiny 40-acre rainforest-covered tropical island with a white sandy beach rising from a 700-metre abyss in the Celebes Sea. It is the only oceanic island in Malaysia, having developed over thousands of years by living corals growing on top of an extinct volcanic cone. Below the water, Sipadan’s vertical topography and abundant marine life make it one of the world’s most desired destinations.
Sipadan Island is a part of an immense Marine Protected Area. Overnight stays on Sipadan have been restricted since 2005 to reduce pressure from tourism on Sipadan’s stunning marine ecosystem. If you are planning to visit Sipadan Island, you will be required to have an approved entry permit issued by Sabah Parks, a government agency of Sabah Government. The total daily entry quota is 176120 permits per day, and subsequently diving at Sipadan is no longer guaranteed. We recommend planning at least a 4-5 night stay in the area to ensure a minimum of 1-day diving at Sipadan Island. The announcement of the Sipadan Entry Permit Approval list is only available 1-3 days before the actual diving date and payment for the permit/s is generally made locally.
Mabul Island is off Semporna, and just a 20-minute boat ride away from Sipadan Island. Sandy beaches surround the small, coconut-palm covered tropical island. Previously there was only a tiny fishing village on the island. However, due to its proximity to Sipadan, Mabul has become populated with dive resorts, homestays and backpacker accommodation and now contains two villages built on stilts extending over the water. There is a mosque, school, community and fishermen’s hall on the island. Mabul is considered to be one of the world’s best “muck diving” sites and a macro haven for its diversity of tiny exotic marine life.
The oval-shaped island of Mabul is 12 km from Sipadan off the south-eastern coast of Sabah. Perched on the corner of a 200-hectare reef, and right on the edge of the Continental Shelf, the sea bed surrounding the reef slopes out to a depth of 25 – 30 metres.
Tropical climate. It is generally hot and sunny, year-round temperature 21 – 32°C. Scattered, unpredictable rains can occur frequently.
Wet Season: November to February.
Dry Season: March to October.
The area is the busiest with local travellers during the Chinese Holidays, Chinese New Year, July, August, Chinese National Week (first week of October) as well as Christmas and New Year. Please ensure you enquire and book well in advance when looking to travel during these periods.
Although Mabul is within proximity to Sipadan, the seascape and the diving is entirely different. Mabul is renowned for being one of the best “muck-diving” sites in the world. There is an almost endless variety of small, exotic marine life critters residing around this beautiful island. Most diving is in calm, shallow waters with an average depth of only 10 metres. A few sites slope down to 30 metres.
There are numerous types of cephalopods, including cuttlefish, blue-ringed octopus, mimic octopus and bobtail squids. Crustaceans include boxer crabs, sea stars and harlequin shrimp. Giant painted, and clown frogfish are plentiful. Moray eels and many types of snake eels, along with almost the entire scorpionfish family inhabit the area. Different types of gobies can be found, such as the spike-fin, black sail-fin as well as the metallic shrimp goby. A vast assortment of nudibranchs and many other delightful critters are found in this magical macro area.
The name of Sipadan is legendary in the diving community. It conjures images of twirling tornadoes of barracudas and jacks, patrolling hammerhead sharks, millions of technicoloured reef fish and, above all, dozens of sea turtles swimming peacefully everywhere.
Diving at Sipadan is considered some of the best in the world; the waters are calm and warm, visibility is generally excellent, and the quantity and variety of marine life is astounding.
On an average day of diving at Sipadan, you would expect to see at least 50 Green Turtles, a dozen sharks, large schools of Barracudas, Jacks, Fusiliers and Batfish. Sipadan is famous for its wall diving.
Fifteen meters from the beach, there is a vertical wall, starting at a depth of 3m and plunging straight down 600m. Walls surround 90% of the island, and most are sheer drops that extend out of sight into the blue depths. Many of the walls have ledges that the turtles use as resting places. Some of the walls are so steep that they are undercut and slope inward toward the island, creating overhangs encrusted with soft corals.
While most divers are most impressed with the quantity of abundant marine life at Sipadan, it is a haven for tiny creatures as well. If you take the time to look away from the larger inhabitants and concentrate on the close-up view of the reefs and walls, you will find a myriad of rare creatures to entertain you.
If you’re a photographer, you will wish that you had two cameras with you, one for wide-angle and one for macro because virtually every site at Sipadan is suitable for both large and small subjects.
Water temperature is consistently around 27°C to 29°C – 3mm wetsuit or rashie
Visibility is better outside of the rainy season, with March to September being the optimal months, although anytime is good to view the macro life.
Although Green & Hawksbill turtles can be seen all year-round, they are more prominent during their nesting season between April & September
A flat sandy area, 5 - 20 metres deep. Seahorses, crocodile fish, garden eels, pipefish, humpback, parrotfish, cuttlefish, nudibranchs and lots of crabs reside here.
There are a collection of small caverns in the wall which slopes down to 20 metres, providing homes for hydroids, nudibranchs, anemones and shrimp. Currents can be strong along this colourful reef. This is an excellent location for night diving.
Look out for the resident crocodile fish resting on the coral or a patch of sand. On the sandy bottom, you can see lots of garden eels poking their heads out over the sand. Blue-spotted stingrays also hunt for food here.
The Turtle Cavern
Located on the Sipadan drop-off, just a few metres away from the beach. Its massive opening on the wall leads to a vast room extending over 65m back into the island. The cavern is enormous and filled with the skeletal remains of turtles, who lost their way in the cavern at night and drowned while trying to find the way out for air.
During the last ice age, the cavern was about sea level - subsequently, you can see Stalactites and Stalagmites in the far reaches. Schools of Fusiliers gather at the entrance ready to dart into the depths and hide from marauding trevally.
This wall is covered in a multitude of soft coral and drops down to about 600m. Hawksbill & Green Turtles live on the ledges at this site, and the current is usually quite calm. An excellent spot for photography as colourful corals hang from the interesting cracks and crevices along the wall.
White Tip Avenue
As with all the sites on Sipadan Island, the name says it all. Expect to see huge Black & White Tip Reef Sharks, Grey Sharks, massive Green & Hawksbill Turtles as well as vast shoals of Jack & Barracuda. Up to 600m deep.
A coral wall which goes down to 600m. Dogtooth tuna, giant trevally, green turtles, white tip reef sharks, barracudas, humphead parrotfish and jacks can be found at 20-30m deep. In 15-25 m divers can expect to see some beautiful fans, sponges and small caves with white tips or turtles.
This area is suitable for divers and snorkellers only.
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