The internationally famous island of Sipadan lies 5 degrees north of the equator on the northern margin of the Sulawesi Sea. A mere 35km south of the town of Semporna in the State of Sabah on the mainland, it barely covers 12 hectares. Likely any tropical island, it is thickly forested and surrounded by sandy beaches, but once there, the simililarities end. Sipadan is Malaysia only oceanic island and was formed by living coral growing on top of an extinct undersea volcano, an isolated column of rock rising defiently 600 to 700m from the sea floor 10km south of the continental shelf.
|Location of Sipadan Island in Darvel Bay
A dramatic feature of Sipadan’s underwater paradise is its precipitious reef walls, for which the island is justifiably famous among divers who have been there. The ‘Drop-Off’ is literally steps away from the beach at the northern end of the island, where the shallow sand gives away suddenly to a vertical wall 600m deep that is rich in marine life and delightful for macro photography. The marine life is prolific. More than 200 species of fish have been recorded and over 70 genera of coral, placing the area on a par with Australia’s Great Barrier Reef in terms of species diversity.
Unusually large numbers of Geeen and Hawsbill turtles gather here to mate and nest, habituated to divers they are almost tame.
|Green Turtle | Chelonia Mydas are an endangered species worldwide
fortunately Pulau Sipadan is one of the very few places in the world where close encounter are guaranteed on every dive
Unique here is the eerie underwater linestone cavern system with laybrinth of tunnels and chambers that contain skeletal remains of many turtles that inadverntently became disoriented and ultimately drowned.
Thousands of residential Bigeye Trevally and Barracuda shoal in spectacular formations. Hundress of Batfish and ever increasing numbers of Humphead Parrotfish are now accustomed to divers that many approach them inquisitively. At least nine different varieties of clownfish inhabit the colourful sea anemones here. Add the rich coral growth, huge sea fans and gigantic barrel sponges in deeper water, Pulau Sipadan is without doubt special for divers and underwaters photographper.
|Dynamic shoaling displays of juvenile Bigeye Trevally | Caranx Sexfasciatus
occur during the day in the shallow water near the vertical “drop- off” at Sipadan’s northern wall
|The majestic entrance to the complex underwater cavern system
a deathtrap to turtles that become disoriented within and drown
GET IN TO SIPADAN ISLAND
Getting in requires some effort. Most visitors fly to Tawau
from either Kuala Lumpur
(3 hr) or Kota Kinabalu
(50 min), continue by minivan or taxi to the port town of Semporna
(1-2 hr) and from there to Sipadan itself (1 hr by fast boat).
Walking along the beautiful sandy beaches, snorkelling sites on all sides of the island can be reached. Scuba divers usually will take a boat a few minutes from the beach to their dive site.
It is no longer possible to stay on Sipadan itself
Stay at :
SIPADAN WATER VILLAGE IN MABUL OR MATAKING ISLAND
WHAT TO SEE
The beautiful sandy beaches and the coral reef with its rich marine life. On the island there are large monitor lizards (more than 1 m in length) which sometimes come out onto the beach or even into the water.
Sipadan claims to be the world’s best dive site. While this is a big claim, the diving here is certainly world class. Sipadan used to have resorts but to protect the environment these were closed around the year 2002. To dive on Sipadan you have to stay somewhere nearby, such as on Mabul, Kapalai or in Semporna, and take a boat onto the island.
Because Sipadan is now a protected site, only 120 divers are allowed daily (April 2013). It is only permissible to be on the island 08:00-15:00. As such, all dive operators will begin and end your dives around the island during this time frame.
From the main beach of the original resort it is a mere 20 m wade over the reef to reach the top of the reef wall dropping 1,000-2,000m. Sipadan is surrounded by very rich reef life consisting of both hard and soft coral as well as all manner of reef fish. Sea turtles and white tip reef sharks can be seen on almost every dive and hammerhead and leopard sharks can also be seen at times (though rarely nowadays).
Huge schools of jackfish, barracudas and bumphead parrotfish are also highlights (especially around Barracuda Point) – if you are lucky you may see a jackfish or barracuda “tornado” as they change direction. While macro life does exist here, you are mainly at Sipadan to see the larger critters – the divesites around Mabul and Kapalai are better for macro photographers.
Visibility ranges from 10 m to 30 m and more, although this decreases on stormy rainy days. A lot of diving here consists of current or drift diving, with the currents around Barracuda Point being the strongest (at one point, you can get swept away quite quickly if you aren’t careful). Divemasters will usually keep you around 20-25m for the wall dives, although deeper dives are available for technical divers (depending on the dive shop and divemasters available).
Your last dive of the day will generally be at a shallower site, around 15m. One of the divesites includes a cave called the Turtle Tomb – if you are lucky and get a cave-certified divemaster and torches, you may even be able to go into the dark for a cool and hair-raising experience (do follow instructions to the letter, or you may not be able to come back out!).
The rate for three dives at Sipadan is around RM900 (Oct 2015). Rates vary slightly among different operators. Boat transfers and packed lunch are included. Permits are limited to 120 per day and are obtained by the dive operators. It is not possible to dive Sipadan without a permit. Some dive resorts will guarantee a Sipadan permit at 40MYR if you stay for 4 or more nights (this may vary), and extra permits cost 140MYR if you are lucky enough to get another one – pre-booking is key.
As announced by the Malaysian Government effective 10th Feb 2013 the following rules apply when diving Sipadan Island: only Advanced Open Water Divers or entry level divers with a minimum of 20 log dives are allowed to dive in Sipadan. This is likely due to strong currents experienced at some dive sites, as well as instances of novice divers descending too rapidly and/or deeply.
Check diver reviews of dive operators in the area before choosing. Many have had customer complaints regarding faulty equipment.
Dive shops include:
- Borneo Global Sipadan Backpackers & Dive Centre: Guaranteed Sipadan Permit and located in Semporna. +60 89 785088, +60 88 270976. Boat leaves and comes back to Semporna everyday, but is the cheapest option: 3 dives in Sipadan + 3 dives on another island for 995 RM, with all costs included (Oct 2015).
- Big John Scuba Located on Mabul Island. Nice diveshop affiliated with Lai’s Homestay. firstname.lastname@example.org, +60 14 2843723. Office located in Semporna near Dragon Inn
- Scuba Junkie located in Semporna (very basic hostel and main dive office) and on Mabul (nice dive resort) – Sipadan dives are only available to divers staying on Mabul. Good rep for well-maintained equipment and safe diving in small groups (up to 4 people per divemaster). Mainly international divemasters, with a few locals as well, who focus on nature conservation and marine biology (2013 winner of Responsible Tourism Awards; turtle hatchery; Manta ray and shark awareness and protection). They head out around 7:30AM for Sipadan and do 4 dives. They have a divemaster who is able to take people into the Turtle Tomb with torches.
- Diving Sipadan Malaysia, . Scuba Diving Training Center in Sipadan Malaysia edit
- Sipadan.com Dive Centre & Longhouse located on Mabul with office in Semporna.
- Borneo Divers Mabul Resort dive resort located next to Scuba Junkie on Mabul – their Semporna jetty for island transfers is located next to Dragon Inn Water Village. Well-maintained equipment, safe diving. Group sizes range from small to large (4-10 people per divemaster). They employ local divemasters whose experience ranges from 20 years to under 2 years – all focus on dive safety and conservation. They get 14 permits a day and guarantee one permit @ 40MYR for guests staying a minimum of 4 nights (during low season you may be able to get more than one day at Sipadan, but will pay 140MYR per extra permit). They head out to Sipadan around 8AM and do 4 dives.
- Seaventures Dive Rig a converted dive platform, PADI 5* IDC Centre and resort located 2 min off Mabul Island. Generally speaking, you will be staying on a converted oil rig just offshore – fantastic diving underneath, accommodations is basic but clean. Not suitable for non-divers as there is no beach access without a boat. Guaranteed one (1) Sipadan Dive Permit for minimum 4D3N Seaventures Dive Package.
- Billabong Scuba Located on Mabul Island. This dive shop has a very poor reputation (see reviews elsewhere). Diving with them is generally not advised, even if they have the only Sipadan permits left.
- Sipadan Kapalai Dive Resort If you want the classic water village resort stay and money is no object, then Kapalai is for you. The island sits next to Mabul, about 20 minutes by speedboat to Sipadan.
-  Monkey Dive Lodge, Borneo is Located 15minutes away from Semporna by speedboat, providing simple accommodation and diving to all the surrounding islands including Sipadan
For non-divers, snorkelling is an option on Sipadan. From the beach the reef is easily accessible, and parts of the reef further out can be reached by boat. A wide variety and number of reef fishes, corals, and with a bit of luck, the sharks, barracuda and turtles can be seen without leaving the surface. Note that currents and boat traffic (especially if duck diving) are the major hazards in the offshore areas, and cryptically coloured stone fish may be a hazard in the shallows.
A buoyed-off area from the ‘safe’ side of the jetty gives snorkellers the safest and potentially most productive snorkelling area. The phenomenal drop-off that makes this island so special, starts where the jetty ends.
Several dive tour operators bring snorkellers to the island at an all-inclusive rate of around RM490. If you are on a boat with other divers, they can take you along and you can snorkel in the shallower parts of the other dive sites under the watchful eye of the boat captain.
For more accurate and updated info visit Sipadan website below.