Sipadan Island (Pulau Sipadan in Malay) lies off the east coast of Malaysian Borneo in Sabah. Ever since diving celebrity Jacques Cousteau raved about Pulau Sipadan’s diversity of marine life, this dive mecca has been indisputably the most famous scuba destination in Malaysia. Malaysia’s eastern most state, and lies on the north-eastern corner of Borneo, the world’s third largest island.
…Good for: Large animals, wall diving, drift dives and advanced divers…
…Not so good for: Wrecks, beginner divers and non-diving activities…
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