Diving the World’s Best Dive Site: Sipadan Island3/6/2013
Im sitting here in my hotel room in Semporna, Malaysia relaxing after a mesmerizing 2 days diving Sipadan Island and surrounding islands. I am supposed to be diving Sipadan again today, however a rebel group of Filipino nationals caused a national ruckus yesterday in the nearby village town of Lahad Datu, promoting the government to shutdown all diving today. However, before the above mess occurred, I experienced some of the most amazing diving known to man-kind, diving Sipadan! The below is my rendition of true events that took place the last 2 days.
I decided to spend a few days in Semporna on Wednesday afternoon. The next morning I took a 9 hour bus from Kota Kinabalu to Semporna. I arrived with the intentions of diving, but not Sipadan. Avid divers know that in order to dive Sipadan, it’s almost a foregone conclusion that you need to book in advance. The government extremely regulates diving on the island, allowing a maximum of 120 permits a day. Most dive companies will release permits on a first come first serve basis. (Research this online. During peak season it’s not uncommon to book a 5 day package with only one day diving at Sipadan).
My intentions were to book 2 days of diving at Sipadan Scuba, explore some of the islands in the area, and return to KK before the weekend. However, a short conversation with the owner changed things completely. A two-day trip turned into three, and my dreams of diving Sipadan would be experienced not once, but twice! Serious win!
Day 1 – Sibuan Island
On a picture perfect day of diving, I LOVED Sibuan. The site reminded me much of diving in the Perhentians. Beautiful, glowing coral stocked with fish and sea turtle sightings on every dive. The beaches on Sibuan were absolutly spectacular. Pure white sand with blissfully green surrounding vegetation, on the background of various shades of blue-green gradient sea and sky colors.
In addition, its baffles my mind that you can find fishing villages in the area miles out to sea. The locals carve out a living through the fish trade, traveling miles out to see to bring in the daily catch.
I saw a few things I’ve never seen before, like two superbly hidden rare Frog fish and a few Pipe fish. However, the enjoyment I received on this day was mostly a relaxing current-free dive. My kicking myself for forgetting my GoPro underwater camera to capture some of the footage here! Dive sites include Drop Off, The Beach, and Frog Fish Alley. The later a famous site for the above mentioned rare Frog Fish.
Day 2 – Sipadan Island
The spent all of yesterday making sure I did not get sick! I was determined to make this dream dive site of mine no matter what! I’m sure glad things worked out perfectly.
The weather was picturesque and beautiful as the day before. It’s nearing the end of the rainy season now so there still is no guarantee of good diving conditions. However, today was a blessing from the heavens.
Sipadan is world famous for diving. The variety and quality of sites brings tourists like myself back every year. On this day we stopped at 3 locations. In order from first to last, Hanging Garden, Turtle Tomb, and Barracuda Point.
Never in my life did I think a dive would be amazing after seeing only 1 fish. However this dive was a tremendous experience.
We visited Hidden Garden to hunt for schooling Hammerhead Sharks. They prefer deeper cold waters near the continental shelf. I’m talking a pure 800 meter drop at the edge of Sipadan island!
I felt like I was traveling in empty space. There is no depth perception, save for the 2 divers with me, and blue as far as the eye could see. (In this case visibility was maybe 5 – 7 meters). If not for a dive computer, you could not tell the difference between 40 and 100 meters.
We did not find the elusive Hammerheads, but I can call this dive a success for the simple fact it was the deepest I’ve ever gone (40.2 meters) and most surreal. Oh and that one fish I did see, a Giant Barracuda, most likely wondering what 3 divers were doing at those depths.
My favorite dive of the day was here, one of my best ever. The Turtle Tomb is a cave system where divers can find the bones of dead Sea turtles. Maybe this is a place where loved ones bury their fallen comrades or unfortunate sea turtles lose their way and succumb to drowning. I like to think the former.
The cave was outstanding! Darkness reaches you almost 100 meters in and everything becomes pitch black, in the middle of the day. Large schools of Big-Eyed Jack Fish and Trevellay patrol the entrance and a sign warns divers of entering too far. We did not go so far inside. I would LOVE to do this dive again with a flash light.
The visibility was 15 – 20 meters of beautiful sight seeing. White tip Reef sharks lay peacefully in the sand while a turtle is around every corner. I mean there are soo many turtles that I lost count. maybe 50 or so on this dive alone!
The end of the dive provides a preview of the Top dive site in the world, Barracuda Point. Looking up, I saw the most massive fish ball I’ve ever seen! Big Eyed Jacks numbering in the thousands form circles around divers in about 8 meters of water. They stay protected while being chased around by Giant Trevally and Sharks. I remember swimming along the edge of the coral wall when all of a sudden the school heads directly into us. In an instant I was covered in a storm of escaping fish. Truly an unbelievable sight to see!
The most notorious dive sight at Sipadan is Barracuda Point. You go here and you just watch. Don’t think, don’t question, just watch!
In addition to the school of Jack Fish, the barracuda’s can number in the thousands! Blacktail, Chevron, and sometimes Great individuals form enormous schools, eating smaller fish along the way. We saw maybe a few hundred on this dive, but I know they can be much MUCH bigger. In addition, I saw the largest school of Bumphead Parrot fish I’ve ever seen.
These goofy looking fish checked in with about a 100 hungry mouths eating huge chunks of coral. I thought seeing schools of 5 – 10 was lucky in the Perhentians, but this sight blows my expectations away.
There is almost too much fish activity here. The turtles were amazing to watch jetting in and out of the Jack Fish cyclone, swimming effortlessly through the water. I spent a lot of time looking at the active sharks chasing down their prey, almost swimming into the sleeping White-tips at the same time.
I found myself wanting to be a kid again on this dive site. I enjoyed swimming in and out of the fish vortexes as the fish danced around me. Triggerfish, Grey Reef Sharks, Napoleon Wrasses, Giant Groupers, and many more species inhabit Barracuda Point. And if you really lucky, you might get some special visitors like oceanic Manta Rays, Devil Rays, and Whale Sharks!
Outstanding Dive All Around
I’ve been extremely fortunate living and traveling in Southeast Asia. The diving is the best you will find anywhere and Sipadan did not disappoint. Unfortunately my diving was cut a day short due to political conflict in the area. On a positive note, I now have 1 free dive at Sipadan redeemable anytime this year! You better believe I plan on coming back.
The diving here and surrounding islands is the some of the best you will find anywhere. A trip to Borneo is not complete without visiting this amazing mecca of underwater diving. I’m hoping my memories will never fade from diving Sipadan Island.
Here are some additional photos taken on the trip.