Sipadan’s dive operators claim that it is the best dive site in the world. Whilst it’s easy to dismiss this statement by thinking “well, they would, wouldn’t they?”, to dive here is certainly a wonderful and well worth-while experience. Whether it’s the best in the world is obviously debatable, Sipadan has been listed in several publications as one of the top dive destinations in the world. What makes this tiny island of just 30 acres such an outstanding beauty? What lies beneath the waters of Sipadan Island that has so mesmerized divers from all over the world?
Perhaps it is the allure of the diversity of marine life found at the reef. Or maybe it is the crystal-clear blue water with its high visibility of between 50 and 100 feet. Or perhaps it is the geographic uniqueness of this oceanic island that forms a 2,000-foot drop-off just barely 25 feet from the beach. The steep drop-off enables divers to observe, up-close, the myriad of sea creatures living amongst the crevices of the cliff wall.
Soft and hard corals attract reef fish that feed amongst the corals, while larger predators such as sharks and octopuses hunt for smaller fish. Its geographic position puts Sipadan at the centre of the richest marine habitat in the world, at the heart of the Indo-Pacific basin. The island rises 600 metres from the seabed to provide spectacular wall-dives and a gorgeous underwater garden.
The underwater treasures of Sipadan, described by Jacques Cousteau as “an untouched piece of art”, are guarded zealously. Until recently the island was home to several resorts and dive shops, but in order to protect the environment these were closed down in 2005, and all visitors were diverted to the resorts and dive shops on nearby Mabul Island.
This cherishing of the underwater world is furthered by limiting the number of daily dives on Sipadan to 120, so it’s best to book your diving before you arrive, in order to ensure your turn on the dive roster – it would certainly be extremely frustrating to check into your resort, and then be told that you wouldn’t be allowed to dive. The dive companies here are not all reputable and divers should spend time online checking out dive companies before they go. Some operators dive Sipadan without permits. Others, due to the competition here forcing down profits, have less than perfect equipment.
The jewel in Malaysia’s scuba diving crown and the country’s only oceanic island, Sipadan is most famous for its Drop-off. Starting a few metres away from the beach, this plunges 600m almost straight down and is home to all manner of reef fishes, including leopard, white tip reef and hammerhead sharks – these last being of the friendly, rather than the deadly, variety. Sea turtles, thousands-strong barracuda tornadoes and manta ray flights are more common than the elusive whale sharks, but regular sightings of the world’s biggest fish do occur.
More than 3,000 species of fish and hundreds of coral species have been classified in this richest of ecosystems. Sipadan is also renowned for its unusually large numbers of green and hawksbill turtles, which gather there to mate and nest. It is not unusual to see more than 20 turtles on each dive. A unique feature of Sipadan diving is the limestone labyrinth containing the remains of the numerous turtles that periodically lose their way and drown there. When diving the ‘Turtle Tomb’, take care that you are with a diver who knows the way out of the labyrinth.
Strong currents at the Sipadan Mid-reef dive-site allow divers to drift along with the current. Dive-sites such as the Coral Garden and the Hanging Gardens are renowned locations for underwater photography due to the rainbow hues donated by the myriad marine life.
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