Sipadan, Malaysia, is known for its excellent diving. Sipadan is known for its large pelagic schools and good-sized fish. Although nothing can be guaranteed, Sipadan dives are often highlighted by the following: sightings of hammerhead or leopard sharks, barracudas in large shoals of hundreds, numerous bumphead parrotfish, a few mantas, and possibly half a dozen whitetip sharks.
The Marine Life of Sipadan
There are a lot of reef fish. But the most striking is the abundance of medium-sized fish, between 25 and 40 cm (10 to 15 inches), in relatively shallow waters. This is particularly true for groups up to 12 harlequin sweetnesslips, as well as snappers, triggerfishes and longfin batfish, along with a few species of unicorn fish.
This part of Borneo has a variety of fish species, but also a number of impressive macro species. Underwater photographers and people with sharp eyes may spot crinoid shrimps and fish duos that match the host’s colors, or a golden-spotted shrimp living on a flattened carpet anemone. Divers have seen a small patch of spotted garden eels that are relatively easy to photograph, but it is difficult to capture outside their burrow. A pink sailfin leaffish, bearded scorpionfish and many other species of nudibranchs can be seen with sharp eyes.
The dive spots in Sipadan usually live up their names. White Tip Avenue (for hard corals), Turtle Patch, Staghorn Crest and Lobster Lair, as well as Hanging Gardens (for soft reefs), are all excellent options. This is due to the huge efforts made by Sabah National Parks since 2005. The fish population has remained stable, and you can see large numbers of fish on Sipadan’s dives.
How to find a Sipadan dive shop
The island is no longer home to resorts. Divers looking for Sipadan diving shops must stay in neighboring Mabul and Kapalai Islands, Borneo. These islands are home to many of the dive shops offering trips to the park. Accommodation is available in Semporna, which is a cheaper option for those who are on a tight budget. Day boats depart from Semporna to take you to Sipadan.
The Sipadan diving area is strictly controlled and operates on a permit basis. There are only 120 permitted divers each day. All dives must take place between 6am to 4pm. Night diving is not allowed. It is important to book with Sipadan’s dive shop in advance due to the limited number permits that are available each day. Operators sell permits to guests, who then allocate them to their guests. It is not advisable to travel to the area without making a booking. You may be able wait for a few days for an operator to issue a permit. However, in peak season it might not be possible for Sipadan dive shops or take longer for them to do so.
Sipadan’s Best Dive Sites
These are some of our favorite dive spots:
South Point: There are hammerhead shark sightings here, a wall of barracudas that stretches over 10 meters high and a passing group of bumphead parrotfish. A little luck is needed for all the ‘highlights’. You can expect to see white tip reef sharks and green turtles on most of the dives. There are also a variety of reef fishes.
Barracuda Point – Barracuda is a great spot to dive. They appear in their hundreds every time, creating a shoal that transforms the water into a shimmering wall of fish. A school of bumphead parrotfish and sharks are available to accompany every dive.
Hanging Gardens: This beautiful spot is a must-see for coral lovers. Soft corals are suspended like waxy candles, and come in an array of colours that is unmatched anywhere else. Although visibility is sometimes reduced, the beauty of this site makes up for it.
More information can be found on the asiadivingvacation website.
Turtle Spotting in Sipadan
Although experienced divers might be a bit numb to green turtles, it is a highlight of Sipadan. It is amazing to swim alongside a turtle in Sipadan, as they are very often right next to you. There are many observation opportunities, whether you’re lucky enough to spot one eating soft coral or mating with another turtle.
Sipadan Island is not far from the continental shelf, but it is in a stunning isolation. It is only 12km (7.5 miles) from Mabul Island, which lies at the edge of shallow Sigitan Reefs. However, the ocean plunges to nearly 1,000m before abruptly rising. This 15-hectare island is just the tip of a marine outcrop, and boasts lush vegetation and white sand beaches.
The turquoise waters turn dark blue abruptly at the edge of a vertical wall on the northeast coast. This is because the reef top extends less that 10 meters from shore. The shallow reef runs along an irregular fringe for over 500m (1600ft) from South Point. Divers can find several spots along the reef’s edge, which are all located above the vertical walls.
Conditions for Diving in Sipadan: Currents can shift throughout a dive. Barracuda Point is a good example. There can be up to 2 knots of current that moves away from the reef, and sometimes downward. You can also dive at many easy spots. However, the old saying “more current equals more fish” is often true.
Sipadan Diving Season: Sipadan can be dived all year, but it’s best to do so between December and April for the best conditions.