Sipadan Island (Malaysia)
Sipadan is the only oceanic island in Malaysia, rising 600mts from the seabed. It’s located in the Celebes Sea east of the major town of Tawau and off the coast of Borneo, East Indonesia on the island of Borneo. It was formed by living corals growing on top of an extinct volcanic cone that took thousands of years to develop. Sipadan is located at the heart of the Indo-Pacific basin, the centre of one of the richest marine habitats in the world. More than 3,000 species of fish and hundreds of coral species have been classified in this ecosystem. Sipadan has been rated by many dive journals as one of the top dive destinations in the world.
The geographic position of Sipadan puts it in the centre of the richest marine habitat in the world, the heart of the Indo-Pacific basin. More than 3000 species of fish and hundreds of coral species have been classified in this richest of ecosystems. Sipadan is well known for its unusually large numbers of green and hawksbill turtles which gather there to mate and nest and it is not unusual for a diver to see more than 20 turtles on each dive. Another unique feature to divers visiting Sipadan is the turtle tomb, an underwater limestone cave with a labyrinth of tunnels and chambers that contain many skeletal remains of turtles that became disoriented and then drowned.
The residential schooling barracuda and big-eye trevally, which often gather in thousands forming spectacular tornado-like formations, are one of the highlights of every diver’s wish-list. With the possibility of seeing pelagic species such as mantas, eagle rays, scalloped hammerhead sharks and whale sharks, each dive at Sipadan is a highly anticipated event.
It is not only the big fish that amaze divers coming to Sipadan, the macro life is equally mesmerizing. Garden eels, leaf scorpion fish, mantis shrimps, fire gobies, and various pipefish are guaranteed at various dive sites. The diversity and abundance of marine found at Sipadan gives it its reputation of being one of the ten best dive locations in the world.
Sipadan diving is not for everyone. Currents are often present and shift during the course of a dive. However, the dive guides that work in Sipadan are very experienced and professional divers and will always take an easier route to accommodate divers that are a little apprehensive.
Despite being widely acknowledged as one of the best places to dive
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in the world, the Malaysian island of Sipadan still doesn't have official marine park status. Conferring World Heritage Site Status on the island has also been long discussed, but to date still remains under the general management of Sabah Park's.
Sipadan is just one of scores of other marine areas (including Palau and Maldives) that also need to be recognized as deserving protection. With each new marine park that is opened the chance of that ocean area being protected and conserved increases dramatically. There are improvements required in the management of marine parks, but the undoubtedly positive impact such designation has had on places like Bunaken demonstrates that it's possible to both protect the environment and preserve a paradise for divers.
The label marine park is a great indicator of where to find the best diving. And in a good sign for divers, the number of areas gazette as marine parks in Asia Pacific has has been steadily increasing in the last couple of decades, with existing parks dramatically widening their borders.
Given the hundreds of thousands of hectares these protected areas often cover, it's difficult for them to adequately policies and no-fishing policies to be rigorously enforced. Even so, some parks like Manado's Bunaken National Marine Park have managed to flourish and maintain a high volume of visiting divers too.
Marine Parks will always be beset with problems and ongoing crises because they are so complex to manage - but their very existence is recognition of their worth and a vital start to continually improving the protection they afford. Divers are important parts because they make the effort to show up and dive these places; and they have the added bonus of being among the few humans who will ever see the denizens of these spectacular underwater marine parks firsthand.
» Best Time to Dive
January and August can make for rough seas and bad visibility in the round of whole year. April through October is the best time to visit. The rainy season is November to March. The water temperature ranges from 26°c to 30°c year round.
» Eat: There are no restaurants, and dive tours bring their own lunch and snacks with them.
» Drink: Dive tours bring their own water and drinks with them.
» By Air
The jump off point to Sipadan Island is Kota Kinabalu or Tawau.
» By Car
Continue the journey by a 1-hour drive to Semporna town.
» By Sea
A 30min speedboat will take you to Mabul, which is the jump off point for Sipadan Island explorations.
Walking along the beautiful sandy beaches, snorkeling 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.
» Note: it is no longer possible to stay on Sipadan its self.