The Place Where “Muck-Diving” Was Invented
Located just twenty minutes by boat from world-famous Sipadan, Mabul is the yin to Sipadan' yang. Whereas Sipadan is all about large pelagics and schools of fish numbering in the thousands, Mabul is the place for the strange and minute. Mabul is a macro diver's paradise; in fact, the very term "muck-diving" is believed to have first been used here. Whereas Sipadan has beautiful hard and soft corals, Mabul is mostly sand-bottom and broken rubble. But upon closer inspection, the curious diver will find an amount and variety of life seemingly implausible. Indeed, Mabul is one of the richest single destinations for exotic small marine life anywhere in the world.
Flamboyant cuttlefish, blue-ringed octopus, mimic octopus and bobtail squids are just a few of the numerous types of cephalopods to be found on Mabul's reef. Like crustaceans? Mabul is literally overflowing with them, including harlequin shrimp, mantis shrimp, hairy squat lobsters, spider crabs, porcelain crabs, and more. This is a frogfish lover's paradise, with giant, painted, and clown frogfish seen on a daily basis. Want more? How about leaf scorpion fish, dwarf lionfish, and crocodile fish. Sill more? There's also stonefish, stargazers, devil scorpion fish, and flying gurnards. Pipefish are common finds, from mushroom coral to many-banded to harlequin ghost pipefish. Like seahorses? How about pygmy seahorses? They're here too.
If you're primarily coming to the area for Sipadan, we strongly suggest diving at least one day at Mabul for a look at an entirely different side of diving. Mabul is especially popular with underwater photographers, who come armed with digital SLRs and strobes hoping to capture a once in a lifetime find.
Also known as Paradise I, Froggie's is perhaps the archetypal dive at Mabul. A gradual reef sloping down to 14 meters where it meets up with the sand, Froggy's offers a highlights tour of all that Mabul has to offer. Where the reef meets the sand is the sweet spot on this dive, a convergence point for an overwhelming variety of marine life. Named after the frogfish that are seen daily along the slope, it's not uncommon for divers to want to make three dives at this one dive site. It's nearly impossible to list everything a diver can see on this dive; even our most experienced dive guides frequently find things they've never encountered before. Besides the resident frogfish, highlights include myriad nudibranchs, leaf scorpion fish, stargazers, banded-pipefish, crocodile fish, as well as a small school of streamline barracuda that hover just above the sandy bottom. Pharaoh cuttlefish are commonly seen here, as are octopus and bobtail squids. Two boats have been sunk in the sand, adding even more possibility for discovery.
Along the east side of the island, a variety of dive resorts have collaborated to create an artificial reef to add to the already impressive number of dive sites at Mabul. Old dive boats have been sunk into the sand, as have a wide variety of man-made structures in the shapes of pyramids, crates, and more. The project has been a success, and a new dive site with an abundance of marine life has emerged. A huge school of bigeye trevally roam from structure to structure, nearly equal in size to the ones of those found at Sipadan. Giant potato groupers--some over two meters long--lurk in the shadows too. Frogfish attach to unlikely pieces of the structure, and lionfish and scorpionfish can be seen everywhere. Messmate pipefish are seen in the rubble at the base of the structures. Giant stingrays are seen as well, often half-buried in the sand. This is a fantastic morning dive as a good amount of time is spent in 18-20 meters of water.
An old oil rig, the Seaventure is a bit of an eyesore to the horizon, but an absolute treasure trove for divers. Diver's descend beneath the old steel structure to the bottom in 16 meters of water. Pygmy seahorses are virtually guaranteed here, living among the gorgonian sea fans. Lionfish number in the dozens, including spotfin and zebra lionfish. Tassled scorpion fish are commonly found as well. Perhaps the highlight of the dive is an encounter with "Elvis", a three meter long moray eel that calls Seaventure his home.
We named this spot after Tino, one of the guys who runs Scuba Junkie. This site was at first overlooked, but as Tino kept coming back with photos of juvenile painted frogfish smaller than his fingernail and ornate ghost pipefish, we decided to add this site to the list of one's frequented daily. This dive is carried out entirely in the sand, essentially swimming from buoy line to buoy line. People often give us a skeptical look on the dive briefing when we tell them they'll spent the entirety of the dive in sand, but usually at the end of the day it winds up being one of their favorite dives. Ornate ghost pipfish can be found--often in pairs--in the weedy patches of sand. Juvenile frogfish are commonly seen at the base of buoy lines. Flying gernards, bobtail squid, blue-spotted stingrays, and blue-ringed octopus can be found seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Longnose stick pipefish, often mistaken as mere twigs, are seen as well. A highlight of the dive is an old descent line, now broken off from the surface, in 16 meters of water. What started as a single piece of rope descending to the sand has turned into oasis of life in the center of the sand. The rope is now nearly 2 meters in diameter, as all sorts of soft corals and sponges have attached themselves to the rope. Stonefish can be found here in large numbers, as can painted frogfish and dwarf lionfish. At the base of the rope lives a colony of cleaner shrimp, which are always eager to clean the hands (or teeth!) of divers who stop by. Anemones dot the sand floor, where you can find anemone shrimp, mushroom coral pipefish, porcelain crabs, and more.