Sabah’s Most Beautiful Island
Sibuan is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful islands in the Celebes Sea, and is an ideal location for snorkelers and divers alike, with white sand beaches, swaying palm trees, and clear blue waters. Due to the calm conditions, we’re able to park our speedboat directly in the sand, so divers and snorkelers can come and go at will. Sea gypsies have small huts on the island, and the children will climb the palm trees and bring you a coconut if you ask nicely.
Sibuan is the main island we conduct our Open Water Courses courses at, as the calm conditions and sandy bottoms make it ideal for beginning divers. But don’t think Sibuan is only for new divers, this is a macro divers paradise and truly one of our favorite islands. Sandy bottoms mixed with rubble as well as sloping reefs provide a playground for divers to hunt within. Pygmy seahorses are a virtual guarantee, found in 30 meters of water on various sides of the islands. This is one of the best islands in the area for frogfish, as numerous ones make Sibuan their residence. Another highlight is the mandarin fish, which live in the black urchins that line the shallows and are on every macro diver’s wish list. Nudibranchs are found by the dozen, as are crocodile fish, lion fish, and scorpion fish. Another treat is the hammerhead nudibranchs, black and royal blue in color, found in the shallows of Mandarin Bay.
Perhaps the defining dive at Sibuan, Starting out in sand but sloping to a gentle reef down to more than 30 meters, Left Shoulder is a treasure chest for macro divers. Frogfish are guaranteed here, including painted, clown, and giant frogfish. We’ve encountered juvenile frogfish here measuring smaller than our fingernail! Porcelain crab, squat shrimp, partner shrimp, bubble coral shrimp, whip coral shrimp, peacock mantis shrimp, and more will appeal to crustacean lovers. This is perhaps one of the best dives in Malaysia for nudibranchs, even our own dive guides find new ones on a daily basis. Snake eels can be found with their eyes and mouth sticking out of the sand. Devil fish—lethal if touched—burrow themselves in the sand leaving only their eyeballs visible. Encounter one out in the open, however, and you see the brilliant orange and yellow wings that is their trademark. As you approach the southern point of the island, the current picks up and here you can see pharaoh cuttle fish as well as green and hawksbill turtles. We’ve converted numerous divers who formerly only liked the big stuff into macro-lovers after just one dive here.
This dive starts off in the same location as Left Shoulder, but the profile heads to the north point of the island instead of the south. This is some of the nicest coral on the island, and at least several turtles are seen on nearly every dive. The highlight of this dive though is the mandarin fish, candy-colored and shy, which live among the black sea urchins in as little as 5 meters of water.
Another excellent dive site for mandarin fish, Mandarin Bay is the most protected part of the island, and therfore one of the best for macro-life. One of the real treats are hammerhead nudibranchs, often found in pairs and sticking out like sore thumbs in the white sand. Black and blue in color, they have a head shaped like an anvil, which gives them their name. Clouded moray eels are another common find here, frequently seen swimming out in the open.
A gentle reef slope descending to deeper than 40 meters, Froggy’s is one of our favorite dive sites at Sibuan for the simple fact that you never know what you’ll find. Currents can be strong here, and a thermocline makes a noticeable difference in water temperature. One of the features of this dive are the ghost shrimp, found living in large colonies commonly on stinging hydroids and soft sponges. Blue-spotted stingrays are a guarantee, and eagle rays can be seen in the blue when the visibility is good. Frogfish dot the shallows which are rich in soft and hard corals alike. Banded-boxer shrimp, often living in unison with a moray eel, are a common sight. Nudibranchs, in infinite colors and shapes, speckle the entire dive site.
Unlike the other dives sites at Sibuan, Drop-Off is a steep wall descending to more than 40 meters. An excellent first dive, Drop-Off will satisfy macro-lovers and big fish worshipers alike. An entire dive can be spent searching through the nooks and crannies of the wall, where you’ll find any number of shrimp and crabs, nudibranchs, scorpion fish, lion fish, crocodile fish, and blue-spotted stingrays. Don’t spend all your dive with your nose pressed up against the wall, for you might miss the eagle rays that frequent this side of the island. Trigger fish, parrot fish, moorish idols, and wrasse can be found cruising in pairs or solo along the wall, and turtles are quite common too. Banded sea snakes can be found in the shallows as well.