Come Experience One of the Top 10 Dive Sites in the World
If you ask devoted divers to list the top dives sites they wish to visit, Sipadan is frequently at the top of the list. Originally popularized by famed sea-explorer Jacques Cousteau, Sipadan is undoubtedly one of the premiere dive destinations in the world. Located in the Celebes Sea off the east coast of Sabah, Sipadan was formed over thousands of years as living corals grew on top of an extinct volcano (Sipadan is the only volcanic island in Malaysia). Today, the island plunges over 2,000 meters straight down to the sea floor. Sipadan lies in the center of the Indo-Pacific basin, one of the richest marine habitats in the world. Strong currents sweep past the island, making it a converging point for the entire marine food chain. More than 3,000 species of fish and hundreds of coral species have been classified in this ecosystem.
Strong currents and steep walls are the hallmark of diving at Sipadan. When you first hit the water, you’ll be struck by the overwhelming number of green and hawksbill turtles, which gather at Sipadan to mate. It’s common to see more than twenty turtles on a single dive. Sharks are a virtual guarantee, from solo white-tip reef sharks cruising the wall to schooling grey reef sharks hunting in the deeper plateaus. For the lucky one’s, scalloped hammerheads emerge out of the deep and put on a show never to be forgotten. But sharks aren’t the only large pelagics to roam the waters of Sipadan—eagle rays are common, as are devil rays. Manta Rays make an appearance when the deep-water currents bring plankton from out of the blue, as do whale sharks. The residential schooling barracuda and big-eye trevally are a couple of the highlights on every diver’s wish-list, which often gather in the thousands forming spectacular tornado-like formations. Large herds of enormous bumphead parrotfish are often seen marching through the shallows of dive sites like Barracuda Point. If you can take your eye off the blue for a few minutes and spend some time looking at the wall you’ll find a wealth of macro-life from nudibranchs and hairy-squat lobsters to lionfish and moray eels. Octopus can often be spotted in the channel at Barracuda, as can scorpion leaf fish in the shallows of South Point. In short, Sipdan offers something for all divers, from pelagic lovers to small-critter hunters.
One of the top dive sites at Sipadan—indeed, the world—Barracuda Point derives it’s name from the resident barracuda that often appear in the thousands, forming a vortex large enough to block out the sun. The dive starts out as a classic wall dive before coming to a channel in 18 meters of water which frequently has strong currents pushing through it. It’s at one end of the channel that the barracuda often hang out and, when they are there, a large portion of the dive is often spent holding onto a rock in the channel and starting off into the blue in awe. Reef sharks are attracted by the strong currents, and can often be found resting on the channel bottom. The channel floor is teeming with macro-life, from spotted garden eels and morays to scorpion fish, lion fish, octopus, and more. The shallows at Barracuda Point feature some of the most beautiful coral on the island, where you can often find turtles snacking on sponges or just sleeping the day away.
At the opposite end of the island from Barracuda Point, South Point is the place for big stuff. Strong currents wrap around the island making it a magnet for schooling grey reef sharks. Rays are a common sight here as well, from eagle rays and devil rays to their larger cousin the mantas. Thousands of reef fish add color to every dive, from moorish idols and red-tooth triggerfish to yellowback fusiliers and all variety of sweetlips. This dive is often done deep, but the shallows should not be underestimated. Leaf scorpion fish can be found on nearly every dive—making macro lovers happy—as can porcelain crabs, anemone shrimp, bubble coral shrimp, and more. Turtles are a guarantee.
Drop-Off / Turtle Cave
When accommodation was still available on the island, this dive was frequently voted as the best shore dive in the world. Literally 5 meters from the beach the wall on this side of the island drops over 600 meters straight down. The most well-known feature of this dive site is Turtle Cave, a giant cavern in 20 meters of water that goes all the way through the island. Early divers in the cave found turtle skeletons resting in the silty bottom, unfortunate souls who entered the cave, became lost, and drowned before being able to make their way out again. You must have proper training to fully enter this cave, but even swimming just a few meters into the cave can be a thrilling experience, as you look back and see a blue panorama framed by the cave walls. George can often be seen here—a resident barracuda over two meters long who makes the cave his home. When you’re lucky, you’ll be accompanied inside the cave by a few passing white-tip reef sharks. But Turtle Cave isn’t the only highlight of this dive: a resident school of bigeye trevally—numbering in the thousands—hang out just 100 meters from the mouth of the cave, greeting divers as they ascend from and offering a beautiful end to one of the defining dives of Sipadan
West Ridge, Hanging Gardens, Lobster Lair, Staghorn Crest
The west side of Sipadan is the deepest part of the island, plunging 2,000 meters straight down. Needless to say, all of these dives sites are wall dives and steep ones at that. The only time you’ll ever see the bottom on these sites is when the visibility reaches 40 meters and you can see schooling grey reef sharks and hammerheads resting on plateaus more than 60 meters deep. Drift diving is the name of the game here, following the currents as they typically head towards South Point. These sites are best done in the afternoon, when the western sun illuminates the myriad colors on the wall and silhouettes the turtles passing by overhead. While sharks are not as numerous here as other sites (though you’ll certainly see some), you’ll be overwhelmed by the beauty and sheer sense of scale when diving here. On days with good visibility, a highlight is swimming a good distance off-the-wall and into the blue for a chance encounter with large pelagics, as well as the spectacle of turning around and taking in the wall in it’s enormity.
Coral Gardens, White-Tip Avenue, Mid-Reef, Turtle Patch
The east side of the island is often overshadowed by the famous points of Sipadan but continually offers some of the best diving to be had. On good days, you can combine all of these dive sites into one, starting at Turtle Patch and hurtling towards Barracuda Point in the currents, watching as marine life sweeps past as if in a movie. These are excellent morning dives, both because these dive sites can be taken deep and because the sun illuminates this part of the island when other parts are still in shadow. Devil rays and mantas are frequently seen on this side of the island, as are pickhandle barracuda, giant trevally, and giant tuna making their way back to Barracuda Point after a successful hunting mission.