Sipadan Island, just mention the name “Sipadan” and instantly the word “diving” came into mind. Sipadan had become synonymous with diving. Sipadan Island is an oceanic island in the Celebes Sea off the East coast of Sabah, Borneo. Sipadan Island was formed thousands of years ago through the slow process of living corals growing on top of an extinct volcanic cone. With a depth reaching 600 metres to the sea floor, Sipadan Island was surrounded by the richest marine life in the sea world. More than 3,000 species of fishes and hundreds of coral species had made Sipadan their home ground. Jacques Costeau, the French underwater explorer, while filming Borneo called Sipadan “an untouched piece of art”.
How could we resist the temptation of diving in one of the top legendary dive spots in the world? It was off to Sipadan Island we went on a beautiful sunny morning. The scenic drive from Tawau to Semporna Jetty took about an hour. Then it was followed by a speedboat ride of around 45 minutes to reach Kapalai Island. Since the year 2000, Sipadan Island has been designated as a wildlife and marine life sanctuary. Therefore, diving on the island was restricted to only 120 permits per day. Visitors were also not allowed to stay on the island overnight. Hence, we booked and stayed at the dive resort on the nearby island of Kapalai. One may also stay at Mabul Island.
After checking into our resort accommodation, we were ready to set forth to Sipadan Island, a short 20 minutes speedboat ride from Kapalai. But not before a safety briefing, including how to signal when underwater, was given to us. Sipadan had strong currents sweeping past the island, and its diving experience was characterized with steep walls and magnificent aquatic life forms.
Around the island were numerous interesting spots for diving explorations, each with its unique features. On the northern side, there were Barracuda Point and The Drop-Off/Turtle Cave; the southern side had the South Point; the western side consisted of West Ridge, Hanging Gardens, Lobster Lair and Staghorn Crest; and the eastern side had the Coral Gardens, White-Tip Avenue, Mid-Reef and Turtle Patch.
So many choices, yet so little time. Where do we start? We decided to start at the South Point, which was considered the big stuff, as this was where the strong currents reside, attracting schools of grey reef sharks. The moment we entered the dark blue-turquoise water, another world opened up beneath us. Silence and tranquility, except for the beating of my heart and the steady breathing movements of lungs, greeted me in the underwater world.
Exploring the shallows of South Point, we sighted leaf scorpion fish, porcelain crabs, anemone shrimp and bubble coral shrimp. A number of green and hawksbill turtles swam by, searching for food and mates because Sipadan had become their mating site. Diving deeper, we came upon hundreds of colorful reef fishes, from moorish idol to red-tooth triggerfish, yellowback fusilier and a wide range of sweetlips. The eagle rays and devil rays seen were fascinating, moving like graceful spaceships in the sea. Amazing dive indeed!
From South Point and after a short rest, we detoured to the western section of Sipadan Island to check out the West Ridge, Hanging Gardens, Lobster Lair and Staghorn Crest. This was the deepest part of the island, plunging 2,000 metres directly to the sea floor. Steep walls dives were the main game here as well as drift diving to follow the currents, which would flow towards South Point. Again the quiet aquatic world welcomed us as we went into the seemingly bottomless waters. Due to the deep depth and chasm, visibility was not very good. Seeing the sheer size and sense of scale of the dive site was an experience in itself. Looking down, we spotted grey reef sharks and hammerheads resting on plateaus. As the afternoon sun shone and illuminated the water, it created a kaleidoscope of colors on the sea wall… what a breathtaking sight to behold. Dark silhouettes of turtles passing overhead alerted us to their presence in this mystical underwater world.
Unfortunately, we had to call it a day at Sipadan. Back at our resort on Kapalai Island, we freshen up and went to have a scrumptious dinner of fresh seafood and local delicacies. As we reminisced about the wonderful experiences we had of diving at the legendary island of Sipadan that day, I know in my heart that I shall be back to explore its other attractive dive spots at other nearby island like Mabul Island, Mataking Island, Sibuan Island and so much more.