Scuba Diving Sipadan Islands, Borneo Malaysia
Malaysia has just over 4600 kilometers of coastline and borders the South China Sea, the Sulu Sea, the Sulawesi Sea and the Straits of Malacca. But the main attraction why divers are attracted to this country lies in Borneo.
Sipadan Island, a marine paradise which is renowned among divers for its rich underwater biodiversity, pristine reefs, and sudden drop-offs into the deep blue. Regularly ranked as one of the top scuba diving destinations in the world, this island can be found in the beautiful Celebes Sea just off of Borneo Malaysia.
The wonders of these dive sites here can be easily accessed from the town of Semporna, which is just 35 kilometers north of the island or just an hour’s boat ride away. Malaysia itself is home to some world class diving sites, but diving Sipadan island might just take the lead.
The Best Dive Sites in Sipadan
Sipadan island has a total of twelve dive sites which each offers its distinctive features and attractions. A total of 16,846 hectares consist of coral reef and sea area around Sipadan are now official park areas.
This makes Sipadan diving one of the best places to go for your scuba fix. And here are 5 dive sites in the Sipadan islands which you just can’t afford to miss out on.
1. Barracuda Point
Barracuda Point is outstanding and is known as one of the top dive sites which is know for its great barracuda shoal (in the thousands) which are often seen in a tornado like formation.
The Barracuda Point Sipadan dive starts off by descending deep along the sheer wall, looking out into the blue for pelagics. Eventually, you end up heading towards the south at a depth of around 22 meters.
The current will then bring you towards the most memorable part of your dive, Barracuda Point. It is here where you will meet the schools in the thousands of Barracuda. Your dive will finish towards the shallows of the beautiful coral garden.
Sipadan diving has claimed to be one of the world’s best dive destinations. While this is a massive claim, diving in Sipadan is unquestionably world class and Barracuda Point is always first on a divers list.
2. Sipadan Jetty Dive
Located on the Northern point of Sipadan island, this well-known beach has a sudden 600m drop to the sea floor. You’re able to start your dive as soon as your boat docks at Sipadan Jetty.
The sheer drop at this jetty makes a spectacular wall dive and is why it is one of the best dive sites on the Sipadan islands. As you swim along the wall, you’ll be able to appreciate all the different kinds of hard and soft corals that call this wall home. All while shoals of barracuda, mackerel and large batfish pass by in the open ocean.
Spend your time Sipadan diving and enjoy the wall’s overhangs but make sure you also keep an eye open for amazing white tip reef sharks and if you’re lucky the occasional leopard shark!
3. Turtle Cavern
Perhaps the most talked about Sipadan diving experiences and most eerie of the dive sites in the Sipadan Islands is the Turtle Cavern – often known as the Turtle Tomb. This dive site is about 20m down and just a short swim to the right of Sipadan Jetty.
Turtle Cavern is an extensive cave system, which is described by the locals as the place where turtles come to die. Which seems pretty accurate as indeed turtle skeletons can be found within the cave.
Fortunately, there are plenty of live turtles still swimming about outside of these caves. So much so, that many lucky divers actually lose count of the number of green turtles they see between the Sipadan Jetty and the Turtle Cavern.
At the moment, there are only a handful of resorts with full-time technical divers available to bring divers to the Turtle Cavern. Please check with your dive resort for further information.
4. South Point
Just a short 15-minute boat ride away from the Sipadan Jetty you will find the South Point dive site, which is located just slightly southeast of the island of Sipadan.
This dive site consists of a wall, a ledge at about 20m deep, and then a sudden drop. The drop is an ideal place for you to search for rare sharks such as the beautiful hammerheads and thresher sharks, normally swimming around 40m deep.
White-tip reef sharks are often found in the shallower waters here along with bannerfish, moray eels, and a variety of bright colored hard corals. Strong currents are regular on this dive site, so divers beware!
5. Mid Reef
Last, but not least on our list of the best dive sites Sipadan island is perhaps one of the most colorful of the Sipadan diving sites. Boasting a wide array of colorful corals rather than pelagic creatures, the Mid-Reef is located on the East of Sipadan island.
It’s only a short 10-minute journey by boat from the Sipadan jetty and offers dive depths of 15-20m. Colorful sea fans, Moorish idols, and anemonefish dominate the waters in this area. Be sure to keep your eye out for gliding green turtles as well.
Sipadan Diving Conditions
The Sipadan dive visibility ranges from 10 to 30 meters and up to 50 meters during high season, although this obviously decreases on the rainy stormy days.
Like many scuba dive sites in Malaysia, Barracuda Point in particular consists of drift or current diving. With the currents around Barracuda Point being one of the strongest. Here Divemasters will usually keep you at around 20 meters – 25 meters during wall dives. Although there are deeper dives available for the more technical divers (this would depend on the dive shop and divemasters available).
Sipadan Island Entry Permit Requirement
If you are planning on Sipadan diving, Sabah Parks, a government agency requires a permit issued. It’s important to know that there are a limited number of 120 permits available each day. Which is a good move by the Malaysian Government to help minimize the stress on the reefs and marine life around the island.
Usually, the permit application will be made on your behalf by the resort you choose to stay at. We recommend that you check out the resorts information on turn-around times and the recommended length of stay for diving at Sipadan Island before your visit.
It’s good to know that if a resort has unallocated permits for a given day, they will be returned to Sabah Parks so that they can be redistributed to other resorts that require additional permits. Therefore, if the resort where you are staying has run out of permit allocations for the day, it’s a good idea to ask another resort if they have any available. Additional costs may apply.
You will not need a permit to visit the other islands in the area.
NOTE: With effect from 10th February 2013, it was announced by the Malaysian Government that the following rules apply when on Sipadan Islands diving;
Due to different instances of novice divers descending too quickly and/or too deeply and also with relation to the strong currents which are often experienced when diving in some dive sites, only entry-level divers and Advanced Open Water Divers with at least a minimum of 20 log dives will be allowed to dive in Sipadan.
When is the Best Time to Dive the Sipadan Islands?
The island is accessible during all months of the year. Famous for diving purposes, and diving being the most popular attraction in Sipadan, many people travel to the islands all year round with good visibility to be had throughout the year.
We would, however, recommend for the most breathtaking experiences and with dive visibility reaching up to 50 meters, for your visit to be during the dry season which occurs between March and October. Sipadan Divers are also sure to enjoy their surface intervals as temperatures throughout the year range between 26°C to 34°C (78°F to 93°F).
May and August are the best months to encounter the green and hawksbill turtles lay their eggs on the beaches.
Where is the Best Place to Stay in Sipadan Islands?
Nowadays, to be able to go Sipadan diving you are advised to stay somewhere close by and then take a boat to the island. Divers traveling to Malaysia and wanting to dive the Sipadan Islands are encouraged to stay in Mabul, Kapalai or in Semporna, where the boat ride is only an hour long to Sipadan Island.
Although macro life does exist here, many dive visitors to the Sipadan Islands come to see the larger critters. The dive sites around Kapalai and Mabul are better known for macro life and thus perfect for macro photographers.