When we did research on Borneo I had no idea how popular Sipadan Island was. Lonely Planet informed me that it was THE place to dive on the orangutan’s home turf. Naturally, we made sure to make a little pit stop at Sipadan Island Park.
There’s a lot of say about the administrative side of getting to dive. For instance, you need to reserve your Sipadan dives at least few weeks in advance as there is a daily enforced limit. This can be tough to plan in advance if you’re on a long trip so we planned it near the start of ours. Expecting a relaxed diver’s haven, the nearby lodging island of Mabul was far from it, and while the diving was nice the après dive was seriously lacking but I will save that for another post. Let’s focus just on the world class dive site and learn about the beauty of Malaysia’s Sipadan Island Park.
Sipadan was actually a place of territorial dispute between Indonesia and Malaysia until about 10 years ago when Malaysia was granted the land. Malaysia decided to turn the island into a heavily regulated park recently. Only a few years ago you could have stayed on the tiny island of Sipadan itself, but now you need to stay at Mabul, 1 hour away by boat. You can still see an old tilted shack that used to be something on the beach, but you can’t explore the island beyond about 15 meters of the entrance.
We got a chance to do three dives at Sipadan and we dove at Barracuda Point, South Point and West Ridge. There were a lot of reef sharks chilling on the floor, not paying much attention to us. The amount of turtles around Sipadan is incredible, there are so many that you will actually get bored of seeing them. Sipadan is special because it lies off the coastal shelf in 500m waters. It has steep walls and therefore the dives mostly circled these walls with the occasional cold water upwelling.
One shark sighting I’m quite happy about is a zebra shark. Our dive master wasn’t too keen in exploring and seemed in a hurry to keep moving forward so he was booting ahead. We stayed back behind the dive master and another diver and we saw a zebra shark gracefully circling around us, showing off its pretty patterns. It came up behind the dive master and the other diver and went to their right side just as they turned to look left. It was about 1 meter away from them at one point and they didn’t even see it! Jonathan and I didn’t have anything to make noise with so they didn’t even see the zebra shark until it came around again later. The moral is, don’t kick in a rush. You’ll just use more air and you don’t have anywhere else to be.