When Jacques Cousteau visited Sipadan, he wrote of the island and its marine life: "an untouched piece of art". Lying 5° above the Equator and resting on the summit of a long-extinct volcano, Sipadan sits in the Sulawesi Sea like a green, forested jewel, ringed by white sandy beaches. From a diving perspective it is famed for its phenomenal wall dives, healthy reefs and a rich mix of species. Its life and colours surround you and this Sipadan Dive Liveaboard trip brings you up-close with some of the most interesting marine species at one of the most beautiful marine locations on Earth.
Following the decision in 2004 to remove all resorts from the bird and marine sanctuary of Sipadan, your only chance to stay close to the island is now by dive liveaboard. To further protect and enhance the marine environment, the number of divers per day that visit Sipadan is limited and permits must be applied for in advance. Our dive liveaboard trips provide the best opportunity to secure permits and dive at Sipadan, as well providing the opportunity to dive at the neighbouring islands of Mabul and Kapalai.
Borneo's sapphire waters may reveal treasures to satisfy the most avid of divers but the best of wild Borneo is both above and below the waves. Whilst this experience has its emphasis on the sub aqua, it also combines close encounters with two of the island's most special animals: sea turtles and orangutans. On your journey, you will be able to experience first-hand one of the world's most famous wildlife rehabilitation and conservation programmes at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, where hundreds of young ex-captive or abandoned orangutans (often the victims of deforestation) are being helped by highly trained and motivated staff to readjust to a life back in the wild.
Sea turtles are found in abundance in this part of the world and as well as meeting them below the waves whilst diving around Sipadan and spotting them from your dive liveaboard, we will take you to see them laying eggs at the Selingan or 'Turtle Island' sanctuary. Here you will have the opportunity to see conservation in action and witness the transplanting of eggs to a secure hatchery and hopefully even the release of hatchling turtles into the sea.
You have the option of extending your safari with an exploration of the rich, riparian forest along one of Borneo's most majestic rivers: the Kinabatangan. The river and its surrounding rainforest wetlands make up one of the richest ecosystems on Earth and is one of only a handful of places anywhere on the planet where ten primate species coexist in one habitat. Kinabatangan is home to the largest population of Bornean orangutans in Malaysia and several other species endemic to Borneo, such as the proboscis monkey, the maroon langur and the beautiful Bornean white bearded gibbon.
The cream of Malaysian diving and among the best dive locations in the world, Sipadan is Malaysia's only volcanic island. A favourite nesting site for green turtles and the occasional hawksbill, Sipadan was made famous by renowned French oceanographer, Jacques Cousteau in his documentary 'Ghosts of the Sea Turtle'. The waters around the island usually teem with turtles so accustomed to divers that they pay little attention as they go about their daily lives. The waters of Sipadan also boast a sizeable proportion of the coral and fish species that exist within the Indo-Pacific environment.
The coral and marine life is prolific; with the Sipadan reefs inhabited by staghorn, table, plate, lettuce and boulder corals, as well as encrusting, bubble and mushroom corals. Lying among these grand hard corals are large soft corals, vase and barrel sponges and colourful giant clams. Whitetip and gray reef sharks thrive and there is a myriad of reef inhabitants including porcupine fish, pufferfish, triggerfish, unicorn fish, Moorish idols and inquisitive giant moray eels. Camouflaged leaf fish and crocodile fish can often be spotted here, too. Against gorgonian sea fans and black corals protruding from the steep drop offs, encounters with huge bumphead parrotfish are common as is the spectacular sight of schooling barracuda, forming a living wall of silvery-blue bodies. Sipadan has one of the top beach dives in the world, where five metres of sandy shallows suddenly gives way to a precipitous drop.
Mabul is located some 25 minutes north of Sipadan. In contrast to the steep drop offs, coral reefs and pelagic species of Sipadan, Mabul is renowned internationally for a very different reason. A muck diver's paradise, the waters around Mabul fill every hole in the sand and patch of coral rubble with ghost pipefish, frogfish, devil scorpionfish, stonefish, crocodile fish, flamboyant cuttlefish, cowfish and nudibranchs. Macro photographers will find great opportunities to capture some rare species that inhabit the sandy bottom of Mabul's marine environment.
Like Sipadan and Mabul, Kapalai is part of the Semporna Marine Park island group. Located around 20 minutes from Sipadan, Kapalai is another macro diving destination with all the species found at Mabul including blue-ringed octopuses, dragonets, mating mandarin fish, jawfish and cuttlefish. Other sites around Kapalai are likely to reveal humphead (Napoleon) wrasse, blue spotted ribbontail rays and even bumphead parrotfish.
Sites visited will be dependant upon weather conditions and all diving activity is at the discretion of the boat skipper and Sabah Marine Park rules prevailing at the time.
Sipadan and the Semporna group of islands are jewels in South-East Asia's rich tapestry of marine habitat - and long may they remain that way. The diversity of life within them is of global importance, but like many reefs around the world, they are under pressure. We therefore urge all divers to dive responsibly and safely, avoiding any contact with the reef.
|Photographs kindly provided by Alan Oh, SMART, Charlotte Caffrey, Ralph Pannell, Nick Bramley, Lawrence Lee, Albert Teo and PSR