Off the North Eastern coast of Borneo lies a tiny jewel of an island, Pulau Sipadan, with a marine ecosystem so perfect and unique, that it is world renowned as one of the best dive spots in the world. Above the water, it's just a tiny 40 acre spot of jungle with a white sandy beach. But below the water, Sipadan's vertical topography and abundant marine life make it one of the world's most desired destinations.
Sipadan Island has been officially declared a part of an immense Marine Protected Area. From 1 January 2005, no overnight accommodation is available on the island and it is only accessible during the day between 8am and 3pm to divers and day trippers.
Sipadan Entry Permit Approval
Anyone planning to visit Sipadan Island now requires an approved entry permit issued by Sabah Parks, a government agency of Sabah Government. The total daily entry quota is 120 permits per day. This initiative has been made by the Malaysian Government in an attempt to minimise the stress to the reefs and marine life at Sipadan Island. Unfortunately, this also means that diving at Sipadan is no longer guaranteed. You should plan for at least a 4-5 night stay in the area to ensure a minimum of 1 day diving at Sipadan Island. The announcement of the Sipadan Entry Permit Approval list is only available 1-3 days before the actual diving date and payment for the permit/s is made locally.
Pulau Sipadan is a small, rainforest-covered tropical island which rises from a 700 metre abyss in the Celebes Sea and a destination the committed diver cannot miss. It is the only oceanic island in Malaysia, having developed over thousands of years by living corals growing on top of an extinct volcanic cone.
The island is located at the heart of the Indo-Pacific basin, the centre of one of the richest marine habitats in the world. More than 3,000 species of fish and hundreds of coral species have been classified in this ecosystem.
Sipadan is reached by boat from Semporna or from the surrounding islands such as Mabul and Kapalai.
You can walk around the island and snorkel and swim off its beaches. Snorkeling and diving sites around Sipadan can also be reached by boat. The phenomenal 600 metre / 2,000 foot drop-off for which Sipadan is famous for starts at the end of the island’s jetty, 20 metres from the island.
Monitor lizards can be seen on the island.
There are no restaurants or shops on the islands.
Diving is conducted throughout the year around Pulau Sipadan. The rainy season is generally between December to March when weather conditions may be more unsettled and visibility reduced. The best months for diving are July and August.
The area is busiest with local travellers from March to August and also over Christmas, New Year and Chinese New Year – please book in advance if wanting to travel over these periods.
Green and Hawksbill turtles nest on the island between April and September and you should see a higher number of turtles underwater during this time also, although turtles are present year round.
The name of Sipadan is simply legendary in diving circles, conjuring images of twirling tornados of barracudas and jacks, patrolling hammerhead sharks, millions of technicoloured reef fish and, above all, dozens of sea turtles swimming peacefully everywhere.
Diving at Sipadan is rated as the best in the world not without good reason. The waters are calm and warm, visibility is generally good, and the quantity and variety of marine life is astounding.
On an average day of diving at Sipadan, you would expect to see at least 50 Green Turtles, a dozen sharks, large schools of Barracudas, Jacks, Fusiliers and Batfish. Sipadan is famous for its wall diving.
A mere 50 ft. (15M) from the beach, there is a vertical wall, starting at a depth of 10 ft. (3M) and plunging straight down 2000 ft. (600M). Walls surround 90% of the island, and most are sheer drops that extend out of sight into the blue depths. Many of the walls have ledges that the turtles use as resting places. Some of the walls are so steep that they are actually undercut and slope inward toward the island creating overhangs encrusted with soft corals
While most divers are most impressed with the quantity of large marine life at Sipadan, it is a haven for tiny creatures as well. If you take the time to look away from the larger inhabitants and concentrate on the close up view of the reefs and walls, you will find a myriad of rare creatures to entertain you.
If you're a photographer, you will wish that you had two cameras with you, one for wide angle and one for macro because virtually every site at Sipadan is good for both large and small subjects
No single dive site epitomizes the diversity of Sipadan quite like Barracuda Point. Named after the huge schools of Chevron Barracuda that are frequently found there, diversity is always the rule. In addition to the Barracudas, large schools of Jacks, Batfish and scores of huge Bumphead Parrotfish can also be seen there. Turtles abound as well as dozens of sharks. You never really know what you will see at Barracuda Point from one dive to the next, you just know that whatever it is, it will be good!
Located on the Sipadan drop of, just few metres away from the beach. Its massive opening on the wall leads to a huge room extending over 200 ft. (65M) back into the island. The first surprise is the sheer size of the cavern. The second surprise is the skeletal remains of Turtles, which have lost their way in the cavern at night and drowned while trying to find the way out for air.
The cavern was above exposed to air during the last ice age when the lea level was lower, so it has Stalactites and Stalagmites in the far reaches. Schools of Fusiliers gather at the entrance ready to dart into the depths and hide from marauding Trevally.
This wall is covered in a multitude of soft coral and drops down to about 1968 ft (600m). Hawksbill & Green Turtles live on the ledges at this site and the current is usually quite calm. A great spot for photography as colourful corals hang from the interesting cracks and crevices along the wall.
As with all the sites on Sipadan Island, the name says it all. Expect to see huge Black & White Tip Reef Sharks, Grey Sharks, massive Green & Hawksbill Turtles as well as large shoals of Jack & Barracuda. Depth: 1968 ft / 600 m.
A coral wall going down to 600 m. Dogtooth tuna, giant trevally, green turtles, white tip sharks and barracudas, bump headed parrotfish and jacks can be seen at 20-30 m depth. In 15-25 m divers can expect to see some beautiful fans, sponges and small caves with white tips or turtles.