Located about 20 miles from Semporna, Sabah, Sipadan is Malaysia’s only oceanic island of volcanic origin. As the top of a steep sea mountain, it rises from a 600-metre abyss in the Celebes Sea. The island was originally declared a bird sanctuary in 1933 for migratory birds. From 1981 onwards, it became a marine reserve.
Ever since French marine biologist, Jacques Yves-Cousteau revealed the natural wonders of the island to the rest of the world in his documentary Borneo: The Ghost of the Sea Turtle (1989), diving has become very popular in Sipadan. The best diving season is from February to November when visibility is about 20 to 60 metres.
Sipadan is the turtle capital of the world. Its large breeding colony of green and hawksbill turtles can grow up to one metre in carapace length and weigh more than 140 kilogrammes. Sipadan’s rich and diverse marine life also include more than 3,000 species of fish and hundreds of coral species. Besides turtles, schools of barracuda, bumphead parrotfish, manta rays, big-eye trevallies, and hammerhead sharks are also frequently seen there.
There are 12 dive spots around Sipadan, which have been identified and named according to the variety of corals and marine life that are unique to the particular spots. Notable sites include Coral Gardens, White-Tip Avenue, Hanging Gardens, North Point, West Ridge, Turtle Patch, Lobster Lair and Staghorn Crest. The best thing about diving in Sipadan is that every dive holds the promise of an encounter of a lifetime.
There is no accommodation on Sipadan Island. You can stay at the islands nearby, such as Mabul and Kapalai. A permit from Sabah Parks is required to visit Sipadan Island. Every day, only 120 permits will be issued to 12 resorts in the area, and the allocation of permits for each resort depends on its size. The permit allows a diver to dive for a day at the island.
Besides Sipadan, there are also many other beautiful islands around the Celebes Sea for visitors to explore, such as Bum Bum Island and Sibuan Island. The latter is said to be one of the most beautiful islands in the Celebes Sea.
How to get there
Take a three-hour flight to Tawau from Kuala Lumpur, followed by an hour’s journey to Semporna town via a taxi or minivan. From Semporna jetty, an hour’s speedboat ride will take you to the islands nearby Sipadan.