The triangle between Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines is one of the most bio-diverse marine habitats in the world. Strong ocean currents, deep-sea trenches and sea mountains, combined with active volcanic islands have created a complex oceanographic environment that is paradise for nature lovers and divers alike.
The beauty of this region lies in its diversity, and the dive spots and marine life vary from island to island, but most people come for the world-famous Sipadan Island located off Sabah’s east coast.
Rising 700m from the sea floor and at only 12hectares, Malaysia’s sole oceanic island is tiny, taking just 25-minutes to circumnavigate on foot. Declared a bird sanctuary in 1933 by the Colonial Government of North Borneo and re-gazetted in 1963by the Malaysian Government, the island’s dense vegetation supports a large variety of tropical birds including sea eagles, kingfishers, sunbirds, starlings and wood pigeons. Exotic crustaceans including the amazing coconut crab roam the beaches and scurry among the undergrowth, with blue skies and tropical scenery Sipadan’s stock in trade.
But it is below the surface of the ocean where this island really excels. The late Jacques Cousteau, world-renowned oceanographer, once described the pristine waters around Sipadan as an untouched piece of art, helping to establish this dive mecca as the most famous scuba destination in Malaysia. The diversity of the island’s marine life is unparalleled, home to thousands of turtles, manta rays, schooling sharks, swirling barracuda, and awe-inspiring coral walls dropping more than 2,000m straight down to the sea floor. Its famed Barrier Reef is the largest in South East Asia and regularly voted by divers as one of the World’s top dive destinations.
So make sure you include this tiny gem – truly one of the last unexplored frontiers on Planet Earth, in any trip to Malaysia. Diver or nature lover, the experience is guaranteed to be unforgettable.
The jump-off point for all Sipadan Island explorations is the town of Semporna, a one-hour drive from Kota Kinabalu, followed by a 30-minute speedboat to Mabul.