Sailors christened Sabah the “Land Under the Wind”, perfectly capturing the essence of the area’s geographical location south of the typhoon-prone areas, a haven of untouched beauty and tranquility. Its beauty also encapsulates natural wonders that include lush rainforests, towering mountains, and diverse wildlife on land and beneath the surface.
Displayed in the full spectrum of colours, the region is so blessed with some of the richest waters for marine biodiversity that Jacques Cousteau described it as an “untouched piece of art… a jewel”.
Formed over thousands of years by living coral growing on top of an extinct volcano, this little island off the east coast of Borneo is usually the first destination divers want to go to when planning a dive trip to Malaysia. Deep water currents bring in the nutrients that support one of the richest marine habitats in the world. Be prepared for turtles, grey and whitetip reef sharks, and the world-famous swirling schools of barracuda and jacks.
MABUL AND KAPALAI
Diving in Sipadan often means also diving the nearby Mabul Island and the sandbar resort of Kapalai. In contrast to the larger creatures around Sipadan, Mabul is a known for its macro dive sites filled with cuttlefish, squid, frogfish, seahorses and mandarinfish inhabiting shallow reefs. Kapalai is also an excellent spot for muck diving.
An hour-and-a-half boat ride north of Sandakan, this coral resort island is home to a wide range of species from bumphead parrotfish and leopard sharks to jawfish, dragonets and flying gurnards. Whale sharks visit during the months of April and May while turtle hatchlings start making their maiden voyage into the sea between the months of May and September.
This island is reachable by boat from Semporna, on the southern tip of Sabah. This is an attractive dive spot for its sharks, giant clams, rays, batfish and gorgeous coral reefs.
TUNKU ABDUL RAHMAN PARK
Only a 20-minute ride from Kota Kinabalu, the park is excellent for exploring the reefs for harlequin ghostpipefish and mandarinfish, and where whale sharks and hawksbill turtles are some of the rare finds on a dive.
Some of the best wrecks in Southeast Asia can be found off the coast of the island of Labuan, namely the Blue Water wreck (sunk in 1981), the Cement Wreck (sunk in 1980), the American Wreck (sunk in 1945) and the Australian Wreck (sunk in 1944), which attract thousands of wreck heads every year. Encounters with marine animals like scorpionfish, frogfish, fusiliers, bannerfish, angelfish, snappers, Napoleon wrasse, octopuses and turtles nicely spice up the dives as well.
This group of three islands was formed as a result of a volcanic eruption back in 1897. Located about 45 minutes southwest of Kota Kinabalu, the island was put on the map after the reality show, Survivor, was shot here. The dive sites boast great visibility, healthy corals and animals like nudibranchs, bamboo sharks, and banded sea snakes.
This oceanic atoll in the Spratly Islands is surrounded by waters teeming with a rich biodiversity of marine life. The island is only accessible via a flight from Kota Kinabalu, and bookings must be made through the Layang Layang Island Resort. Marvel at the hammerheads, grey reef sharks, leopard sharks, silvertips, and threshers as you swim along the gorgeous underwater caves and clusters of coral reefs.
All images courtesy of Clement Lee
This story was extracted from Scuba Diver issue no. 126. Subscribe now for more great stories!
Come join us for an event of the year in Sabah! Get your tickets here!
The inaugural ADEX Sabah Ocean Partnership Summit will be held from the 18-20 August 2023 at the Sabah International Convention Centre (SICC), Sabah, Malaysia.
Built on the United Nations announcement for the year 2021 to 2030, which is proclaimed to be the “Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development ADEX SABAH OCEAN PARTNERSHIP SUMMIT 2023 will feature global experts and trailblazers from across the globe to discuss and explore diving disciplines, ocean conservation and sustainability while offering the opportunity to connect, network and throw yourself in the deep end, exposing your work, whether you are in the diving industry, tourism industry, resort or liveaboard world, photography or education.