Dive Sipadan a traveling instructor’s guide

Dive Sipadan Blog Entry.  How to get a permit. Qualification required to dive Sipadan. Best time to dive Sipadan. Dive Sites. My Sipadan Story. Now and some history. Marine Life. How are permits issued. 

Every ‘Best Dive Spots in the World’ list is completely different, Sipadan in Borneo Malaysia being one of the view spots most lists have in common. Pulau Sipadan on the north east coast of Malaysia Borneo rose to fame when diving legend and ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau sang its praises.

Barracudas, Sipadan

Barracudas, Sipadan

MY SIPADAN STORY

Travelling around South East Asia for a year or two  diving Sipadan was high on my To-Do-list. I arrived at Mabul island to dive around Sipadan. While shopping for a well priced dive operator I was offered  a job as a Scuba instructor on Mabul Island. Working here, getting paid to see some of the world’s most alien creatures every day and dive Sipadan for free was amazing.

#sipadan

The author preparing students for diving at Sipadan, these big green turtles were always very popular.

SIPADAN NOW AND SOME HISTORY

Up to twelve years ago diving Sipadan must have been an experience that no other location can match. From the main beach to the top of the reef wall it is only about 20 metres. Most of the resorts were located on Sipadan Island until 2004. You could walk out of your room, gear up and jump into the Drop Off!

Unreal for diving but studies showed that the reefs and marine life were not coping with the stress caused by too many divers.

Black tip reef shark swimming over the beautiful reef at Sipadan.

Black tip reef shark swimming over the beautiful reef at Sipadan.

The Malaysian Government decided to protect the reefs and informed all resorts to relocate away from Sipadan Island in 2004. Since 2006 a permit is required for all divers wanting to dive around the island.

Today, most of the resorts are located on Mabul and Kapalai islands an hour or so by boat from Sipadan.

MARINE LIFE

Sipadan is surrounded by very rich reef life consisting of both hard and soft coral as, reef fish as well as an array of pelagic creatures. Many green and hawksbill turtles, white tip reef sharks, huge schools of jackfish, barracudas and bumphead parrot fish are some of the highlights seen by most people during a day’s diving at Sipadan. If you are lucky you may see jackfish or barracuda form a tornado when change direction.

Here I am inside a school of thousands of Horse-eye Jacks.

Here I am inside a school of thousands of Horse-eye Jacks.

You can get lucky and see basically anything around here, I spoke to divers that saw whale sharks, manta rays and hammerheads, but these sightings are rare. Macro life does exist here, but diving at Sipadan is mostly to see bigger creatures, Mabul and Kapalai islands have world class muck diving.

Here I am inside a school of thousands of Horse-eye Jacks.

Here I am inside a school of thousands of Horse-eye Jacks.

PERMITS – HOW TO DIVE SIPADAN

Hundred and twenty permits are issued to the 12 surrounding resorts each day. Each permit allows a diver to dive for a day at Sipadan Island.

You do not have to book your trip months ahead, it won’t help. Permits are issued on a rotation system, not a ‘first come first serve’ system. READ ALL ABOUT HOW PERMITS ARE ISSUED

Diving Sipadan. A School of massive bumphead parrot fish grazing on top of the reef.

Diving Sipadan. A School of massive bumphead parrot fish grazing on top of the reef.

Diving with Scuba Junkie resort was great, unfortunately they did not have any permits available and I did the stupid thing,  accepting that it is basically impossible to get a permit and only dived Mabul. After my diving I decided I am going to dive Sipadan even if I have to wait two more weeks. I went back to Semporna and walked to all the resorts asking for permits. Three of them offered to take me to Sipadan within the next 2 days and one resort, Uncle Chang’s Sipadan Mabul Dive Lodge, even offered me a job when they saw that I am a qualified PADI dive instructor.

HOW TO GET A PERMIT

Stay longer – Most resort can guarantee a permit if you stay more than 3 days, dive around Mabul on the other days, the muck diving is amazing.

Contact all the resorts with Sipadan permits.

CLICK HERE for all resorts and dive schools with Sipadan permits.

There are many black tip reef sharks swimming all around the island.

There are many black tip reef sharks swimming all around the island.

DIVING SIPADAN ON A BUDGET

Uncle Chang Sipadan and Billabong Scuba are usually the cheapest.  Contact the 12 resorts/dive centers with permits and see which will work for your budget (above link). Read Trip Advisor reviews on them.

CAN BEGINNERS DIVE SIPADAN

There are a lot of myths surrounding qualifications required to dive Sipadan. After your openwater course you are certified to dive Sipadan. Sipadan is a drift dive, with strong currents; the water next to the reef is very deep. Your openwater qualification allows you to dive deep enough (18m) to see the most popular attractions around Sipadan, the barracudas, the bumpheads, the reef sharks and the big eye trevally. As an inexperienced diver you should not enter the turtle cave. Some operators might require either an advanced qualification or proof of 20 logged dives, so just check with your school of choice before signing up.

Diving Sipadan. Divers hanging in the pumping current waiting for barracudas to pass.

Divers hanging in the pumping current waiting for barracudas to pass.

WHEN TO DIVE SIPADAN

Diving at Sipadan is fantastic all year round.

  • The best time is from April to December with excellent sea conditions. April until early of June being the perfect time but this is also the High season so make resort bookings in advance.
  • From January to March, there can be heavy rainfall and lower visibility.

DIVE SITES

There are 11 commonly dived sites around Sipadan island, all are Wall Dives. The following are brief descriptions of some of the sites and marine life you can expect to see.

DROP OFF

Only 20m from the shore the wall here drops 600m to the sea bottom, maybe the best Beach Dive Site in the world ? A huge variety of coral, many turtles abound and a multitude of lionfish & smaller reef dwelling fish live on this wall. The entrance to TURTLE CAVERN is on the wall here.

STAGHORN CREST / SOUTH POINT

Strong current normally present at this site. Diving in the current here can take you through  three of the marked sites. The place to see pelagics! Very large shoals of Barracuda, Jacks, Sharks and Turtles feed here.

Diving Sipadan. Divers hanging in the pumping current waiting for barracudas to pass.

Diving Sipadan. Divers hanging in the pumping current waiting for barracudas to pass.

HANGING GARDEN

Great spot for photography. This wall is covered in a multitude of soft coral. Hawksbill & Green Turtles live on the ledges at this site and the current is usually quite calm.

TURTLE PATCH

Famous for being home to a huge number of Hawksbill & Green Turtles. Many reef sharks also frequent this site.

A herd of bumphead parrot fish grazing around turtle patch.

A herd of bumphead parrot fish grazing around turtle patch.

BARRACUDA POINT

This is the most famous site at Sipadan and the place to see large schools of pelagics; Barracuda, Jacks, Grey and White Tip Reef Sharks. Current is strong. It is a fast moving, large schools of fish.

WHITE TIP AVENUE

Many Black & White Tip Reef Sharks, Grey Sharks, massive Green & Hawksbill Turtles as well as large shoals of Jack & Barracuda.

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6 Responses to Dive Sipadan a traveling instructor’s guide

  • Nice Video!

  • Could you tell me, is Sipadan ok for beginner divers? We are thinking about geting PADI Open Water licence and then go to Sipadan. But I heard that there are very hard currents, etc., and that is too hard for complete beginners.

    • There is nothing on Sipadan island itself anymore, most of the dive operators are on Mabul island this is where you will do your dive course. The diving around Mabul and Kapalai islands is great, but mostly turtles and small things, you will do your training dives here. Kapalai home reef has a lot of fish, some big groupers and moray eels. After your openwater course you are certified to dive Sipadan. Sipadan is a drift dive, with strong currents, the water next to the reef is very deep. Your openwater qualification allows you to dive deep enough (18m) to see the most popular attractions around Sipadan, the barracudas, the bumpheads, the reef sharks and the big eye king fish (see the video attached to this entry). As a inexperienced diver you should not enter the turtle cave. Some operators might require either an advanced qualification or proof of 20 logged dives, so just check with your school of choice before signing up. If you are confident in the water and a good swimmer you should be ok after your course to dive Sipadan. Your instructor should tell you at the end of the course if he thinks you are ready. If you want to do your advanced this can be completed in another two days, it gives you a bit more experience (5 dives) and can improve your buoyancy and qualify you to dive deeper. It is an amazing place, enjoy Sipadan and dive safe!

  • Unreal diving

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