A piece of tropical paradise

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The diving at Sipadan is known to be some of the best in the world and I wasn’t disappointed.  There were more turtles than you could poke a stick at, massive schools of giant barracuda, ugly bumpheaded parrot fish and loads of colourful tropical fish.

Despite the limited number of permits to dive Sipadan each day (120 permits between 10 operators!), I managed to dive 4 out of the 7 days I had there.  Before I went, I was only guaranteed 2 days, but even waking up at 4:30am to fit in 4 dives at Sipadan before lunch was well worth it.

The staff at Sipadan-Kapalai resort were just fantastic, especially the dive crew, who were on hand to do everything for you from setting up your gear and putting it on the boat, to being ready after a jetty dive to take your fins with a smile!  I think that many of the crew took a liking to me, being the only single female diver at the resort at the time – one of the dive crew even tried to kiss me!

This place is just paradise.  I think I’ve found my annual holiday destination – I can’t wait to come back next year!

Dive 201: Barracuda Point, Pulau Sipadan (Malaysia)

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Dive time: 00:48:00
Max depth:  20.7 metres
Temperature:  29 C
Visibility:  30 metres
Buddy:  Jose
Surface interval:  02:46:00

For amazing fish life, this has to be the best site on Sipadan.  Especially when the current is strong, as it was with this dive, it just brings through the big schools of barracuda for an absolutely stunning sight.

We saw a massive school of jacks just out from the wall in the blue, and just as we were ogling at this school of silvery fish, we swam straight into a few barracuda, and then more barracuda, and then I looked up to see the biggest school of giant barracuda that I’d seen here yet.  We floated straight into them as we were carried along with the current, so with some finning, we were able to stay put and just marvel at them circling around, the school breaking up and then reforming again.  This is the sort of thing that just sets Sipadan apart from the other sites that I’d dived over the last few days – more “oh WOW” moments!

We swam over the ridge into the valley of dead coral and there were white tip reef sharks everywhere we looked, resting on the bottom or gracefully skimming over the bottom to find their next rest spot.  There were also several turtles, and a titan trigger fish hunting for its food in the sand by blasting it with jets of water.

On our safety stop, we saw yet another turtle cruising along the reef and occasionally popping up the surface for a breath, and napoleon wrasse – beautiful with its strikingly marked face.

What a perfect way to end a fantastic trip to Sipadan!

Dive 200: Hanging Gardens, Pulau Sipadan (Malaysia)

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Dive time:  00:48:00
Max depth:  20.4 metres
Temperature:  29 C
Visibility:  30 metres
Buddy:  Jose
Surface interval:  01:05:00

In terms of sheer beauty of the reef and corals, Hanging Gardens would have to be the favourite of my dives sites here.  The wall here is more sheer than any of the other sites that I’ve dived, and the coral growth on it is just spectacular with beautiful fans, anenomes, and amazing assortment of colourful hard and soft corals.

As soon as I descended on the reef, I came face to face with three turtles resting on the one outcrop of rock.  I watched as one of the turtles gracefully took off to the surface for a gulp of air.  As with the last dive here at Hanging Gardens, there were just turtles absolutely everywhere.  They were above me almost every time I rolled over to gaze at the surface, they were resting in little alcoves in the wall, or the were swimming out in the blue.  The largest one I saw had a shell about 1m in length, and was lying very still in a hole in the wall.  It had its eyes closed, which I hadn’t seen of other turtles so I was a bit unsure whether it was sleeping or whether it was dead!

It was only half way through the dive that I realised that this was my 200th dive, and all I could think about was how amazing it was that I was doing it in Sipadan in turtle heaven!  An absolutely stunning dive.

Dive 199: South Point, Pulau Sipadan (Malaysia)

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Dive time:  00:45:00
Max depth:  26.5 metres
Temperature:  29 C
Visibility:  30 metres
Buddy:  Jose
Surface interval:  01:05:00

Yesterday, a group sighted a pygmy whale shark here at South Point so our group was keen as mustard to get here to see whether the whale shark was still around.

We descended into around 25m onto the reef and just swam out into the blue, further and further, hoping to catch a glimpse of the biggest fish in the ocean.  However, after a bit of swimming it was clear that there was nothing out there but endless blue so we swam back to the reef to be greeted by schools of beautiful purple leatherjacket and schooling banner fish.

Again, we saw white tip reef sharks, turtles, titan trigger fish (no attacks fortunately!), spotted sweetlip, and green morays along the shallower parts of the reef.

Dive 198: Coral Gardens, Pulau Sipadan (Malaysia)

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Dive time:  00:47:00
Max depth:  32.9 metres
Temperature:  29 C
Visibility:  30 metres
Buddy:  Jose
Surface interval:  14:51:00

This was my last day of diving so I made a special request to dive in Sipadan and the people here at Kapalai were kind enough to indulge me!

There was no storm last night for once, and the visibility was just amazing.  We dropped in on the coral gardens quite shallow and I immediately saw a green moray, just the first of at least 4 green morays of the dive!  The site here gradually slopes down with a relatively sandy bottom but with patches of coral everywhere.  We saw a few barracuda cruising around, a few turtles, white tip reef sharks, and as we came up shallower for our safety stop we saw a school of around 20 bumpheaded parrot fish.

Dive 197: Eel Gardens, Pulau Mabul (Malaysia)

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Dive time:  00:48:00
Max depth:  20.7 metres
Temperature:  29 C
Visibility:  10 metres
Buddy:  Jose
Surface interval:  02:46:00

Our last dive of the day was back at Mabul but this time on the other side of the island.  As our boat neared the site, we sped right past a bloke way out from the island with just a snorkel and a weight belt.  We circled back to check whether he was OK and he signalled as such – what an idiot though, being so far out from the reef and the island without any sort of marker or high visibility life jacket.

There was a slight current for this dive, so it was a nice cruisy ride going with the flow.  We saw a few different nudibranch varieties, some sort of crustacean with big oval googly eyes protruding from its shell, a couple of turtles swimming up to the surface for air, and I even saw a blue-spotted ray well inside a hole after seeing a giveaway puff of sand (however when i went to point it out to Jose, the ray was so far inside the hole that we couldn’t see it at all and Jose must’ve thought I was imagining things!)

On our safety stop, the German couple in our group spotted a giant cuttlefish and started giving chase to get a photo, but the cuttlefish was clearly feeling very threatened as it kept swimming backwards at the same pace that the Germans were advancing on it.  All the while, it was changing colour as it was passing over sand and then coral – absolutely fascinating – and its tentacles were raising up in anticipation of an attack (or a defense?).  Jose also spotted a zebra eel in a hole right in the middle of a large soft coral, its head popping out occasionally to peer at us.

Dive 196: Great Wall, Pulau Kapalai (Malaysia)

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Dive time:  00:49:00
Max depth:  16.2 metres
Temperature:  29 C
Visibility:  6 metres
Buddy:  Jose
Surface interval:  01:35:00

This site was just further along the reef than Midreef, where we dived yesterday.  There are lots of outcrops of rock with tonnes of growth all over them, so it  was a matter of examining each one for signs of life.

We saw a juvenile blue ribbon eel that is mostly black in colour.  The DM, Alvin, somehow had speared a small fish onto his pointer and waved it in front of the eel to entice it to come out of its hiding hole.  As it came out to grab the fish, we probably saw almost the length of its body before it quickly retreated with its catch back into the hole.  Jose found a massive spotted eel in a hole, and although I could see its body and even its tail in writhing around in the hole I couldn’t find its head poking out anywhere.

There were a few nudibranch sightings, a blue-spotted ray, an octopus hiding under a rock that couldn’t even be enticed to come out and ink when Alvin poked it with his pointer, a few varieties of anenome fish, quite a few shrimp waving their long white antennae around, a small school of around 6 coral shrimp fish swimming away in their peculiar vertically upside down style, and a crocodile fish resting on the bottom underneath a sea fan.

Dive 195: Old House Reef, Pulau Mabul (Malaysia)

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Dive time:  00:49:00
Max depth:  18.6 metres
Temperature:  29 C
Visibility:  6 metres
Buddy:  Jose
Surface interval:  17:17:00

This site is a bit like the Kapalai house reefs but off Mabul Island and are really huge structures weighted down with heavy rocks on a sandy bottom with no coral growth at all.  Some of the reefs are teepee-shaped, some are just one massive cube of rock and wood, and others are big stacked cube structures around 5 cubes high.

The reefs attract an amazing amount of marine life, from little critters on the structures to an enormous school of jacks that were school above and around them.  There were a good few thousand fish in the school, just one big silvery swirl that was pulsing in and out and around like it had a life of its own!

On the structures themselves, we saw a few crocodile fish, nudis, a well camouflaged brown and green leaf fish, a tiny pipe fish, and at the top of one of the largest structures was a large rust-coloured frog fish that had bits of growth over it looking exactly like a bit of sponge!  The DM, Alvin, poked it with his pointer and the frog fish showed its awkward hopping movement, slowly hopping from one part of the structure to another.  Amazing study in the curiosities of marine life!

Our ascent and safety stop was done right next to the massive school of jacks – so cool!

Dive 194: Midreef, Pulau Kapalai (Malaysia)

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Dive time:  00:44:00
Max depth:  20.1 metres
Temperature:  29 C
Visibility:  6 metres
Buddy:  Jose
Surface interval:  03:30:00

It was a very short boat ride just out to the edge of the reef from where the resort is located.  The reef stretches out quite far, but we went really slowly along the reef looking for little critters.

One of the Dutch guys found a tiny little shrimp that was less than 1cm long and completely indistinguishable from the whip coral that it was sitting on except that it would move when it was poked with a pointer.  Amazing that he spotted it!

We also saw quite a few different varieties of nudibranchs, including two that were stuck together in the throes of mating or something, a little hairy squat lobster on a big broad barrel coral, an octopus hiding in its hole, and I even found a tiny translucent shrimp on a fan although after I turned around to find someone else to show it to, I couldn’t find that little shrimp again.  Doh.

At the safety stop, we saw some small bumpheaded parrot fish, and apparently there was a massive turtle as well but unfortunately it swam away before I got to see it!

Dive 193: Lobster Rock, Pulau Si Amil (Malaysia)

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Dive time:  00:43:00
Max depth:  25.0 metres
Temperature:  29 C
Visibility:  10 metres
Buddy:  Jose
Surface interval:  01:01:00

We had yet another amazing macro dive here on Si Amil, with Alvin finally finding a pygmy sea horse on a fan – they are just so tiny and so well camouflaged that it takes an eagle eye to see them on the big fans!  (Clearly not in the realm of my abilities!!)

Again, there was absolutely no current so it was just a really chilled out relaxing dive critter-hunting.  We also saw 4 ornate ghost pipe fish floating around one outcrop of rock – amazingly beautiful things, a family of three little squat shrimp, a little banded pipehorse, and a blue ribbon eel.  Jose also found what looked like a colourful coral lobster that was trying to  scurry off to another hiding hole.

I also saw about 3 curious looking coral shrimp fish, all swaying and swimming vertically upside down in unison.  Very strange!