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Snorkeling in Sipadan Island

Snorkeling in Sipadan

Being described as an “Untouched Piece of Art” by Jacques Cousteau, Sipadan Island is always high on the chart of best dive sites and frequented by scuba divers from all over the world. To promote Sipadan, travel agents like to use underwater photographs of divers, as if the only way to see the beauty of Sipadan is to wear over 30 pounds of diving gears and sink to the sea bottom.

So, is swimming and snorkeling in Sipadan just a waste of time? Read on, you will see that Sipadan is also best for snorkeling.

Sipadan Island (Pulau Sipadan)
Sipadan is the only oceanic island of Malaysia and its reef is built on a volcanic seamount which rises steeply from a surrounding seabed more than 500 Meters in depth. In brief, Sipadan is a mushroom-like island in the deep ocean. This 13.5-Hectare island, which takes only 20 minutes to walk one round, looks like an ordinary tropical island, but there is a lot of going on under its water.

sea of Sipadan Island
Pic: the deep blue seawater is the 500 Meters drop. Sound scary, but a lot of corals bloom on its steep wall and become “hanging garden”, which is famous for Wall Diving.

snorkeling in Sipadan Island

In my last visit to Sipadan, I snorkeled in 3 sites, which are only 3 to 6 Meters deep and not far from the island.

If you prefer to watch video, the following is the 2.5-min video of my snorkeling tour in Sipadan:

Site #1: Mid Reef

The visibility of Mid Reef is good in the morning. The water is about 3 Meters deep, so I can get a close and clear view of flourishing hard corals.

big fan coral
Pic: big fan coral, which is bigger than me.

underwater world of Sipadan
Pic: 500-Meter drop at the left

Fishes like to congregate near the edge of island. I saw thousands of reef fishes in different colors and sizes in coral reefs, like butterflies among the flowers. A popular TV host from National Geographic Channel once said he was dazzled by the fishes here LOL.

giant clam
I also spotted a live giant clam about 3 feet in wide. Due to overfishing, it is extremely rare to see such a big one in the wild.

school of Barracuda
A school of Barracuda just appeared in front of me, as seen in tourism brochure. This magnificent view was totally unexpected because I thought I only can see this in deep water.

Site #2: Turtle Tomb

I was so happy with what I saw. Quickly I proceeded to the next site, the Turtle Tomb.

corals of Sipadan
The sunlight was getting bright so the visibility is superb. My underwater camera could record everything clearly.

swimming sea turtle
It was not too long for me to find a sea turtle swimming gracefully, then came the second, third and fourth one. Sea turtles are just everywhere. Surprisingly, they didn’t bother about my presence so I could see their natural behaviour up close.

sea turtle of Sipadan
Some turtles were resting at the bottom. Like the one above was just a few feet below me. To avoid disturbing it, I stayed still and let current pushed me away. It looked fairly relax and didn’t try to hide or flee.

bumphead parrotfish of Sipadan
Then I noticed something big and dark moving under me. It was a group of Bumphead Parrotfish foraging around corals.

Bumphead Parrotfish under our feet
Can you believe it? Nearly hundred of Bumphead Parrotfish were so close that our fins almost touched them.

school of Bumphead Parrotfish
I only saw Bumphead Parrotfish in seafood dinner before, without knowing that it is such a fascinating creature.

Site #3: Barracuda Point

I had my lunch after two snorkeling trips. After a short rest, I couldn’t wait to get back to the water again.

snorkeling in Pulau Sipadan
Sipadan is located in Coral Triangle, which is also known as Amazon of the Sea and important habitat to over 3,000 coral fish species and 76% of world’s coral species.

thousands of Jackfish
When I thought the best part was over, I saw a big swarm of “something” coming to my way.

My goodness, it is a school of Jackfish, probably ten of thousands of them. This is crazy!

fishes of Sipadan

swimming among the fishes
A guest swam to them and soon engulfed by wall of Jackfish. Before this, I thought such view was something only happened in my dream. I strongly recommend you to watch the video.

The fishes didn’t look stress though we were really close, a result of long years of full protection by this marine park.

In conclusion, the snorkeling experience in Sipadan is almost as good as diving. However, to see richer variety of corals and bigger sharks, you still have to dive deeper. Every diver says they regret to dive in Sipadan. Why? Because they have seen the best (Sipadan), other dive sites can’t impress them anymore. So I advise you to keep Sipadan as the last. 🙂

origin of Sipadan
In case you wonder how Sipadan got its name. The name is from the word Siparan, which refers to a dead body of a person named Si Paran, whom had been found restlessly on the beach of Sipadan.

Visit Sipadan Island

To visit Sipadan Island (Pulau Sipadan in Malaysia language), you need an entry permit from Sabah Parks, the management of Sipadan Island Park. To reduce the impact to the environment, Sabah Parks imposes a daily quota of 120 people to Sipadan. The tour is always fully booked, so you need to apply at least 3 months in advance. The easiest way is to get a licensed dive operator to arrange the diving trip for you, they also can book the accommodation and provide the airport transfer.

jetty of Sipadan Island
Pic: the reception counter at the jetty. Everyone must register here before entering the island. You will be denied entry if you don’t have a permit.

boardwalk to Sipadan
Pic: the boardwalk to Sipadan Island. Do you notice the big tall tree? It is a huge strangler fig tree (see photo below).
big tree on Sipadan Island

toilet of Sipadan
Pic: The island has adequate amenities such as public toilet for tourists.

resting area of Sipadan Island
Pic: there is a few shelter and benches for you to rest and have meal.

You may watch the 90-sec walking tour video to see the surrounding of Sipadan:

FYI, there is a Turtle Hatchery on Sipadan.

More Photos


Do you know any other nice spots for snorkeling, besides Sipadan? Please share with us.

Photos taken in Semporna, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo

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Turtle Hatchery of Sipadan Island

Baby turtles

One of the most exciting features of Sipadan Island (Pulau Sipadan in Malaysia language) is scuba divers can easily spot over 10 sea turtles. The turtles of Sipadan also don’t seem to be afraid of human. As Sipadan is a paradise for turtles and they don’t feel threaten here, can’t this island be a favorite nesting ground of turtles too? Funny thing is, very few tourists even wonder this, so the turtle hatchery on Sipadan can remain as a hidden secret and not flooded by visitors.

Sipadan Island
Sipadan Island has abundant corals and fishes, and sandy beach, the perfect conditions for turtle nesting. However, Turtle Islands Park and Lankayan Island of Sandakan are more famous than Sipadan as a turtle nesting site.

sea turtles in Sipadan
Pic: if you are lucky, you would spot turtle mating in Sipadan, which can last for 20 hours.

beach of Sipadan Island
During my visit to Sipadan in Apr, my dive operator Borneo Divers brought me to the Turtle Hatchery of Sipadan, which is about 150 Meters away from the jetty (turn left).

track mark of sea turtle on the sand
Pic: when I was getting near, I saw the “tyre mark” of mother turtle on the beach. This photo proves that sea turtle has wheels (just kidding!). The track shows that turtle crawls on beach inch by inch. It’s quite an effort so it prefers to lay eggs during high tide.

Turtle Hatchery of Sipadan
Pic: Turtle Hatchery of Sipadan. It is managed by Sabah Parks since 2005.

This hatchery is not open to public, so walk-in tourists won’t be entertained. You need to write-in to Sabah Parks in advance for a permit to visit (which is another permit different from diving permit). The Sabah Parks staff will guide you for a tour and even shows you the baby turtles (if available).

signage of Sipadan Turtle Hatchery
Pic: there is a turtle nesting below the signage. Seem like turtle can read too.

Turtle Hatchery
Pic: the entrance to the turtle hatchery

All the eggs from turtle nests will be transferred to this area for protection and conservation. The turtles that nest on Sipadan are Green Turtle (species: Chelonia mydas) and Hawsbill Turtle (species: Eretmochelys imbricata).

Turtle Hatchery area
Do you notice half of the hatchery is under the sun and another under the shade?

The temperature can determine the sex of the baby. Hotter sand temperature is more likely to produce female turtles (not 100% but very high chance). FYI, male turtle takes 10 days longer than female to hatch.

briefing by Sabah Parks
Mr. Joannes, who is the caretaker of turtle hatchery on Sipadan Island Park of Sabah Parks, tells us about the tagging, measuring, excavating and releasing of sea turtles. He also says the peak season of turtle nesting usually falls in August and the highest nesting record (of Sipadan) is 18 turtle landing in a night.

sea turtle conservation area
The eggs from each nesting is surrounded by mesh wire, to prevent predators such as lizard, rat and crab from digging for the eggs.

sea turtle nests
Pic: each nest is labelled and recorded for tracking and research purposes.

turtle nest in mesh wire
Pic: they will cover the opening of the mesh wire when the eggs are about to hatch (normally takes 70 days).

baby turtles
The baby turtles will be released into the sea. They don’t simply put all the baby turtles into a basket then pour them all into the sea. The correct way is to release the turtles about 4 Meters before the sea water. By doing so, they will remember their place of birth and come back in future for nesting. Scientists confirm that sea turtle has the ability to use Earth’s magnetic field to go back to where they hatch.

sea turtle in the sea
Based on the collected data from tagging, the turtles released from Sipadan can swim as far as the water of Philippines and Australia. Therefore, this conservation program also benefits the marine ecology of other countries. Let’s hope this amazing marine wildlife will be everywhere again in our ocean.

Photos taken in Semporna, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo

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