Sipidan Island is well-known in scuba diving circles; it is frequently rated as one of the top 10 dive sites in the world. Its claim to fame is “big stuff”: turtles, reef sharks, and most of all, the thousands of schooling barracuda at Barracuda Point. I saw all of these amazing creatures; too many to count of each, actually. Trying to swim out off the path of one sea turtle, I bumped into another swim turtle. I would not have been surprised to see a shark, with a turtle in its mouth, that had a baby shark it ITS mouth. I was lucky enough to catch a huge school of thousands of 3-4 foot barracuda at Barracuda Point (one dive master told me they often don’t find them) and they swirled around us in a barracuda hurricane that blotted out the sun. You can see why this is a world-class dive site.
I also did some diving at the nearby islands. Diving at Mantabuan was not that remarkable the day we went, but the island itself was. It is very beautiful, but also – EFFERVESCENT. As I walked along the beach, every step I took felt like stepping on a foam mattress, incredibly soft. And with every step, huge air bubbles would bubble up from underneath and around my feet! Oysters? Crabs? Even when I grabbed a handful of sand it seemed to bubble – but no creatures emerged. No one could provide an explanation. How about it, any marine biologists in the crowd? (I know you’re there, you know who you are!)
Mabul Island, about 15 minutes from Sipidan by speedboat, is also famous as one of the world’s best “muck diving” sites – “muck diving” meaning macro, or “little stuff”, like shrimp and nudibranches. There is a village of local native “sea people” on the island and I stayed at a longhouse there for a few nights. There’s not a lot to do besides snorkel (and catch the finale of Malaysian Idol on the TV at a little beach-side bar, but that’s another story…) but the people are very friendly! For some reason the children there seem to outnumber adults about 8 to 1? I asked some local Malays on the mainland and the only answer I got was that the people of Mabul “have no control” – followed by much giggling. Uhh…okay. Again, fabulous diving, both here and at nearby Kapalai Island. We saw everything from huge 200-pound groupers to tiny cleaner shrimp (if you open your mouth they will jump in and clean your teeth!)
Unfortunately none of my underwater escapades are documented in photographic form, but I have posted my above-water photos here, including some footage of the local Divemaster Trainees passing their final test to become certified DMs – the infamous “Snorkel Test”.