Most people who come to dive in the Sipadan area stay on nearby Mabul Island and their diving experience is a combination of the 2 islands – macro sites and critters, deep walls and big fish action.
Pulau Mabul (as it is known locally) is a small sandy island with coconut trees, a local fishing village, and of course dive resorts. It is only 25 minutes or so boat ride from Sipadan Island itself. It has long lived in the shadow of its famous neighbour but is now emerging as a dive destination in its own right.
As critter-diving has increased in popularity many divers come here, not only for the big fish action of Sipadan, but for the incredible array of macro-life to be seen at Mabul Island. Sandy sea-beds, coral outcrops, small walls and artificial reefs and jetties, are all home to some of the seas most amazing little creatures.
It is often a good sign when underwater photographers are around and there are always a few scuba diving here at Mabul (often they are only here for the macro sights, and not at Sipadan!), so you can be sure that there are a wealth of interesting marine creatures lurking in every nook and cranny around the island.
Dive Site Descriptions
The Artificial Reef – Situated directly in front of SMART Resort on the south side of Mabul Island, the artificial reef is constructed from wooden frames, man-made structures in the shape of pyramids, crates and rockpiles. It attracts many different types of marine life. What looks at first sight to be only a bunch of boring old junk turns out to be a habitat for an astonishing array of creatures.
Crocodile Avenue – Opinion is divided on the quality of this site. For high adrenaline-junky divers, Mabul Island may seem a little sedate, but for macro-lovers it is a haven of discovery. As with many of the dive sites here, progress should be slow and deliberate with eyes scanning the floor and every feature on it for sightings that you will miss if you fin off looking straight ahead.
Eel Garden – Scuba diving at Mabul offers rich rewards for those who are patient and willing to move slowly but surely in search of rare species that are hard to find at other dive destinations. On the sandy seabed which you can find at a depth of about 20 metres onwards, you’ll spot loads of small lairs and tunnels. These are home to shy colourful gobies of various species, blue ribbon eels swaying around with gaping mouths and cleaning shrimp who might conduct a little dental work for you if you ask nicely.
Froggy Lair – As with many of the sites around Mabul Island a keen pair of eyes and deliberate approach are necessary here if you are not to emerge saying you saw nothing. Suspended particles in the water can make for what would normally be considered poor visibility. The point is this should not matter, as you won’t be staring off in the distance looking for passing sharks, rather you should be seeking out delights closer to your mask. That explains why there are mixed reviews for this dive site.
Lobster Wall – Lobster Wall near Mabul is a slope running down to about 20m depth. The dive site consists of a colourful reef covered with various species of nudibranchs, and several different types of pipefish. To begin the dive you will likely start off on top of the reef, working your way down gently along the sloping wall. The wall is full of holes and a network of tunnels behind the main wall of the reef. Lobsters can sometimes be spotted at the entrances to these small caverns.
Ray Point (a.k.a. Stingray City) – Accessed by boat from Mabul Island, you will roll into the water right above the reef and, having descended from the surface, gently wander down the slope.
Seaventure Platform – Is beauty only skin deep or is that just something that ugly people say? People see this converted oil rig and are aghast at the thought of diving beneath it. Ugly, big metal legs support what is now converted into accommodation but it looks like the last place you would think about diving beneath. Underwater however, is a very different story.
How to Dive Mabul Island
Staying in a resort on the island means that on days when you are not diving Sipadan, you can concentrate on all the local sites around Mabul where the critters abound. There are several resorts on the island that should have something for everyone, from a budget resort to stilted bungalow luxury. Special local rates apply at many of these resorts for Malaysians, Singaporeans and expatriates living in those countries with work permits.
There is also one liveaboard in the area which stays overnight at Mabul Island and from which you can dive many of the local sites.
Depth: 5 – 20m
Visibility: 5 – 15m
Surface conditions: Calm
Water temperature: 27 – 29°C
Experience level: Beginner – advanced
Number of dive sites: 12
Distance: 12 km (25 minutes) north from Sipadan and 5 km west of Kapalai
Recommended length of stay: 5 – 14 days