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Sipadan: Paradise Below

Sipadan's turquoise waters are home to an amazing variety of marine life, including dolphins, giant turtles, sharks and a technicolor array of tropical fish. 

Sipadan, a massive limestone column rising from the floor of the Celebes Sea, is considered one of the top diving spots in the world. The area’s turquoise waters are home to an amazing variety of marine life, including dolphins, giant turtles, sharks and a technicolor array of tropical fish. 

It’s not just the diverse species; fish are also present in huge numbers. Divers are likely to encounter gigantic schools of predator fish like barracuda, jackfish, and trevally mulling around with sunlight lightly reflecting off of their silvery scales. Even the bumphead parrotfish, capable of reaching 1.3 meters in length, can be seen in massive schools here.

Strong currents around the island bring in larger pelagic animals for cleaning, hunting and mating. Whale sharks, devil rays, leopard and thresher sharks, manta rays, and schools of hammerheads can sometimes be seen swimming among the tropical reef fish. The smaller life around Sipadan is equally exciting, with baby-faced frog fish, spotted harlequin shrimp, the highly-toxic blue-ring octopus, and colorful nudibranchs.

Sipadan’s diving spots are also home to cleaning stations, where small fish and shrimp clean the shells, teeth, and bodies of larger animals. Wildlife enthusiasts may have likely seen one of Sipadan’s cleaning stations on Blue Planet II, featuring competing turtles looking for the best spot.

The cleaning stations provide divers the opportunity to wait around and observe the behavior of the marine life instead of just swimming around looking for critters to tick off their list. Spending the time to watch marine life in this fashion increases divers’ chances of witnessing a shark feeding frenzy or even mating displays.

The reefs and marine life are protected by strict no-fishing regulations and only advanced divers or divers with more than 20 dives are permitted. Fewer divers on the reefs means less stress for the coral, making Sipadan a sustainable dive haven.

Often experienced via luxury liveaboard, the resorts around Sipadan were removed more than a decade ago to protect the area, but there are onland options available at nearby Mabul. And, perhaps what is best about Sipadan, is that it can be combined with a wildlife holiday exploring one of the best destinations for wildlife above the water: Borneo.

As there is no real low season, diving is found year-round with the best conditions between April and December, especially during July and August, when visibility is known to be up to 165 feet. A high concentration of green and hawksbill turtles nest between April and September.