Semporna’s Accessible, World Class Dive Sites
ALMOST every seasoned diver has heard of Sipadan, one of the richest marine habitats in the world. To preserve this fragile ecosystem, however, diving requires a special permit with only a limited number of visitors allowed each day. Luckily, the fertile bioregion spans a much greater territory. The underwater world holds no boundaries and those who want to experience the spectacular reef system of the ‘coral triangle’ can easily do so from Semporna, a coastal fishing town in Malaysia. Acting as an accessible and affordable gateway, many dive operators offer day trips to more than 25 islands.
One of the best things about these islands is that you can enjoy hassle-free dives without feeling like bubbles and fins are bombarding you; the trips are small and personal, with often just one or two boats at each site.
With all the fuss about Sipadan, many forget that Mabul is considered one of the world’s best macro-dive sites. This is where muck diving was invented, and rightly so; flamboyant cuttlefish, blue-ringed octopus, pygmy seahorses, clownfrogfish and flying gurnards are all part of the weird and wonderful calling Mabul & Mataking home.
Kapalai is another shallow reef, home to a rustic wooden resort sitting on stilts above the water. Mandarin Valley is one of many sites that can be easily accessed just by striding off the resort’s dive platform. Now, that’s just awesome.
Then there’s Pom Pom Island, a relatively new destination compared with the others, but nevertheless a stunning beauty in the middle of the Celebes Sea. Unknown to many, Tun Sakaran Marine Park, which boasts greater macro marine ecology than Sipadan, is most easily reached from Pom Pom. If you want an amazing experience of swimming with Green and Hawksbill turtles, this is the place to come find it. Both species also come to land to lay their eggs. This is one of the few places in the world where you can spot 20 turtles in asingle dive or topside from your boat.
For those who aren’t yet PADI certified, all is not lost. In all my days of diving, I have yet to find such affordable prices for the Open Water Dive certification as I have in Semporna. It has to be one of the cheapest in the world, but the rewards are endless. I got to learn how to dive where the profusion of marine life kept me distracted from my nerve-racking fear of water while the instructors are meticulous and make you repeat every exercise till you feel like an old hand at the sport.
Once you feel like a pro, click here for other dive spots around Asia that you just can’t miss.