Today’s post is by guest author Jacob Mojiwat, owner of AsiaDivingVacation.com.
Why do coral atoll islands make such glorious diving destinations? If you want to see a place of breathtaking beauty, one that few people around the world have ever viewed with their own eyes, you need only go scuba diving at a coral atoll such as Pulau Sipadan, or “border island” in Malay.
This beautiful island, grown from living coral that originally settled on the caldera of an ancient submerged volcano, is only 12 hectares across. You can circumnavigate the island by walking in less than half an hour.
As beautiful as this island is, I personally recommend the view from underneath the island. One of the reasons that coral atolls do make such glorious dive spots is that, by blocking the free flow of water,they create swirling vortex-like currents that local fish use to such advantage that scientists are now studying the movements of fish through water vortices in order to gain insights that might help in the design of an underwater robot.
If you are an advanced diver and prepared to handle stronger currents, you might want to visit Sipadan’s Barracuda Point. Here, a sheer wall of coral creates vortices of water known for producing what look like tornados made up of thousands of barracudas. Given that a barracuda is not a small fish – they can be up to two meters long – you can imagine what a sight a barracuda vortex can be.
Another reason for the beauty of tropical atolls is that a wall of coral can contain so many unique ecosystems – tiny creatures living in small niches and large predators, such as reef sharks, hammerheads, and of course the barracudas (sometimes described as the ocean’s “eating machines”) prowling about in search of a cephalopod snack.
At Sipadan, you can reach such a wall by walking off the beach at the spot that is aptly named “Drop Off.” At Drop Off, the water is shallow for almost 10 meters. Then it drops off, suddenly, forming an underwater cliff that goes down to 600 meters.
There you can find not only sharks (hammerhead, grey reef, and whale sharks) and barracudas, but also the comical looking bumphead parrotfish – a corallivore which bumps its head into pieces of coral in order to break them into smaller pieces – and many many many sea turtles. In fact, there are so many turtles that you would never imagine that sea turtles are endangered in other parts of the world. There are Olive Ridley sea turtles, leatherback turtles, hawksbill turtles, and green turtles.
You can also see the gentle giants of tropical seas, manta rays,which can be about the size of a horse and typically weigh in at over a ton (the largest on record was over two tons!).
Of course, there is a reason that few people have ever seen Sipadan – the government of Malaysia declared it a national park in 2005, and all resorts on Sipadan immediately closed.
To get there, you must travel to nearby Mabul or Kalapalai (beautiful destinations in and of themselves) and then travel by speedboat to Sipadan, which is about an hour away. But before you do that, you will need to obtain a permit. The government of Malaysia does not allow more than 120 visitors to Sipadan on any given day. Permits must be obtained in advance when you are arranging your trip.
You can ask your travel agent to find out about the permit process for you. However, don’t let the permit process dissuade you from coming. Remember, this is the island Jacques Cousteau called “an untouched piece of art.”
About the Author
Jacob Mojiwat is passionate about sharing the wonders of scuba diving with others. He is the owner of AsiaDivingVacation.com. His dive company offers diving in Sipadan Malaysia as well as other Asia dive destinations.