The second leg in our round the world adventure took us to famous Sipadan Island. Unfortunately, it wasn't all that it was supposed to be
After leaving Papua New Guinea, we spent the night in Cairns before leaving for Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia. For some reason that remains unclear to me, because of our round the world airfare and the particular airlines that participate in the One World Alliance, we had to fly on Qantas to Melbourne via Brisbane, then change planes and fly to Hong Kong. In Hong Kong, transfer to Cathay Pacific for the flight to Kuala Lumpur where we connected with Malaysia Airlines for a flight to Kota Kinabalu. It took us 30 hours! Boy was my butt tired!
Landing in Kota Kinabalu, we were met by a representative from Borneo Divers who transferred us to the Shangri La resort for the night. The next morning we flew from KK to Tawau, took a one-hour van ride to Semporna, and then a one-hour boat ride to Sipadan Island.
Sipadan Island is a small speck of land in the Celebes Sea. You can walk completely around it in less than twenty minutes. It is designated a World Heritage Site but there are five dive operations on the island. Borneo Divers was the first and has the best position in that it is located just off the drop off. The accommodations are Spartan but clean and comfortable. A few of the rooms are air conditioned which was nice, but not absolutely necessary. The food was great, with lots of curries and Malaysian dishes. The chef is Fast Eddie who is a magician of some celebrity. The photo-pro is no longer there and E-6 processing was not available. They were really hurt by the kidnappings that took place last year and by 9-11. There are soldiers stationed on the island and the waters are patrolled by the Malaysian navy and airforce. We were the only Americans on the island that week.
But, all of Scandinavia must be empty during the month of January! Nearly all of the other guests were Swedes who were on holiday from the snow and darkness of winter back home. We also had a couple of Russians from Tajikistan and a group of Japanese. They all spoke fluent English as did nearly everyone we met on our travels.
Shore diving and three boat-dives are offered each day. The boat sites are no more than five minutes from the resort. We had heard great things about Sipadan and had wanted to dive there since they opened the island to diving in the early nineties. We should have gone earlier. The visibility was not very good…no, make that, it was awful (no more than 15 feet on our first dive). In addition to bad vis, the schools of fish that Sipadan was famous for are gone, swept away by a cyclone last year. And, 90% of the coral is rubble. But, it wasn't all bad, the turtles are still there in great numbers. Wayne, the turtle man, is still digging up the turtle eggs and releasing the hatchlings when they are ready. We also saw lots of the usual smaller fish and invertebrates. It wasn't bad diving, but a disappointment from our expectations and a real step down from PNG. Below are a couple of our dives:
Barracuda Point. 85' for 54 minutes. Water temp = 78 degrees F. We did a backward roll into the water off the point. Vis was a poor 30 feet or less and didn't improve with depth. On the sand bottom was a crocodile fish. A whitetip shark resting on the bottom let us get within a few feet before gliding off into the murk. A curious big Napoleon wrasse came by giving Deborah the eye. The coral is in bad shape on this dive site with almost all of the antler and plate coral dead and collapsed. The DM pointed out a leaf scorpionfish and several flatworms and nudibranchs. One of the nudibranchs was called "Marilyn Monroe" because it fluttered its white skirt when it moved across the reef! We saw 5 turtles either feeding or resting. They are not afraid and you can get up close and personal. A small school of unicorn fish escorted us down the wall where we did our safety stop.
West Ridge. 60' for :50 minutes. This was a drift/wall dive. The wall is punctuated by many small holes and caves. In many of them were sleeping turtles. The most unusual was upside-down in a black coral bush, sound asleep! After the DM pointed out a dragon nudibranch, we started to notice them everywhere. We also spotted three long-nose hawkfish in the black coral trees on the wall. A zillion anthias were feeding off the wall and darted back into their holes when we got too close. A small remora tried to attach itself to Deborah's fin and she screamed and kicked at it like a mad woman. My mask filled with water I was laughing so hard. The current switched and we drifted back over the same wall at a shallower depth and finished the dive on the top of the reef for our safety stop.
click here for part 3