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Guest Post – Sabah: Dive Hotspot Set to Become Malaysian Center for Marine Tourism


Drowning turtles is a paradox. And yet they do, regularly and in massive numbers, in an underwater labyrinthine limestone cave that traps these sea denizens who are unable to find the surface. There are not too many places on earth that turtle tombs are a regular part of the underwater seascape, but such a graveyard is a common fixture in Sipadan off the east coast of Sabah, Malaysia.


Sipadan for the Scuba Snob
Sipadan is immensely valuable to marine biologists because it is home to more than 3,000 species of fish and hundreds of species of corals that took thousands of years to grow to create the underwater colony – and the island itself – considered to be one of the most bio-diverse marine ecosystems on earth.

Hard-core divers head off to Sipadan for this overwhelming collection of underwater treasures that eminent marine biologists consider the finest specimens of their kind. World-renowned ocean explorer and scuba gear pioneer (without which the underwater world would have remained alien to us) Jacques Cousteau called Sipadan “an untouched piece of art.” This remains true to this day – albeit with observable human footprint – with Sipadan earning regular magazine space in scientific journals as one of the world’s aesthetically and scientifically important marine laboratories.


Turtle Islands for Terrain Trekkers
Sipadan is by no means the only marine attraction that will spur Sabah forward to further international recognition. Off the northern coast of this Malaysian state lies another marine playground aptly named Turtle Islands National Park for the thousands of green and hawksbill turtles that consider it home. Selingaan, Bakkungan Kechil and Gulisaan are notable for their ardent efforts to preserve ancient turtle habitats and breeding grounds while allowing human spectators to stand in the sidelines and watch the hatching dramas unfold night after night.

(Interestingly, Turtle Islands, without regard to country boundaries, actually refer to 10 islands – instead of three – seven of which belong to the Southern Philippine Municipality of Turtle Islands in the province of Tawi-Tawi.)

Watching turtles mate and breed (and devoured by their natural predators) are not the only pastime available to island visitors, although they are the most easily achievable because they are land-based. Coral reefs around the three islands and the wildlife that depend on it are equally mesmerizing, so packing snorkel or scuba gear is highly recommended.


Offsite and Onsite Accommodations
Accommodations on Sipadan itself have long been banished by the Malaysian government in an attempt to restore the Sipadan ecosystem to its former glory, so divers and underwater enthusiasts find themselves staying the duration in nearby resorts built on stilts over the water, or in a village called Semporna, 40 minutes away by speedboat. Accommodations on the Turtle Islands National Park are right on the site, but human activities on the beach where turtles lay their eggs are restricted from sunset to sunrise to ensure that these ancient mariners, and the food web that also depend on them, remain as they have been for thousands of years.

Chris Chiang loves to travel and loves to write about his travels on his blog,

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