1st November to 3rd November 2011
Sipidan Island is the only oceanic island in Malaysia. Meaning it does not sit on the continental shelf but is volcanic in nature, formed by coral growing atop an extinct volcano. Found off the east coast of Sabah on the island of Borneo, it is located in the heart of the Indo-Pacific basin, the centre of one of the richest marine ecosystems in the world. It is no surprise then to find at least 3 of it’s sites on the top 100 dive spots of the world. An important note is that the Seaventures Rig house reef is number 74.
So rising at sparrows fart, 5.30am, I headed down to the main deck to have some coffee (or rather milo/coffee mix introduced to me by Martin) and watch the sunrise until we headed out at 6am. The weather was already warm and balmy but the sunrise was spectacular.
Once we had all gathered and got our gear sorted we headed down the sea-lavator.
It was a glorious morning as we sped across the waves for a 30min ride to Sipidan. Todays lead instructor, the mysterious instructor from yesterdays dive in Mabul. He just suddenly appeared on the boat didn’t say anything and took amazing pictures. Now here he is merrily balancing the boat as we speed across the ocean.
The Fearsome Foursome were missing one member but the remaining three were psyched for the upcoming dives.
When we finally arrived at the tiny island we had to sign in. This is to prevent too many divers from using the site. Each dive company gets a specific number of “visas” for their divers and Seaventures gets 13. However 3 were being used by a Russian millionaire who didn’t even invite us for a drink, hence Martin missed out on the first Sipidan dive, but went to some surrounding islands instead.
After checking in and signing away our lives, again, we got back in the boat and headed out for our first dive site “white Tip Avenue” to see the Bumphead Parrotfish Parade. This is a daily phenomenon around 6.45am. Numerous Bumphead Parrotfish make their way to feeding grounds in a long line, similar to a parade. You might think there would be about 10, but no on this first day there were hundreds, I am sure, as the parade kept on and on and they are fairly large fish. See the parade for yourself.
The most exciting discovery as we oohh’d and ahhh’d at the parade was that Dave’s 2nd mask works!!! I can see, and not only that it has nifty little magnifying lenses on the bottom so I can see the dive computer way easier. Woohooo now lets enjoy the diving!!!
And then something wrapped around my ankle and arm and stung like a …insert expletive here… Yup my first jelly sting, luckily it was not a serious one and when we surfaced we discovered that most of us had had a close encounter with 1 or 5.
There were so many fish and corals and anemones and white tip sharks I barely knew where to look. At one point Ricadro called us over and made the sign for some small creature, it kind of looked like he was acting out a monkey, but I am pretty certain sea monkeys aren’t real in that sense. Later I discovered he was pointing out an Orangutan Crab. Ahhhhhh ok! Ricardo was great at pointing out all the small creatures like the crab and nudibranchs and so much more. (photo courtesy of Ricardo)
After a breakfast and much needed pee stop, for some reason being at depth seriously contstricts your bladder, we had time to look around the island. However we were strongly warned not to walk around the island and only stick to the beach in front of the picnic area, otherwise the soldiers might shoot us. I thought they were joking until I saw the soldiers.
This is due to Sipidan being on the border of the Philippines and Malaysia and home to many unsavory groups. A kidnapping occurred there in 2000, when 20 hostages were taken by possible pirates or separatists. Sipidan used to be home to a luxury resort, but since the kidnappings and due to the ecological value of the island the resort has since been dismantled, diver numbers restricted and a permanent army unit placed on site. Tourists are not allowed to walk around the island to protect the natural biodiversity and bird habitat.
The next two dives were as spectacular as the first. Hanging Gardens was a deeper wall dive hoping to catch a glimpse of the elusive hammerheaad sharks. No luck there but still stunning. Barracuda point lived up to its name with massive schools of Barracuda that were downright intimidating. I tried desperately to memorize the fish species but the minute I opened the ID book there were so many varieties I could barely keep track.
I fear cold water diving may be lost to me forever!!
After 3 stupendous dives we headed back to the rig. We all agreed to play down just how fabulous the dive was so Martin wouldn’t feel bad, but when we heard they got to see the flamboyant cuttlefish all pretense went out the window and we all gushed at the spectacular things we had seen. Back by noon we all sat down for another yummy meal and then the others headed out for their third dive. I spent the afternoon soaking up some rays and napping.
Just a short 3 minute boat trip from the rig is Mabul island, and every night they offer a free ride where you can enjoy the island for an hour and return in time for dinner. Technically this was to be Urs, Martin and my last night on the rig and so, along with Dave, we went to explore the island. At the same time Martin and I were deciding to stay an extra night as it was just too amazing to leave so soon.
Mabul, like Semporna, is a an oxymoron, a contradiction. You have an exclusive resort right next to a village of sea gypsies that live in abstract poverty in most cases. There is no education in regards to litter and it is everywhere.
There is also talk of dismantling the resort and possibly the rig from Mabul island in the same way as Sipidan and turning it into a natural heritage site. However, there is the large community of displaced sea gypsies to re-home if such a plan was acted upon.
The four of us wandered through the island with our fearless leader, Martin, armed with some vital Malay vocabulary, in the lead. We came across some beautiful (the people) and some sad (sick kitten) sites. Here are some pics to get an idea of the place.
A fantastic day full of adventure and beauty and friendships. tomorrow is another early morning as we all made the Sipidan dive!