The island nation of Indonesia straddles the equator between the Indian and Pacific Oceans and lies at the heart of the ‘Coral Triangle’ - the epicentre of the world’s marine biodiversity. Nowhere on ...
Located 300km off the coast of Borneo and surrounded by crystal clear waters, Layang Layang is the epitome of frontier diving – awe-inspiring topography, untouched coral gardens, huge schools of hammerhead sharks and a kaleidoscope of other marine life awaits any adventurous diver willing to make the journey.
Known as the “Jewel of the Borneo Banks”, this remote diving destination delivers a plethora of frontier thrills. The presence of a Royal Malaysian Navy base has sheltered Layang Layang from the impacts of fishing and man-made pollution, meaning the surrounding waters nurture some of the healthiest reefs in Malaysia. Although the atoll is small, it boasts an incredible 2,000-meter drop from the surface to the sea bed, securing the island’s reputation as a mecca for wall diving enthusiasts. In fact, the plunging walls and incredible visibility can be slightly disorientating for divers who may not realise how deep they are!
Layang Layang offers a rich display of biodiversity but it’s the scalloped hammerhead sharks that are the real attraction. Divers are gifted with truly heart-stopping excitement as huge schools of these large sharks, sometimes hundreds strong, pass through between April and May for the mating season. Sightings are still possible outside of this window but are less common. Other pelagics which can be spotted here include barracudas, trevally, snapper and dog-tooth tuna as well as other rarities such as thresher sharks, whale sharks, manta rays, eagle rays, leopard sharks and very occasionally, even orcas.
However, Layang Layang’s delights don’t end with the big things. Plenty of sun-drenched shallow reefs and sandy slopes mean that macro-life abounds here too. Pygmy seahorses, brightly coloured nudibranchs, anemone shrimp, frogfishes and more can all be spotted with a sharp eye. An international photography competition is hosted here every year so be sure to bring your camera.
Part of the Spratly Islands that stretch several hundred kilometres off the north-west coast of Malaysian Borneo, this isolated atoll appears as no more than a tiny speck in the middle of the South China Sea. Its isolated sand bars and reef flats offer protection to migratory seabirds such as terns, frigate birds and boobies that take advantage of the atoll's remote location to raise their young in safety - in fact, the atoll is also known as Swallow Reef because of the thousands of birds that can be seen here.
Yet beneath the surface, this unassuming atoll is in fact a divers’ dream, with a continuous ring of pristine coral reefs flourishing in the nutrient-rich waters. Rising some 2,000 meters from the sea floor, Layang Layang’s reefs provide exceptional diving for those in search of adventure. Its dramatic walls and beautiful reefs act as a beacon to pelagic marine life and big sharks, rays, whales and dolphins are all found around this isolated coral pinnacle.
Kota Kinabalu, on the west coast of Sabah, is the nearest city to Layang Layang. Return flights to the resort cost around $450 per person and are included within diving packages. Numerous domestic airlines provide flights to Kota Kinabalu from throughout Malaysia, as well as connections from Singapore and Hong Kong. The onward journey to Layang Layang takes about 1 hour. As the aircraft is small, seating can be limited, especially during peak times.
The resort, navy base and the atoll’s 1400 meter runway sit alone on the man-made isle that separates the deep open ocean from the secluded lagoon. Liveaboard trips are no longer allowed to visit Layang Layang, making this resort the only option for visiting the “Jewel of the Borneo Banks”.
To ensure optimal conditions for diving, Layang Layang is only open from February to the end of July. The best time of year is early in the season from March to May. At this time average visibility is normally between 20-40+ meters, water temperatures sit in the high 20s and hammerhead sharks are a common sighting. The resort closes from August onwards, making way for the heavy monsoon rains which ruin conditions and make diving on this remote atoll impossible.