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 ...
Perched on the edge of the Celebes Sea, Mabul Island is perfect for those keen to explore Sipadan’s incredible marine life, but also offers some amazing ‘muck’ diving in its own right. And if you are looking for that archetypal tropical holiday experience - sandy beaches, palm trees and unique villages - Mabul Island has all of that, and more!
Mabul and Kapalai's fringing reefs, coral bommies and sand patches provide the perfect habitat for an eclectic array of 'muck' critters, reef fish and more, making this area one of SE Asia's best all-round dive destinations.
Mabul and Kapalai can be summed up in one word - ‘muck’. The diving around Mabul and Kapalai is about diversity and interesting critters, rather than great visibility and big fish and although there are some interesting reefs, they are not a patch on those of Sipadan nearby. The mix of different habitats around Mabul and Kapalai means a great diversity of life and as a result, the islands have become well known amongst divers hunting for unusual species and ‘muck’ critters. However, the artificial reefs that have been built around Mabul and close to Kapalai have attracted a great deal of life - including giant groupers for those that need their big animal fix!
A typical dive on Mabul or Kapalai might mean hunting for leaf scorpionfish, frogfish, ribbon eels, different crustaceans and ghost pipefish. Blue ring octopus are also a prime target here. In the sheltered sandy bays can be found more sought after ‘muck’ critters including the elusive mimic octopus, Ambon scorpionfish, frogfish, flamboyant cuttlefish, sea horses and some unusual nudibranchs. Wherever you dive, you will encounter amazing numbers of reef fish, schooling snappers and goatfish, sting rays and gobies in the sand, anemones in the shallows with their resident ‘Nemos’ and shrimps, and - this being Sabah - passing turtles.
Guests staying on Mabul have the opportunity to snorkel the incredible reefs of nearby Sipadan - they can apply for a permit just like a normal diver. The snorkelling on Sipadan is world-class, particularly for encounters with turtles, schools of fish, bumphead parrotfish and even reef sharks. And for many people, simply drifting over the corals with the currents is a highlight!
Around Mabul and the nearby island of Kapalai, the reefs and marine life are not quite the same as on Sipadan, but are rewarding in the own right. There are some nice areas of reef on Kapalai especially and snorkelers can encounter plenty of reef fish, solitary great barracuda, cuttlefish, small schools of goatfish and fusiliers and passing turtles. The jetty area on Kapalai is probably the best location, as trevally, lion fish, batfish and needlefish can all be found schooling beneath the shelter of the wooden structure.
Mabul Island and the sand bar at Kapalai lie in relatively shallow waters close to the edge of the continental shelf, just under an hour from Semporna by boat. Mabul is your typical tropical island with shallow fringing reefs, beaches of sand and coral rubble, coconut palms and pandanan trees and several small villages. The island is also home to several dive resorts and a converted accommodation rig - Seaventures - anchored to the north.
Mabul island is just an hour by boat from the nearby port of Semporna, and to make life even easier, all of the resorts have their own scheduled boat service to and from the resorts. Guests arriving from Kota Kinabalu to the nearest airport at Tawau can arrange transport with the resort or simply grab a taxi to Semporna.
The first resorts on Mabul and Kapalai were developed during the early days of Sipadan’s fame and planned as alternative accommodation for those wanting to dive on Sipadan. However, with the rise of ‘muck’ diving, it was soon discovered that the diving around Mabul and Kapalai were reason enough to come and stay. Today, there is a great range of options for visitors - from budget style lodges, converted platforms and luxury resorts - and all have access to the fantastic diving on the local reefs, and at Sipadan.
The weather and seasons are typical of Sabah’s east coast. The islands can experience some rough and stormy weather during the wet season between November and March, especially January, and in August can also experience the effects of typhoons in the Philippines. The best times to visit are normally at the end of the wet season in April and May and the end of the dry season in September and October. However, weather conditions and seasons have become hard to predict in recent years and, this being a tropical area, it can rain at any time of year!
Dive conditions on Mabul and Kapalai are not as good as at Sipadan, but when you head is down in the corals hunting for critters, the visibility does not matter so much. Visibility averages 10-15m, and can drop to 5m when the weather and waves are bad or increase to 20-25m on a good day. Water temperatures are normally 26c-29c.
Mabul is home to a number of fantastic conservation projects, several of which have been set up directly by Scuba Junkie Mabul. The company was responsible for setting up Mabul’s Turtle Hatchery project that aims to conserve the area’s populations of green and hawksbill turtles, as well as Shark Awareness, Education, Survive - or SEAS - which raises awareness of the threats to shark populations in Sabah.
Guests also have the opportunity to join in regular activities such as reef cleanup dives or ‘Dives Against Debris’, beach cleanups and activity weeks such as ‘Shark Week’ and ‘Turtle Week’. Guests booked in during these weeks can attend talks by scientists and local conservation professionals, undergo training for speciality qualifications and even assist at the turtle hatchery. They are also great ways to meet the people of Mabul, as all of the events are set up in collaboration with the local villagers and with ‘Green Semporna’ a local conservation NGO.
The 8 day, 7 night package gives you 2 full days diving at Sipadan and to make the most of these days, Scuba Junkie schedules 4 dives on an extended day trip. And with only 4 guests per dive guide, you can enjoy the turtles, schooling fish and sharks without the crowds. Guests can choose from ensuite fan, AC or VIP rooms.