Scuba Diving Sipadan Island: Behind The Scenes + Video

Sipadan Island in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo, is one of those legendary places that every diver has heard of but few have visited. Scuba diving Sipadan Island is a breathtaking bucket-list destination. Why? Sipadan is one of the top scuba diving destinations in the world.

Unfortunately, the island also has an infamous history that even now, nearly two decades later, still keeps some divers away — pirates! But it shouldn’t! They are a thing of the past. Sipadan and surrounding islands are completely safe nowadays. So safe that I spent two weeks here diving and exploring nearly every one of the islands 🙂

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Scuba diving Sipadan Island should be on every diver's bucket list!
Sipadan Island is one of the top scuba diving spots in the world
Look how clear the water around Sipadan Island is! 😀

360° Of Fish In Every Direction!

I’ve been scuba diving for the last two and a half years but have never seen such abundant sea life as here at Sipadan. Thousands of fish and sharks and turtles all visible at once. Coral that is alive and thriving, instead of sick, damaged or dying. Water so clear you could see everything.

Sipadan Island is full of thousands of fish....scuba diving here is amazing!
This photo does not show how many fish there truly were — see more in the video below!

Semporna is not the most exciting city. Aside from some good seafood restaurants and a little bit of shopping, there is not much to do there. So rather than stay in town I decided to go with Scuba Tiger Resort about ten minutes outside of the city called. Best decision ever!

  Morning Starts With A Beautiful Boat Ride To Sipadan Island

We left the resort at 8:30am and headed for Sipadan Island, stopping briefly at Mabul Island to pick up a couple more divers from another resort. Weather was fantastic and the water as smooth as glass. It almost didn’t feel real — see for yourself at the start of the video down below.

Sipadan Island is full of thousands of fish....scuba diving here is amazing!
  Filming the Sipadan video. Yes, this is the same Ram Mount for GoPro that I used during the Rickshaw Run two years ago….and for basically every video since 😀

Karindingan Island (Pulau Karingingan) just off the coast of Semporna, Sabah, Malaysia
Taken while flying across the smooth water at high speed with my Sony A7Rii, the best 4K video camera ever

Mabul Island just off the coast of Semporna, Sabah, Malaysia
Mabul Island en route to Sipadan Island

Local fisherman at Mabul Island just off the coast of Semporna, Sabah, Malaysia
Local fisherman returning home with a fresh catch

Local fisherman at Mabul Island just off the coast of Semporna, Sabah, Malaysia
Upon seeing us, the fisherman headed our way…

Local fisherman at Mabul Island just off the coast of Semporna, Sabah, Malaysia
…and stop by the dock with breakfast: fresh crabs!

  Arriving at Sipadan Island

Welcome to Sipadan Island Park
Pantai di Pulau Sipadan
Sipadan Island beach

Upon arrival at Sipadan Island we signed in (only 120 people are allowed to dive per day at Sipadan) and then got ready for our first dive of the morning. The first destination: Barracuda Point!

Sipadan Island scuba diving location map
Sipadan Island dive map via

  Underwater Photos From Sipadan

At Barracuda Point there were barracuda, sure, but also lots of sea turtles. The sea turtles of Pulau Sipadan are not afraid, allowing divers to get up close and personal. Much love goes out to the dive masters at Scuba Tiger for helping me getting such great footage and pointing out so many things that I would have completely missed. Well done fellas, well done 🙂

Sea turtle while diving at Sipadan Island in Sabah, Malaysia

No Red Filter, No Editing

The water was that clear!

Shark spotted while diving at Sipadan Island in Sabah, Malaysia

All shot with a GoPro 4, no red filter, no editing (only cropping)

Joined the devil diver while scuba diving Sipadan Island at Barracuda Point in Sabah, Malaysia

At 20m down everything turns a beautiful shade of blue!

Derek Freal and friends scuba diving Sipadan Island and filming a sea turtle

No editing needed

Scuba diving Sipadan Island with friends was a great place to practice our underwater photography

  Sipadan Diving Regulations

Part of what keeps the island so beautiful is that scuba diving at Sipadan is capped at 120 divers a day. These 120 permits are divided among less than a dozen dive operators, and local hotel/resorts arrange Sipadan dives through these registered operators. Interested scuba divers must register weeks in advance and book their dates accordingly to ensure they receive a permit — especially if diving as a group. I was scrambling for a last-minute Sipadan ticket so even though all my other dives were with Scuba Tiger, the Sipadan dive was with another company whose boat was leaking oil. Badly. More on that after this.

Scuba diving at Sipadan Island with Scuba Tiger, part of the Scuba Tiger Experience!

One of the key things to remember when diving at Sipdan is to never touch anything. You can get up close and personal with the turtles, barracuda, eels, lobster and fish — just don’t touch! If you do and the dive master sees it, you’re out of the water for the day and all that money is wasted.

Scuba diving Sipadan Island with Scuba Tiger, part of the Scuba Tiger Experience!

  How Much Does A Sipadan Dive Permit Cost?

Unlike all the neighboring islands, diving at Sipadan requires paying an additional government fee — around $200 USD — but it is worth every penny! This is on top of the cost of diving, dining and dozing (lodging). But it is worth it to dive at what is one of the best scuba diving locations in all of the world. Still don’t believe me? Believe Google.  

Sipadan Island is one of the top scuba diving spots in the world

  The Bad Side Of Scuba Diving Sipadan Island

120 divers per day. Max 8-10 paying divers per boat (not counting dive masters and staff). That’s around 15 boats per day circling Sipadan. And despite the strict enforcement of regulations on the scuba divers, regulations on the dive boats are not enforced in the slightest. Our boat was leaking a lot of oil but when I pointed it out to the captain, he responded with “Yeah, I know” in a tone that indicated he didn’t give a damn. Meanwhile he had on a fancy watch that looked more expensive than mine.

Scuba diving Sipadan Island is once in a lifetime experience -- you'd just better visit fast, before the oil leaks destroy paradise

When pristine places stop becoming pristine, tourists stop paying for them. Before you make it rain with that Sipadan money, fix your fucking boat! Quit spewing oil into one of the world’s top scuba diving destinations on a daily basis! I’m looking at you Uncle Chang. Fix your boats. Start with SA 191/5/P, the one pictured above.

Other than that, Sipadan was perfect.

Let’s keep it that way.

I spent two weeks in Semporna diving/staying with Scuba Tiger and love them! Amazing staff, awesome dive masters, fancy boats and a nice resort….best experience ever. Tell ’em that Derek sent you and you’ll probably get some extra lovin’ 😉
   Kampung Tampi-Tampi, 91308 Semporna, Sabah, Malaysia
  +60 19-896 6996

Together with friends from Scuba Tiger and divers from other hotels around Semporna, we all traveled out to Sipadan together in the leaky boat pictured above. Although staying at different places, we had all acquired our Sipadan dive permits through Uncle Chang’s service. From what I hear Uncle Chang is a nice guy….he just needs to stop the boats from polluting paradise with oil. Not Recommended!

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About Derek Freal

"Some people eat, others try therapy. I travel."   Cultural enthusiast. Adrenaline junkie. Eater of strange foods. Chasing unique and offbeat adventures around the world since 2008. Derek loves going to new destinations where he does not speak a word of the local language and must communicate with hand gestures, or places where he is forced to squat awkwardly to poo -- supposedly its healthier and more efficient. For more information (about Derek, not squat pooing) including popular posts and videos, check out his bio.

31 thoughts on “Scuba Diving Sipadan Island: Behind The Scenes + Video”

  1. looks amazing, great pictures…makes me so sad how the oceans are suffering though. i’ve been on many boats in this region and the oil / deisel spill is upsetting to say the least 🙁

    • Sad part was the nonchalant way the captain acknowledged the leak yet continues to ignore it. Somehow fails to connect the dots between tourism money and clean water. Great, that’s just great.

    • Not sure Grahame just know that money is collected by the military so maybe it helps funds the troops stationed there and on the other nearby islands. None of the neighboring islands like Mabul and Bohey Dulang have extra fees, only Sipadan.

    • Definitely! Best way to describe it is as one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences that you might actually end up doing twice or even three times, you know? A little bit of a hassle to arrange, but not too much. A little expensive, but not too much. A little bit away, but a whole world away! So different from anything else you can do 😀

  2. ‘Love the photography Derek, and I really like your film!

    I don’t really like watching videos from bloggers as they bore me to death. I’ve even been known to cancel my subscriptions ‘cos they turned to vlogging! Yours was alright though ‘cos you also know how to write!

    p.s. How idiotic about the oil leakage. Sigh!

    • Thanks so much Victoria 🙂 And yes, I completely agree with you. Am not such a big fan of vlogs either. Since most of the videos I do are for clients, they aren’t interested in “vlog” style — which works because I don’t like making vlog-style either ????


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