Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Sipadan - Unique underwater gem

In the Celebes Sea off the coast of Malaysia's Sabah state, on the northern tip of Borneo, Sipadan remains a real gem of the underwater world.

A fisherman on the boat nearby swirls his index finger and my dive leader explained excitedly. "A barracuda vortex is beneath us."

With no time to waste, I don my diving gear and roll into the waves. Minutes later, I found myself swimming side by side with hundreds of barracuda in a tornado-like formation.

It is not a big surprise in Sipadan. Boasting an abundance of marine life, divers here have a greater chance of coming across huge shoals of large fish. Only an hour earlier, I'd been impressed by a gigantic shoal of jack fish.

Rising 600 metres from the seabed, Sipadan is the only oceanic island in Malaysia. Formed by corals growing on top of a volcanic cone, the island is ringed by turquoise water which is as shallow as a few metres. Steps away, however, is an underwater cliff that plunges 600 metres. If you drop anything in the dark blue water, you have a few seconds to grab it before it sinks to the darkness below.

Surrounded by deep water which remains the same temperature all-year long, Sipadan allows a variety of unusual species of marine life to flourish around it. What is quite rare elsewhere can be easily found here. Whitetip sharks and green turtles up to 2 metres long are quite common here, as are various colourful nudibranch in different shapes and sizes.

Sipadan's teeming marine life is due in large part to strict regulations that aim to preserve this precious natural resource.

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