The diving around Mabul and the neighboring islands is fantastic. Fairly healthy coral reefs, not a lot of divers, and big fish. I chose Seahorse Sipidan Scuba to provide my accommodations and diving with. Again (see:previous post) they are fantastic. But since this is about the diving I will mention Ben. He was the dive-master and was great. Safety was paramount and his ability to spot macro nudibranches and other creatures was great. Ben was always polite and friendly, never cut the dives short (like some dive operators), and chose good sites based on the conditions. I would not hesitate to dive with him again.
Each day there was three dives. Two in the morning and one after lunch. On day one we went to Kapalai House Reef which was a sloping reef with a sandy bottom. Dive one I saw pipefish, frogfish, mantis shrimp, glass shrimp, a bunch of groupers, the list goes on. I was impressed already. Kapalai is an artificial reef. All kinds of structures were built and sunk. These structures are in all kinds of shapes, including houses. The ocean has taken hold of them and coral is growing all over them. Dive two was eel garden. Like its name, there were a lot of eels, including some small stingrays which I had never seen before. The last dive of the day was Paradise 1. I highly recommend that if you are diving Mabul you go there. It is an artificial reef as well but had a ton of big fish. The highlight was the Broadclub Cuttlefish. I have never had the pleasure looking at a wild cuttlefish before and they are magnificent.
The next day was Sipidan Island and it costs a bunch more than Mabul because of the permit (tourism…). I didn’t dive with Ben and went with another company to the island along with a few other divers. There were very few people this time of year so the dives were quite relaxing. No one did buddy checks but I checked my partner anyways, including myself 3 times. The dive masters also capped the dives at 45 minutes which is ridiculous when a relaxed diver can easily extend their dive time to 60+ minutes by ascending slowly and breathing slowly.
We jumped in the water and started with a drift dive. Immediately there was a gray reef shark taking a break on the sand below us. There were these giant parrot fish circling around too. The dive was going smoothly and we were drifting quite quickly, I descended with the group down to 25m with the current and back up to 18m. Halfway through the dive the dive masters turned around and started kicking into the current. Everyone grabbed a rock except one young woman who was having some trouble grasping onto one. I went towards her and pulled her towards the rock I was on. It was obvious that she was starting to panic. Heavy breathing, flailing arms. Understandable since the dive masters for whatever reason decided to change the dive plan and kick into the current. To put it in perspective to grab onto the nearest coral/urchin free rock I had to kick as hard as I possibly could. By this point everyone was just burning through their tanks. Then the dive masters let go of the rocks and we continued to drift as was originally planned. When we surfaced the woman and I spoke and she said she was starting to panic and a thank you. The dive lasted 42 minutes.
The rest of the day was just diving the walls around Sipidan. I recommend you go there if you want to see the schools of barracuda, green/leatherback seaturtles, and all of the other big fish that are swimming around. Other than the schools of barracuda I don’t think I would dive there again. It is not worth the cost a second time.
In between dives and when the day is over there is always stuff to see in the shallow (ankle deep to 4 meters depending on the tide) water. I spent hours snorkeling and free-diving down to the sea grass covered sand. I saw a lot during these sessions. I followed eels for hours leading me to a whole family of them, I followed stingrays, found frog fish (look hard), and chased a sea turtle swimming in the shallow water. I snorkeled day and night. So borrow or bring your torch and enjoy the sand start crawling and the water column to light up.
Diving in Mabul taught me a lot about finding macro creatures and perfecting my buoyancy. I had a fantastic time and would definitely go back.