In his 1989 film “Borneo: The Ghost of the Sea Turtle,” famed underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau said, “I have seen other places like Sipadan, 45 years ago, but now no more. Now we have found an untouched piece of art.”
At the end of 2002, following a long dispute with Indonesia, the International Court of Justice ruled that the island of Sipadan was Malaysian.
The country, and the state of Sabah which it is part of, have reason to be relieved. Sipadan is often rated as the world’s best dive site, with a location in the centre of the planet’s most bio-diverse marine habitat.
In order to protect the fragile ecosystem of this Malaysia holiday destination, in 2004 the government ordered all of the dive resorts off the island, banned night dives and set a limit of 120 divers per day.
The move worked, as the surrounding waters continue to teem with life. It’s home to 3,000 species of fish, hundreds of species of coral, an abundance of rays and sharks and large populations of green and hawksbill turtles –- so much so there is a famous turtle tomb, an underwater labyrinth that has drowned many of the unfortunate sea creatures.
Where to stay: As you are not allowed to stay on Sipadan itself, stay close by at the Sipadan Kapalai Dive Resort built on stilts over the water or Sipadan Pom Pom Resort.
Getting there: It’s a 55-minute flight from Kota Kinbalu to the town of Tawau, an hour’s drive to the even smaller township of Semporna, and then a 40-minute speedboat ride.