Wednesday, April 2, 2008

To Dive For In Mabul, Kapalai & Sipadan 18-22 March 2008



Mabul, Kapalai and Sipadan are indisputably one of the pilgrimages for divers around the planet. I was further spoiled by diving this spectacular dive sites at my dive log number 18. What a lucky start! This time, I pocketed 15 dives in 4 days, not a bad record at all. In fact, there were many expected and unexpected occasions along the journey… For the sake of colorful blogging, I rented an underwater camera at the last day and, therefore, I managed to snap some photos in Sipadan (Midreef and South Point) and Mabul (Paradise II).

Seaventures Dive Centre (converted oil rig) and surreal Mabul sunset.

Rather than staying luxurious resort, we were staying in a converted oil rig called Seaventures in Mabul. Hmm… definitely something unique to start with. We entered the oil rig in style – ascending via a lift to a 4-storey high platform, with welcome drinks awaiting. I definitely felt the palpable vacation feel as the platform had the 360o Celebes seaview, with leisure divers scattered around. All of the staff were cheerful, kind and helpful. Our dive master was Amir, a local bloke with typically fit diver body. And not to forget our Diver Richard as our dive leader…

Happy divers at Seaventures; Dive Master - Amir.

With pounding heart and a sense of desperado, we began our checkout dive under the oil rig. For the sake of simple reading, I categorized my dives based upon the dive sites.

MABUL Dive Sites:
Seaventures House Reef, Paradise I, Paradise II, Ribbon Valley II and Froggy Lair

It was extremely busy underneath the Seaventures. I could not imagine how a checkout dive site could be so compacted with marine lives. Right after the descend, we saw a flying gurnard, a peculiar fish with wings, that I had wished to see for so long. Then, one after another creatures appeared to us effortlessly – crocodile fish, trumpet fish, pipefish, bumphead parrotfish, yellow ribbon sweetlips, spot-face moray eel, frog fish etc. Well, this was just the first checkout dive (52 min).

Hawsbill turtle (Fei, good job, what a nice shot!); Hard coral at its healthiest form.

We also did two night dives at Seaventure House Reef. The first night dive was nightmarish as the current was assaulting from everywhere. Too busy to keep attached with the group and only spotted two hermit crabs, bumphead parrotfish, lionfish, scorpion fish and normal soldier fish. The 2nd night dive was a WOW – no current + clear visibility! Our first mission was to search for yellow pygmy seahorse and the mission was accomplished with ease. Although I was not a fan of pygmy seahorse, I was still thrilled to meet the tiny fellow hanging his life at the fan coral. I really wondered how long could he cling there… His life must be so bored with uncountable psychedelic observation from divers, plus unstoppable strobe flashing. What a poor little thing... Also, spotted other creatures such as gigantic painted frogfish, tiny black leaf fish, decorator crab and a school of rainbow runner during safety stop.

Juvenile lobster with striking blue colour; Colourful angel; Spotfin lionfish and snake eel.

Paradise I was a muck dive with macro sighting. Nudibranchs were just scattered everywhere like candies on the floor. Some appeared in pair, solo, sex party pool... in various styles and colours of course. It was my first sighting of razorfish, catfish and juvenile lobster. The dive was getting more challenging in Ribbon Valley II as our mission was to spot super macro creatures. Nonetheless, I was very satisfied to spot orang utan crab (What a hairy thing), black ribbon eel, hingeback shrimp etc. By myself, I discovered a pair of beautiful spotted hawkfish… how I wished I had camera at that time.

Sexy nudibranchs; In the process of mating, they were holding hands (or perhaps something else) !!!

There was something special about Froggy Lair. Artificial reef were deliberated located to attract the marine lives. The varieties of marine life were impressive – a mix of macro and giant creatures. Giant groupers were the usual residents there, as well as schooling jacks and many firefish. Also, my first spotting of famous and unmistakably lovable creature in Mabul – YELLOW BOXFISH. It was not a question that it stole our heart with its ever cute wiggling movement, darting in and out. To add the bonus, I also saw other boxfish, white moray eel, luminous shrimp and clown frogfish. Definitely a dive experience I could not forget.

Big fat clown fish; harlequin sweetlips

We dove twice in Paradise II, first and final day. As the former dive was dusk dive, the mandarin fish showed its appearance in just a glimpse. First sighting of ghost pipefish and snake eel. A giant turtle was spotted here, 1.5 m ++, no kidding. The final dive was officially classified as the busiest dive for me. I had the underwater camera tied around my wrist and there were a bunch of marine lives shouting for their pictures to be taken. I managed to snap the cute longhorn cowfish (well, it approached me on and off to attract my attention, well must be a lady cowfish… hehe), banded pipefish, cuttlefish, ornate ghost pipefish, whip coral shrimp (tiny mimicker!), crinoid shrimp, commensal shrimp, coral shrimp, juvenile lobster, nemo (yeah…. nemo was unexpectedly rare here in Mabul), a pair of juvenile harlequin sweetlips (best belly dancers underwater!), snake eel…. Well, look at the list and you could imagine how busy I was at that time.

Lady longhorn cowfish (What a stunner!); White-tip shark resting in South Point.

KAPALAI Dive Site:
Mandarin Valley

After referring back my dive log, I was surprised that we only made one dive in Kapalai. My memory with Kapalai was not too sharp but I remember venturing through many artificial wrecks. Greeted by giant snappers, yellow boxfish, a pair of white jawfish etc.

Schooling snapper; nudibranch swaying to attract attention.

SIPADAN Dive Sites:
Barracuda Point, Hanging Garden, West Ridge, Turtle Cavern, Drop Off, Midreef and South Point

During the boat travel to Sipadan, we were greeted by lucky dolphins! Also, we saw seagull feasting. Many fish, both victim and big predators, jumped from the surface occasionally. We suspected the fish were tuna. Huh… What a good start! While at the journey back to Mabul, we saw many flying fish. They could fly more than 10 m from the surface, amazing creature! I guess they were just curious about the other side of the world, just as we were curious underneath the surface.

Bubble coral shrimp; commensal shrimp

What can I say about Barracuda Point… In fact, it was indescribable, you have to experience yourself! Impressive wall, slope, coral dive! The visibility was superb when the sunrays shone from above. Healthy staghorn, table, soft coral etc. were fighting for their territories, as if they were afraid of being unnoticed by divers. My favourite angelfish and butterflyfish were abundant, in gigantic size! I am absolutely an Angel and Butterfly fan and quite sad that many divers overlooked them sometimes. My favourite sighting was the scattering of hundreds and thousands bannerfish. According to my fish ID book, they deliberately swam in scattered and random direction unlike other schooling fish, so that the predators were unable to focus. What they could see were confusion - bands of black and white, cool! I also spotted Napoloen wrasse (sighted in many dives that it became so common), black-tip and white-tip sharks, nurse sharks, hawkbill turtle (everywhere, left right up down..), clown trigger (big and fat!), unicorn fish etc. Huh, what a dive…. How can I manage to dive Peninsular Malaysia again, sob…sob….

My lovely butterfly and blue-faced angels. They were GIGANTIC! Whip coral shrimp, totally opposite in size, so tiny!

And here it came the notorious Turtle Cavern (or so-called Turtle Tomb)… This was the site where many turtles got lost and died due to lack of fresh air. Two Japanese divers were also found drowned in this cursed site. The cavern was dark, dangerous, spooky, claustrophobic and miserable. Not a dive site I would revisit again. The more I tried to avoid stirring up the silt, the more I stirred up the silt, nervous kill! We managed to see the skeleton of turtle, not a pleasant view though. Without slightest affection, we escaped from this place as soon as we could. It was such a relief to see the deep bluish exit and I swear not to enter it again. Right next to the cavern was Drop Off. We saw schooling of jacks and batfish. The visibility was not at all impressive. Due to the disgraceful cavern, my bottom time for this dive was only 37 minutes.

My buddy Fei abandoned me and find his new Turtle buddy. They were playing merry-go-round!

Hanging Garden, West Ridge, Midreef and South Point were very similar as they were impressive wall dive sites in Sipadan. Visibility varied but overall not too bad. Spotted Napoleon wrasse (Again…) and leopard shark from bottom at Hanging Garden. Virgin sighting of great barracuda in West Redge. The highlight of the dives in South Point was the encounter with a solitary yellowtail barracuda and a school of chevron barracuda. Although the school was not very huge, but their harmonization and synchronization was absolutely fascinating. They swam as if one body, super cool! Well, I let the photos to do the talking.

Highlight of the dive in South Point - Chevron barracuda; Blue-stripped snapper (Just follow my fish ID book, yellow-stripped would be more appropriate, I think)

To conclude this dive trip, there were many expected and unexpected occasions, as was mentioned earlier.

Expected: Super healthy coral, variety of fish especially angels and butterflies, lost count of turtles and sharks….

Unexpected: Rainy and gloomy weather, roller coaster boat trip (fun actually), fever and flu, stung by anemones….

Just to annoy Diver Richard, I summarized my sighting… in food type. Why? Ask our beloved Apple… hahaha

Starter: Joyful dolphin, seagull and Olympic type flying fish.

Main Course: Turtles, yellowtail and chevron barracuda, Napoleon wrasse, sharks, cuttlefish, lobster (yummy!), batfish, jacks, giant snapper, grouper, coral cod, trumpetfish, juvenile sweetlips, bumphead parrotfish, painted and clown frogfish (if you dare to eat!), leaf fish, blue-spotted ray….

Side Dish: Puffer, yellow boxfish, longhorn cowfish, lionfish, hermit crab, nudibranch, moray eel, snake eel, angelfish, butterflyfish, triggerfish, surgeonfish, neon fusilier, rainbow runner, hawkfish….

Dessert: yellow pygmy seahorse, catfish, razorfish, ornate ghost pipefish, banded pipefish, coral worm, orang utan crab, decorator crab, bubble coral shrimp, whip coral shrimp, crinoid shrimp, commensal shrimp…

Huh… I am stuffed and full now. Until then, see you in next dive!