With over 1200 species of fish, scuba diving in Malaysia is magnificent. There are an incredible 600 species of coral here. This photographer's paradise also hosts hammerheads, whale sharks, nudibranchs, pipefish and scorpion fish to point your lens at. The extinct volcano of Sipadan is a renowned hotspot.
Diving in Malaysia is exciting and diverse. Located in South-East Asia, Malaysia is separated by the South China Sea into two regions, Peninsular Malaysia and East Malaysia (Malaysia Borneo) consisting of nearly 874 official islands. There is a huge variety of diving, from incredible Macro dive sites, to an array of Mega Fauna dives in which you can find yourself immersed by groups of Hammerheads and Barracudas.
Scuba diving in Malaysia is possible year round and there are an array of locations to choose from including Sipidan Island, Mabul home to the intriguing frogfish, Kapalai, Layang Layang or Lankayan. English is widely spoken, yet the culture and land based fauna and flora provides a rich tapestry of life waiting to be discovered. Malaysia suits all ages and tastes, it provides both a lively nightlife scene, or if empty untouched islands is more your scene there is an abundance of wilderness areas to explore both on land and underwater.
Malaysia diving, offers dive spots suitable for all levels of scuba diver. Dive sites range from stunning shallow water coral gardens and macro muck dives perfect for beginners and photographers alike to drop-offs, wrecks, caverns and drift dives which the more experienced, adventurous diver can explore. With over 600 species of coral and 1200 species of fish these are some of the most biodiverse waters on our planet. The government is aiming to balance economic growth with environmental protection as tourism is so important to the country. Hopefully this means that biodiversity will be protected for generations to come.
Marine Life in Malaysia
Malaysia is known as a Megadiverse country. Covered in tropical rainforests, the countries coastal waters are located in the coral triangle, a biodiversity hotpot, which means that it is teaming with wildlife. Refreshing in our overpopulated world, it is estimated that Malaysia supports 20% of the worlds animal species.
Sipadan Island boasts some of the most biodiverse waters in the world, the Sulu sea is home to 5 species of sea turtles and 20 species of sea snake, the rare Dugong is also found in the Strait of Johor and Sabah .
An array of shark species inhabit the waters including Whale Sharks, Hammerhead sharks and species of reef shark. Reef fish such as Barracuda can be found in abundance at certain dive sites alongside Manta Rays and Game fish such as Blue Marlin and Tuna. On the opposite end of the spectrum, macro muck dives host marine life such as Nudibranchs, Frogfish, Ghost Pipefish, Scorpion Fish and many more.
Best Dive Sites in Malaysia
There are a huge number of dive site options in Malaysia, depending on what marine life and type of diving you are interested in. Sipadan, Mabul, Kapalai, Layang Layang and Lankayan are all high up on dive locations not to be missed.
Sipadan is the only oceanic island in Malaysia rising 600meters from seabed, formed by living corals growing on top of an extinct volcano and now boasting some of the best scuba diving. Deep water currents well up against the walls, which brings in nutrient rich waters supporting an incredible ecosystem. Amazing visibility makes the experience of scuba diving with turtles, reef sharks, Bumphead parrotfish and not to forget Barracudas to be found in huge congregations at Barracuda point. There is a high chance you will find yourself immersed in a swirling vortex of either Blacktail Barracudas or Chevrons. Also not to be missed is Whitetip Avenue in which you can dive in the presence of many Whitetip reef sharks. Coral gardens offers a scuba diving heaven for the underwater photographer, shallow reefs on top of the wall provide marine life in ambient light, perfect for taking stunning photos.
Diving at Mabul is for those divers who have a healthy obsession with Macro marine life. This site is perfect for small marine creatures, photography and beginner divers, not as renowned for its visibility. One of the most popular dive sites is Froggy Lair which gets its name from an unusual high number of frogfish which inhabit the area. It is important to go with your eyes peeled ready to look for all the small creatures as there are many well camouflaged creatures such as Nudibranchs and ghost pipefish. Other dive sites in the area include Eel garden, Lobster wall and Crocodile Avenue all of which are wonderful for those new to diving, alongside the smaller marine creatures these reefs are graced with the beautiful Spotted Eagle Ray.
Kapalai is a sandbar which offers stunning Macro diving, it is the third point of the famous dive triangle and once again suited to beginner diver and small animals. There are a number of fantastic dive sites to explore. These include Cleaning Station a gentle dive in which you cruise with the current at around 16m searching for the colourful Nudibranchs, and resident turtles who hang out by an old wooden wreck. Spotted Ray Channel, Lobster Rock and Mandarin Valley are also beautiful dive sites, calm conditions and home to an array of marine life such as Frogfish, Scorpion fish, Seahorses, Octopus, Ghost Pipefish, Ribbon Eels, Lobsters and more. A word of advice makes sure to bring a waterproof camera.
Last but not least, if posssible, be sure to include in your dive plans the dive sites of Lankayan and Layang Layang, the latter is a coral atoll located in waters 2000meters deep which is home to a huge array of dive sites and the main attraction are the large groups of Hammerhead sharks which congregate there.
Best Time to Scuba Diving in Malaysia
Diving in Malaysia is enjoyable year round. However there are a few things to take into consideration depending on what area you are planning on visiting. Sipidan has fantastic diving year round, the optimum conditions are generally between April to December, with July and August often considered the best months, visibility can exceed 40meters, surface waters are calmest and water temperatures are between 26-30°.
Mabul does not experience as good visibility, yet does not have to as it is a muck dive and ultimately a Macro destination.
December to March is the low season Malaysia is not to affected by the Monsoon season to much. However, does experience sporadic heavy rains. Yet waters are still warm and visibility can be astounding. If you are not interested in crowds and partying it is advised to visit in the months either side of June and August.
Experience level for diving in Malaysia
As discussed the array and diversity of Scuba diving in Malaysia means that there are dive sites to suit all ages, abilities and interests. The calm waters of Mabul and Kapalai are perfect for beginners. Whereas certain sites in Sipadan can provide a challenge for the more advanced diver, whilst they explore the wrecks, drop-offs and drift dives. All sites boast a mindblowing array of marine life and an unforgettable diving experience.
The price for diving in Malaysia can vary. Due to its tropical climate and renowned night diving conditions can expect to do at least two dives per day, the more experienced diver could do up to four comfortably, once you have had a glimpse of this underwater world you will be reluctant to go back to land.
How Do I Get to Malaysia?
Malaysian Borneo's main airport is Kota Kinabalu which is the closest airport for departures to the Sipadan, Mabul & Kapalai areas.. Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Brisbane, Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo and more provide direct flights to Kota. Malaysian Liveaboards to take you scuba diving usually depart from Semporna. Semporna is approximately a 1 hour drive from Tawau airport, a transfer from Tawau to Semporna is normally included with the cost of your liveaboard trip.