Sipadan Island : Drop Off & Cavern aka Turtle Tomb

Located just a few meters off the security jetty, this is the closest of all the dive sites to where the boats are docked during your surface intervals. We were all tempted to gear up on shore and start our dive from the beach or the jetty however, it seems that all dives at Sipadan are done from the boat. We geared up, took the 60-second boat ride out to the entry point and did a back roll into the ocean.

As you make your descent at the Drop Off, you quickly get a feeling for the great depths of the waters surrounding Sipadan Island, which range between 500 and 800 meters (1,640 to 2,624 feet). The dive begins over the shallow shelf that surrounds the island in 3 to 5 meters (perfect for your safety stop). You will see loads of beautiful anthias, chromis, surgeonfish, trigger fish, white tip sharks, eels and all sorts of other fish swimming through massive formations of staghorn, acropora, carnation corals and many other soft corals as you prepare to make your descent. The scenery on top of the reef is often so good at Sipadan that you don’t want to leave it to drop down on the wall.

Once you make your descent the beauty continues, as you drop down the beautiful soft and hard corals continue to amaze with their brilliant colors. As you hit the 20-meter mark and look down all you see is deep blue. Keep your eyes focused on the blue and you will “almost with guarantee” see white tip sharks passing by along with some grey reef sharks. Also seen frequently in the blue are schools of jackfish and barracuda, if you are lucky you may even have the treat of hammerhead sharks. Look up and you can see the wonder of the overhangs with hundreds of fish, turtles and sharks swimming above through the rays of the sun. Make a stop at the entrance of Turtle Cavern and take in the sights before continuing this great wall dive. Upon completion of your planned dive, it’s back up to the colorful and lively reef for your safety stop.

Once you complete your surface interval and decide to check out Turtle Cavern, you start the dive out just as you did for the Drop Off. As you continue your descent, around the 18 to 20 meter mark, you will see the entrance to Turtle Cavern sometimes referred to as “Turtle Tomb.” This massive cave gets both of it’s names because turtles can frequently be seen inside, unfortunately, as evidenced by their skeletal remains, many turtles, a dolphin and a marlin swam into the deepest parts of the cave and did not make it out. There are many off shoots in this cave system but two main caverns are the ones to explore.

Taking a local Dive Master trained in cave diving with the proper equipment is a MUST if you plan to explore the entire cave. As you enter the cave, you will see signs warning you not to enter if you aren’t fully prepared. As for us, we chose to enter about 5 meters to take a look around before continuing our dive at The Drop Off. The entrance is a magnificent cathedral-like cave with coral growth on the ceiling and walls, the bottom of the cave is white silty sand so good buoyancy is must or you can quickly destroy the visibility. Swimming out of the cave really gives you the perspective of how big it is.

As you swim toward the sunlight, you can see the massive opening with beautiful rays of sunshine penetrating down to the depths and shadows of fish and sharks swimming in the blue. Once you reach the mouth of the cave, you look down as you pass over a large crevice with sand from the cave flowing down like a river, this is a great place to pause and take it all in with an amazing 360 view of overhangs above, canyon-like crevice below and the huge cave behind you. After you have had a moment to take everything in, you can continue the dive at The Drop Off before making your safety stop.

Happy Diving!

Dan, Esther, Lana & Tim

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