Mabul – Find Weird And Wonderful Critters In The Muck

  • Known For Great muck diving

Overview of diving Mabul

Mabul is known for it’s great muck diving, along with being the stepping stone to diving at Sipadan Island. Located off the north east coast of Borneo, this small island has an average height above sea level of just three meters. Mabul is one of Malaysia’s most popular diving locations and the majority of tourists visit the island to dive or snorkel.

Dive resorts have taken over large parts of the island, while the small village in the center of the island is mainly dependent on tourism the dive industry brings. A large portion of the locals work at the local dive resorts.

Getting ready for an early morning dive on Mabul Island

Getting ready for an early morning dive on Mabul Island

Our dive trip to Mabul

Visiting Mabul has been on our dive bucket list for a long time. One of our friends worked as a dive instructor on Mabul and would always rave about how good the diving at the nearby Sipadan Island was. In November 2019 we were able to stay on Mabul for ten days. This allowed for four days diving at Mabul and Kapalai Islands, four days diving at Sipadan Island and a couple of days snorkeling and freediving around Mabul.

Ten days felt like just the right amount of time to enjoy the dive sites that Mabul and Sipadan offer. If you are keen to dive at Sipadan then it is worth staying on Mabul for at least a week to maximize the number of permits you get for Sipadan. On the other hand if you stay for more than two weeks then you may start to get island fever.

Mabul has a small village in the center of the island with a couple of home stays, restaurants, and small bars. The village is great for wandering round in the evening if you tire of your hotel. You can also stock up on snacks at a cheaper rate than what your hotel will offer.

How to get to Mabul

Mabul is an island and therefore requires a boat to get to. Your dive resort or home stay should arrange this for you from Semporna on Borneo. Semporna is around an hour and half drive from the closest airport Tawau.

For an international traveller, the most common way to get to Tawau is to fly to Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpa and then take an internal flight. If you are already on Borneo there are domestic flights between the major cities.

  • Nearest Airport Tawau (HRG)

How to dive Mabul

You can dive Mabul either by staying at a resort on the island, or if you are staying in Semporna you can do a day trip. Staying on the island is the simplest way and results in short 10 minute boat rides to the dive sites. If you are doing a day trip from Semporna then it is around an hour journey each way.

We dived with Scuba Junkie who also provided accommodation and all food as part of the package. This made everything very efficient and it was almost like a liveaboard, except on land. They offer three dives a day around Mabul plus the option of a night dive. Meals are provided between certain times and they have a nice bar area to relax in the evening. If you fancy something else to eat, you can easily head into the village where there are several restaurants.

As well as being an eco friendly dive resort (all single use plastic is banned) Scuba Junkie also has a turtle hatchery. To ensure that any turtle eggs laid on the beaches aren’t damaged by humans, the eggs are taken and raised in a special hatchery. Once the turtles hatch, they are released onto the beach at sunset where the cute little babies make a dash for the sea. This is done at sunset to ensure the best chance of survival.

Baby turtle release on the Scuba Junkie beach

Baby turtle release on the Scuba Junkie beach

  • Recommended Dive Center Scuba Junkie

Best time to dive Mabul

Mabul can be dived all year round, however the best visibility is during the dry season between March and October. Visibility is best during these months which gives you more chance or seeing something amazing on your dive.

The water temperature is always warm at atleast 26°C to up to 30°C in the wet season when the temperatures are warmer. A 3mm wetsuit or neoprene top will keep you toasty down at depth.

  • Water Temperature 26° to 30°C

  • Visibility 10m to 30m+

Mabul dive sites

Mabul is well known as a great place for muck diving, but it also has a lot more to offer. Swimming overhead of the tiny nudibranchs, ghost pipefish and frogfish are turtles, eagle rays and even the occasional whale shark. The reefs around Mabul are full of healthy coral with abundant fish life. There are even a couple of small wrecks and artificial structures which make exciting dives.

  • Omni Reef Favourite Dive Site Lobster Wall

Lobster Wall

  • Depth 5m to 30m

  • Dive Site Type Reef / Wall

  • Current Weak to mild

  • Entry Boat

  • Marine Life Turtles, lobsters, blue ringed octopus, nudibranchs, frogfish, pipefish, mandarin fish, flamboyant cuttlefish, mantis shrimp

Regarded as one of Mabul’s best dive sites, Lobster Wall if a beautiful sloping reef. With plenty of coral, as well as nooks and crannies for marine life to hide in, there is lots to see at this dive site.

It is possible to spot turtles, nudibranchs, mandarin fish, flamboyant cuttlefish, blue ringed octopus, frogfish, mantis shrimp and much more.

Lobster Wall has some beautiful corals

Lobster Wall has some beautiful corals

Panglima Reef

  • Depth 5m to 22m

  • Dive Site Type Reef / Sandy Bottom

  • Current Weak to mild

  • Entry Boat

  • Marine Life Turtles, nudibranchs, frogfish, pipefish, flamboyant cuttlefish, groupers, snappers.

A gently sloping reef, Panglima Reef is another nice dive site. The top of the reef is covered in coral which as you get deeper changes into a rocky, sandy slope with coral clusters and sponges. It is great for spotting both small life such as nudibranchs, and also fish such as groupers and even turtles.

Paradise 1

  • Depth 18m

  • Dive Site Type Sandy bottom / artificial structures

  • Current Weak to mild

  • Entry Boat

  • Marine Life Turtles, nudibranchs, frogfish, pipefish, flamboyant cuttlefish, mandarin fish, blue ringed octopus, ribbon eels.

A popular dive site with plenty of opportunity to spot great macro subjects. Several artificial structures made out of rope and metal have been placed on the seabed, which have been colonized by all sorts of marine life. The maximum depth is around 18m.

Paradise 2

  • Depth 5m to 12m

  • Dive Site Type Sandy bottom / artificial structures

  • Current Weak to mild

  • Entry Boat

  • Marine Life Turtles, nudibranchs, frogfish, pipefish, flamboyant cuttlefish, mandarin fish, blue ringed octopus, ribbon eels.

Paradise 2 is a popular dive site with plenty of opportunity to spot great macro subjects. The dive site is well known for it’s mating mandarin fish. There are also several artificial structures, which make great hiding places for eels. Nudibranch’s can often be spotted on the sandy bottom.

Ribbon Valley

  • Depth 5m to 18m

  • Dive Site Type Reef / sloping wall

  • Current Weak to mild

  • Entry Boat

  • Marine Life Turtles, nudibranchs, anemone fish, ribbon eels, moray eels, glassfish, coral and sponges

Located to the east side of Mabul, Ribbon Valley is a nice relaxing dive that has great marine life. There are actually three dive sites (1, 2 and 3) depending which part of the reef you dive. Unsurprisingly it gets it’s name as there is a good chance of spotting ribbon eels here. You can also see nudibranchs, anemone fish, glassfish, turtles and a vast array of other marine life.

Seaventures Dive Rig

  • Depth 15m to 18m

  • Dive Site Type Sandy bottom / artificial structures

  • Current Weak to mild

  • Entry Boat

  • Marine Life Nudibranchs, pipefish, frogfish, stonefish, scoprionfish, ribbon eels, moray eels, gurnards

The Seaventures dive rig is an unusual dive site. This old jackup rig has now been converted to a dive center and hotel and is great for people wanting an unusual type of holiday. Viewed from Mabul however it is a bit of an eyesore and not something you expect to see.

The Seaventures Rig off Mabul Island

The Seaventures Rig off Mabul Island

The sandy seabed underneath the Seaventures rig is full artificial structures which make perfect habitats for interesting macro subjects. Nudibranchs, ribbon eels, moray eels, pipefish, frogfish, gurnards and many more species can be found be the eagle eyed diver. The depth ranges from around 15m down to over 18m.

Stingray City

  • Depth 5m to 20m

  • Dive Site Type Reef / sloping wall

  • Current Weak to mild

  • Entry Boat

  • Marine Life Turtles, nudibranchs, anemone fish, stingrays, crocodile fish, pufferfish, starfish, coral and sponges

Stingray City is another nice just along from Lobster Wall. Similar to Lobster Wall, Stingray City is a another sloping reef colonized by coral and sponges. There is lots to see hidden in the crevices, along with bigger fish such as turtles and stingrays.

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