South of Semporna and Pulau Mabul, the snorkeling off Sipadan Island is known for amazing coral gardens with giant clams. Located in the Coral Triangle, Sipadan Island is part of a 16,846 hectare conservation area known as Pulau Sipadan Park Restricted Area that is managed by Sabah Parks. The 13.5 hectare island does not have many services, and most snorkelers are coming from the resorts on Pulau Mabul or on Pulau Kapalai, and via tour boat from Semporna on Borneo (45 minutes).
There are a dozen Sipadan snorkeling dive sites with the most popular being Barracuda Point and Drop Off Point. But, the usual starting point is the buoy-marked safe zone near the jetty on the western side of the island. The water visibility usually ranges from 60 feet to 200 feet. During Sipadan Island snorkeling, you may encounter green sea turtles, hawksbill turtles, butterflyfish, angelfish, barracuda, parrotfish, amberjack, poisonous stonefish, black-tipped reef sharks and manta rays. When snorkeling offshore, watch out for the strong currents and aggressive boat traffic. Near the wall dropoff into the deep abyss, keep an eye to the open sea to catch a glimpse of white-tipped reef sharks, grey reef sharks, scalloped hammerhead sharks, rare thresher sharks or fox sharks circling below.
The best Sipadan snorkeling is Barracuda Point. Located off the north end of Pulau Sipadan, the Barracuda Point snorkeling spot is popular for swirling vortexes of blacktail barracuda and chevron barracuda, along with the occasional great barracuda. The water depth is only about 30 feet deep. Keep an eye out for a circling grey reef shark, which may be patrolling the outskirts looking for an easy meal (of barracuda hopefully - not snorkeler). In addition to the barracuda, you may also encounter bumphead parrotfish, sea turtles, triggerfish, Napoleon wrasse and bannerfish. This boat-accessed dive site is known for a slight current, so keep an eye on your boat.
The next most popular snorkeling dive site is the Dropoff, which is accessed from the island north shore. Near the jetty, you can snorkel out to the wall edge that drops off to over 1,800 feet deep. While snorkeling at the Dropoff, you may encounter white-tipped reef sharks, grey reef sharks and jacks.
Off the east coast of Sipadan, the Mid Reef snorkeling dive site offers large green sea turtles among sea fans and soft corals. You may also encounter cardinalfish, gobies, moorish idols, triggerfish, unicornfish and hawkfish. This boat-accessed site can be a challenging dive spot since there are usually strong currents, so use caution.
Off the southeast coast, the Turtle Patch snorkeling spot is, of course, known for sea turtles that come to feed on the sponges. This shallow dive site has leather corals and staghorn coral stands along with plenty of anemones. The best time of day for snorkeling is early morning before the surf kicks up.
Last, but not least, the Coral Garden snorkeling spot has plenty of healthy coral formations teeming with reef fish. Located off the northeast coast of Sipadan, this dive site is renowned for its coral diversity with every type known to the region represented. The water depths range from 15 to 30 feet deep. During Sipadan Coral Garden snorkeling, you may encounter butterflyfish, humpback unicornfish, triggerfish and humphead wrasse.It is truly an underwater photographers paradise.
To snorkel Sipadan Island, you will need a permit from Sabah Parks. Only 120 permits are issued per day at a small fee, and most of the permits are booked months in advance. There are four dive marshals patrolling the water to insure that the coral formations are not further damaged by divers and to make sure everyone has a permit. The island is home to a private turtle sanctuary for green sea turtles and hawksbill turtles, which are released into the local waters. In case you stayed here in the past, keep in mind that the accommodations on Sipadan Island were closed back in 2004 to protect the island. There is only just a small shelter and restroom on Pulau Sipadan Park that are open to visitors.
To reach the snorkeling on Sipadan Island by air, use the international flights into Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. Next, use a transfer flight to Tawau. From Tawau, use ground transport to the town of Semporna. Once in Semporna, you can either book a tour out to the island, or stay on one of the islands offshore where there are resorts, such as Mabul Island or Kapalai Island.
TIP - While snorkeling off Sipadan Island, make sure to have a diver down flag near by since there is heavy boat traffic in the area.
Overall, Sipadan Island is the 1st most popular snorkel dive spot of all 5 snorkeling dives in Malaysia.