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Diving @ Mabul / Kapalai Islands


The Islands - Mabul and Kapalai

Mabul and Kapalai Islands are recognized as one of the world's best "muck-diving" and “Macro Paradise” sites, has a shallow reef profile with sandy bottom and patches of sea grass and also one of the richest single destinations for exotic small marine life in the world.

The coral reefs at first glance do not look very picturesque and inviting, however it is the diversity of macro animals inhabiting the coral rubble and sea grass sites that put Mabul and Kapalai on the diving map. Flamboyant cuttlefish, blue-ringed octopus, mimic octopus, gobies and frogfishes are everywhere, as are moray, snake eels and practically the whole scorpion fish family. There's no doubt about it, Mabul and Kapalai are magical macro site! The beauty of Mabul and Kapalai will also appeal greatly to non-divers as well.

 Mabul & Kapalai Underwater

 Parrot Fish

 Mandarin Fish


During the Mabul Marine Week, dive operators came closer together for the good of the environmental. This year, 10 resorts and dive operators, local government units, and WWF-Malaysia, led by the District Office of Semporna, worked together to plan and implement the event, which involves the local community on Mabul Island, a community that numbers over 2000. The first three days of Mabul Marine Week highlighted the true spirit of team work. Activities including beach and underwater clean-ups, coral transplanting, environmental education targeting school children, and cultural dance performances, were jointly organized and carried out. An exhibition by WWF-Malaysia was held, emphasizing issues threatening the marine environment. Issues such as unsustainable development, destructive fishing and irresponsible diving behaviors which, unless addressed is detrimental to everyone on the island.  Throughout the rest of the week, tourism operators on the island continued to hold their own events, which included, amongst others, conservation talks by scientists, clean-ups and coral transplanting. These operators have contributed generously by providing human resources, facilities (for example, the use of their boats to ferry rubbish collected to mainland Semporna) and financial support (for prizes, t-shirts for the community, and food & beverages) required.


Mabul Island

Some of the dive sites' descriptions are...

  • Eel Garden
    Located towards the southern end of Mabul Island. Eel Garden is one of the deeper dives around the area. Divers descend to a sandy flat between 20 to 25 metres sloping towards the open sea.
    Fining carefully and avoiding stirring up the silty bottom, divers can observe gobies seeking refuge in the tiny crevices and moray eels occupying larger holes. Looking towards the sandy patch, you will see what appear to be blades of long grass swaying with the current. These are the elusive garden eels (Heteroconger Hassi) living in colonies that quickly dart back into their burrows on approaching shadows or excessive movement in the water.
  • Ray Point
    Also located on the southern tip of Mabul Island, this site slopes to about 30 metres at the sandy bottom. Currents sweeping through this point bring clear water and good visibility. Sea fans and soft corals that thrive in current areas are home to gobies, blennies, moray eels, butterfly fish, damselfish, parrotfish and stonefish (Synanceia Verrucosa).
  • Crocodile Avenue
    Mabul, Crocodile Avenue: Flat sandy area from 5m to 20m. It is a sandy area, so there are empty stretches of sand with oases of life. Our dive guide found some seahorses there every time. The absolute record was 8 seahorses. Then there are sand eels, double-ended pipefish, crocodile fish, special tube anemones, ghost pipefish (Harlequin- and Sea grass-), cowfish etc. There are also some turtles, humpback parrotfish, barracudas, mackerels and a small eagle ray there. Night dives are also very good here. We found lots of sepias, cuttlefish and special nudibranchs (for example the Spanish Dancer, Asteronotus c.) and lots of crabs. One of the highlights was a small boxer crab, found on some rubble.


 Mabul & Kapalai Underwater


  • Seaventure Platform
    Mabul, Seaventures Platform: Flat sandy area on about 17m. This is an old oil platform that has been converted into a hotel owned by Seaventures Dive Resort. It stands on huge pillars. You dive underneath in 17m of water. An amazing dive site! There are several piles of metal rods, look close, and there are always several frogfish (yellow to red, black and gray) sitting on them. Inside the largest pile there is a huge moray eel. His head must have a diameter of about 15cm! There are also ghost pipefish (Harlequin and sea grass), wasp fish, nudibranchs (Halgerda, Cromodoris etc.), stonefish, flying gurnard and close to the pillars always lots of batfish and flute fish.
  • Lobster Wall
    Mabul, Lobster Wall: Wall, some small caverns. There are many nudibranchs, anemones, shrimps and in a small cave a baby cowfish. Great night dives.
  • Mandarin Valley
    Kapalai, Mandarin Valley: Slope to about 20m. Hard corals, then sand. Small underwater mound. This dive site has its name from a dragonet that can be found there and that has a beautiful color like the clothes of the Chinese mandarins. It lives during the day under the spines of sea urchins. Go out to the small underwater mound – there were several leaf fish there last time. Leaf fish can shed their skin and in such a way adjust to the surrounding reef – some yellow ascidians were growing on his skin right over the eye. There is also a mushroom coral (Heliofungia a.) on the sand with some white anemone pipefish (Siokunichthys n.) living inside.
  • Ray Channel
    Kapalai, Ray Channel: This is a sandy channel with the reef on one side. The special fish, you find here and nowhere else in Mabul is the dragon fish (Pegasus). This small animal lives in pairs on sand and feeds on invertebrates. There are some leaf fish; a spiny devilfish lives close by, and there is a small baby-angelfish.

Kapalai Island

Dive Spots Mabul

Dive Spots Kapalai


Dive Fact Sheet Mabul and Kapalai Island

What to expect : Macro life
Average Visibility : 5 - 15 m
Average water temperature : 27 - 29 °C
Depth : 5 - 20 m
Mabul : Yellow Gaden, Tino's Paradise, Froggy's, Paradise 1 & 2, Panglima Reef, Lobster Wall, Stingray City, Eel Garden, Night Point, Crazy Channel, Ribbon Valley 1 & 2 & 3, Coral Hills, Trunk Garden, Artificial Reef, Sea Ventures, SWV, Awas, Navy Marker, Nudi Point
Kapalai : Twin Peak, Siu Siu Point, Little Okinawa, Black Ray, Channel Eel Garden, Stingaray City, Blue Spotted Garden, Lost World, Kapalai Rock, Coral Garden,Gurnard Ground, Cleaning Station, Lobster Rock, Mandarin Garden, House Reef, Ken's Reef, Mid Reef, Great Wall, Mantis Ground, Twin Reef, Nudi Branchia, Kets Goby Land.
Must dive : Sea Ventures, Platform, Crocodile Avenue, Eel Garden, Mandarin Garden and Ray Channel


Getting There

Malaysia Airlines operates daily flights from Kota Kinabalu to Tawau. Airasia operates daily flights from Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu to Tawau.  From Tawau continue the journey by 1-hour drive to Semporna town. Speedboat transfer is from Semporna jetty to Mabul and Kapalai, it takes about 1 hour and 15 minutes.


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