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Sarawak (Sematan, Miri, Luconia shoals), West Sabah (Layang Layang, Labuan, Pulau Tiga, Tunku Abdul Rahman), Brunei
The dive sites in West-Sabah, Brunei and Sarawak are all relatively easily reached either from Kota Kinabalu, from Bandar Seri Begawan (capital of Brunei) or from Kuching. Most of the diving is close to the shore, there are several marine parks and quite a lot of wrecks from world war II to be reconnoitered. A few hundred kilometers out from the west coast are several very exciting dive areas such as Layang Layang, the Luconia shoals and the Spratlys. Here you will find clear waters, untouched reefs and large pelagics.
This page gives you an overview of the dive areas in Borneos west coast. Please notice that the information on this page about scuba diving in West Sabah and Sarawak has been carefully collected and edited by me, but I don't know these dive sites myself, having dived only in Mabul, Sipadan, Kapalai and Lankayan but not in these dive areas on the west coast.
Layang Layang (Terumbu Layang Layang) is a small island, only 2 kilometer long, lying about 300 km northwest of Kota Kinabalu in the south China sea. Layang Layang belongs to a group of atolls that make up the Borneo Banks which are part of the Spratlys, some 600 islands, reef and shoals stretching across the South China Sea from Borneo to Vietnam. The island is man-made and was constructed by the Malaysian Navy and then developed for the dive resort. This is quite a exclusive dive resort and can only be reached by small airplane from Kota Kinabalu. All the dive sites are around the atoll, since there are no other islands in the vicinity. Layang Layang is open only between February and the end of October.
Layang Layang offers world class diving. Since the ocean floor drops to an amazing 2000 meter from the edge of the atoll, this is a great place for large pelagic fish such as gray reef sharks, white-tip reef sharks, hammerheads as well as large schools of barracudas and mackerels and many turtles. Most of the dives are on steep walls, reefs are pristine and visibility excellent. There is lagoon in the middle of the atoll, about 20m deep for smaller critters.
1. Sharks cave: The dive starts on the edge of the drop off to a sandy ledge where one will find several leopard sharks sleeping. There is a cave which at the entrance is 3m high and slowly narrows to half a meter where white tipped reef sharks rest.
2. The Valley: This dive site doesn't look like much at first glance, corals broken by the pounding waves and small sandy areas. This is a good place to look for small critters though, gobies, morey eels, shrimps and nudibranchs. Good for macrophotography.
4. Crack Reef: A shallow coral garden with staghorn corals and a slope which becomes a drop off. The current is not so strong here and there are schools of butterfly fishes, fusiliers and trigger fishes.
6. Gorgonian Forest: A wall from 15m to 40m with a fair amount of current running parallel to the wall and really good visibility. This is one of the main areas for the scalloped hammerhead sharks (April-May), but it is also a beautiful dive site with a lot of beautiful huge gorgonian sea fans, whip corals and huge sponges. The hammerheads come here in large schools. There are schools of barracudas, jacks, tunas and there are often gray reef sharks and with luck you might even encounter some whale sharks.
7. Dog-tooth Lair: The name comes from the large dog-tooth tunas which are seen here cruising along the drop-off. Nice coral formations with over-hangs and ledges. On the drop-off even large sunfish (Mola Mola) have been seen and hammerheads schools.
8. Wreck point: No trace remains of the wreck that gave the name to this dive site. This is a nice place to make the safety stop after diving in Dogtooth Lair, there are a lot of lettuce corals, big sponges and several giant clams. This dive site and the adjoining The Tunnel (No. 10) are also good places for night dives.
12. D' Wall: A sheer vertical wall with a ledge at about 40m covered with barrel sponges, gorgonians, colonies of sea whip corals, crinoids. Leopard sharks and white tips, grey-reef sharks are resting on the ledge or cruising along the wall. Sometimes manta rays and dogtooth tunas are seen here and at the right time of year, large schools of hammerheads.
Off the coast of Sabah lies a group of islands including Pulau Banggi, Pulau Balambangan, Pulau Jambongan, Pulau Molleangan, Pulau Balak and Pulau Malawali. A number of wrecks have been discovered here, all of them merchant ships. Two are lying at 20 to 25m, an other at 50m depth. They are nicely covered with corals. The surrounding reefs have shallow fringing reefs.
Mantanani is a group of three islands north of Kota Kinabalu. They can be reached in about an hour by car and an hour by speedboat. There are three wrecks close to the islands. It is possible to do some muck diving, you might find seahorses, gobies and many nudibranchs.
Only twenty minutes by boat from Kota Kinabalu is a large marine park, Tunku Abdul Rahman, consisting of five islands, Pulau Gaya, Pulau Sapi, Pulau Manukan, Pulau Mamutik, Pulau Sulug. The surrounding reefs are shallow (max. 25m) with gentle slopes with hard coral gardens, sandy bottom and coral blocks and with little current. During November to March plankton blooms and attracts whale sharks (Rhincodon typus). Visiblity is not so good (10 to 15m). The best time to visit is from March to October.
Police Bay (Bulijong Bay): this dive site is located in the north of Pulau Gaya. It is a coral garden with staghorn corals and a slope with sandy bottom. Mostly small reef fishes, some stingrays. On Clement Reef, close to Gaya island a lot of large table corals, staghorn corals, brain corals and sponges can be found. Sapi Jetty consists of a sandy area where you find a lot of special animals like fingered dragonets, flounders, gobies, cuttlefish and even the occasional sea snake. Mid Reef is situated east of Pulau Manukan and is a submerged reef covered with hard coral, sponges and anemones.
Pulau Tiga Park lies about 50 km southwest of Kota Kinabalu. Tiga means "three" in the Malaysian language, the park consists of three islands, Pulau Tiga, Pulau Kalampunian Damit (snake island because of the banded sea snakes found there) and Pulau Kalampunian Besar. The islands all reach about 100m height and are believed to have been formed by the eruption of several volcanoes (actually there is a volcanic mud bath you can take on the island). There is a resort on the island. The reefs are shallow and visibility can range from about 6 to 20m depending on the season.
Labuan lies about 110 km south of Kota Kinabalu on the west coast and about 8 km off the Brunei bay. Three islands, Pulau Kumaran, Pulau Rusukan Kecil and Pulau Rusukan Besar are designated as a marine park, but the special attraction are four large wrecks. In the World War II Memorial on Labuan island you will find more information.
Two of the ships, the US Navy mine hunter USS Salute and the Dutch vessel SS de Klerk were sunk during the second world war. The Philippine stern trawler MV Mabini Padre and the Japanese freighter Tung Hwang were sunk in the 1980's. All four ships lie in 30 to 35m of water with the top between 8 and 12m. Visibility is not so good since there are several rivers in the vicinity.
SS De Klerk (Australian wreck): This wreck lies 23 km from Labuan on the Barat Banks, south west of Rusukan Besar island. Although named "Australian" it is really a Dutch cargo and passenger steamer. During World War II the Dutch sank (scuttled) the ship to prevent it from falling into Japanese hands, but the Japanese salvaged the ship and renamed it the "Imbari Maru". In 1949 while on a voyage to Manila it struck a mine off Labuan and sank. 339 passengers lost their lives, mostly workers and prisoners of war. The wreck is about 40 meter long and lies on its port side in 33 m to 21m depth on sandy bottom.
USS Salute (American wreck): This wreck lies 24 km from Labuan on the Barat Banks, south-east of Rusukan Kecil island, only 1.4 km away from the Australian wreck. The USS salute was a US Navy Minesweeper and escorted convoys between Pearl Harbor and several ports in the Far East. The ship was operating in Brunei Bay where it struck a mine on the 8 June 1945. The ship buckled amidships when she sank, with the bow folding back over the stern section. She sits on a sandy bottom in 33 m to 18m depth. This is a wreck for experienced divers.
MV Tung Hwuang (Cement wreck): This wreck lies 21 km from Labuan, east of Kuraman island. It is a freighter that sank on 25 September 1980 while transporting cement to Brunei for the Sultan's new palace. It hit the Samarang Bank and sank as it tried to reach Labuan for repairs. The wreck is 105 m long and sits upright in 30m of water. The masts are 8 m, the roof of the wheelhouse 14 m and the main deck 19 m deep. The wreck is covered with hard and soft corals, there is a huge school of barracudas. The cargo holds, crew accommodation and engine rooms can be penetrated.
Mabini Padre (Blue water wreck): This wreck lies 34 km from Labuan, northeast of Kuraman island. The common name derives from the fact, that it lies in relatively clear water. The Mabini Padre was a large Philippines fishing trawler, which caught fire and sank on the 13 November 1981 and is still completely intact. The vessel is about 80 meter long and lies on her port side in 35 meter of water. The wreck is huge with masts and gantries and covered with soft corals.
The coastal zone of Brunei is mostly sandy beaches, mud flats and estuaries with mangrove. There are only two oceanic islands, Pelong Rocks and Pulau Punyit, fringed with coral reefs and which are both marine wildlife sanctuaries. There are some more islands, the Pulau Berembang Nature Reserve and pulau Siarau which has flying foxes and proboscis monkeys. Larger areas of reef are found at the Ampa and Victoria patches off the coasts of Tutong and Telisai. If you dive from Brunei you are likely to also visit the Labuan wrecks (see the report above)
The reefs around Brunei are rather shallow but with fairly strong current and average visibility. You can dive at the Pelong Rocks, Abana Reef, Brunei Patches, Ampa Patches and Iron Duke Shoals. About 15 km from the shore off Kuala Belait are several oil platforms. You dive under the platforms, maximum depth is about 40 m but some platforms nearer to the shore are shallower.
A more remote reef, the Louisa Reef, an atoll belonging to the southern Spratly islands which lies about 200 km north-northwest of Kuala Belait and can only be reachedby liveaboard vessel. Louisa Reef has nice underwater cliffs with hammerheads, whitetips and leopards sharks and also a wreck, the New Jersey is lying there. This reef and the Royal Charlotte reefs are also often visited by fishing expeditions.
The best season to dive in Miri is March to September, when you can expect visibility of up to 30m. During the rest of the year, the monsoon can cause visibility to plummet to 10m or less.
Most reefs around Miri are rather shallow. Anemone reef is a shallow reef (6 to 9 m) covered with soft corals and anemones. During August, migrating green turtles can be found here. Sea Fan Garden lies between 15 and 20m with many gorgonian sea fans and sea whips. Grouper Patch, a rocky outcrop (18 m max. depth) covered with hard and soft corals and - of course - inhabited by several giant groupers. Tukau drop off is the reef furthest from shore, about 24-28 km (40mins by boat). The reef consist of several longish strips with a wall which drops off from 20 to 45 meter. Its possible to see reef sharks, napoleon wrasses, groupers, schooling mackerels and barracudas and turtles. During certain times of the year whale sharks might be seen here. There is also an artificial reef, Tyre Reef, built by the Malaysian Fisheries Department.
There are also two wrecks around Miri. The Atago Maru Wreck is a second world war Japanese merchant ship and lies just off Lutong (north of Miri). The 105 meter ship is sitting upright with the top deck just 9 meter from the surface. Most of the hull is covered with corals. Visibility is not always good. The Sri Gadong Wreck is a small 30m cargo ship lying in 20m on a sandy bottom.
The Luconia shoals (divided in North and South Luconia Shoals) lie off the North-Western coast of Sarawak over an area of several hundred kilometer in the South China Sea and can only be reached by liveaboard vessel. The Luconia shoals lie in deeper water und visibility is much better than at dive sites close to the shore.
South Luconia Shoals: You dive mostly on walls or drop-offs between 12 and 40m and the chance to see large pelagics like sharks, dogtooth tunas, rainbow runners and snappers is very good. Reefs are very nicely covered with corals, gorgonian fans and sponges. Dive sites: Fan Drop, Surgeon Route, Eastern Wall, Rock Hard Drift and Western Wall
North Luconia Shoals: Wall diving from 12 to 40m on nice coral formations covered with hard and soft corals with barracudas, snappers, tunas and with sometimes manta rays. Dive sites: Solomon Backyard, Manta Avenue, Neptune Valley (Hayes Reef region) and Die Hard, White Tip Cruise, Coral Garden (Aitken Reef region)
Near the border to Kalimantan, near Kuching there is also some diving possible around Sematan.
Pulau Talang Talang lying off the mouth of Sematan River is a protected turtle sanctuary for green, hawksbill and olive ridley turtles. The Katori Maru is a world war II shipwreck located about 50 km from the mainland. It was a Japanese troop carrier which was sunk by British aircraft. The wreck is not covered much and visibility is poor at 5 to 8 meter.
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