July 24, 2007

Sensational Sipadan

Palau Sipadan is truly one of the world’s most remarkable underwater sites.

From above the water you can see little more than a few buildings, sandy white beaches and lots of trees. What you cannot see from the shady view of the beach is the sudden drop-off a few metres from the beach. One minute you’re floating above the coral and thousands of schooling fish, the next you’re facing hundreds of metres of darkness. It’s too deep to see what may be down there.

Along the drop-off the marine life takes full advantage of the unusual geography.
Unique coral forms branch out from the cliff and an endless stream of fish, big and small, travel in schools along the ridge. And I do mean endless. As soon as one cloud of yellow and blue streaks washes past you another school of shiny silver fish follows.

And of course there are the less transient residents of the reef, the brilliant pearls of iridescent life that speckle the coral with vibrant colours. The waters off the coast of southern Borneo are the most bio-diverse in the world.

The highlight of Sipadan is not the fish, and they can be seen emerging from the darkness along the ridge. They are the greenback turtles and they move with a grace and ease that defies their heavy shell and small flippers.

Slowly they rise from the deep blue, heading for the shallow waters above the drop-off.

They don’t mind our intrusion into their world. When you stare into their eyes they stare back and give a turn of the head. I swam for a while with my new companion, side by side just below the surface of the water. I was working hard to keep pace, while I knew he wasn’t even trying.

I had caught brief glimpses of sea turtles in other parts of the world, but usually travelling at immense speed to avoid humans of any kind. Sipadan is very special in this regard, and combined with the stunning snorkeling off the beach makes it my new favourite place to get wet.

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