Pulau Mabul and Kapalai, Sabah
Located about 30 minutes from mainland Semporna, Pulau Mabul has a shallow reef profile with sandy bottom and patches of sea grass. 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 Pulau Mabul and Kapalai on the diving map.
Located towards the southern end of Pulau Mabul, 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. Finning 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.
Also located on the southern tip of Pulau Mabul, 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, damsel fish, parrot fish and stonefish (Synanceia Verrucosa).
This site is located on the northern tip of Pulau Kapalai. Pulau Kapalai is only a sandbank with a resort built on stilts over the island. The depth of this site ranges from 15 to 20 metres, sloping to a sandy bottom. Divers can observe stonefish, frogfish, gobies, leaf fish, ghost pipe fish, nudibranchs and mandarin fish (Synchiropus Splendidus).
Pulau Mabul and Pulau Kapalai can be reached by flight from the state capital, Kota Kinabalu, then a connecting flight to Tawau, followed by a 2½ hour drive to Semporna and finally a 30 minutes fast catamaran boat transfer to the island.