Robert de Niro said it well in Cape Fear “Every man has to go through hell to reach his paradise”.
For those seeking diving paradise, meet your own personal hell: Semporna.
Maybe a tad dramatic, but in all honesty, the port town of Semporna in Borneo has to be one of the most unattractive and unappealing towns on the entire planet. Down from its dreary appearance to the shark meat they sell in the local market, Semporna is the least likely entry point for the underwater beauty that is Sipidan. The town completely contradicts everything travelers hope to experience in this part of the world.
The dive shops scream “stop shark finning” but their shouts go unheard over the dynamite fishing that still takes place in the very reefs that they dive. Shops are full of merchandise concerned with saving the sharks yet 100 meters away at the local fish market there is evidence that their efforts go unheard.
Sipidan is one of the most famous dive sites in the world. The quality of diving, the marine life, and the coral are absolutely exquisite. Swarms of barracuda, jack fish, and white tip reef sharks are pretty much guaranteed sightings for eager divers. It is with absolutely good reason that Sipidan holds its claim to fame. The question is, for how long?
With high permit fees to dive Sipidan, it’s unfortunate that the rest of the area is uncared for. While the macro diving offers unique opportunities to witness rare sea creatures and acts as an enhancement to a Sipidan dive, you can’t help but wonder how long the nearby reefs will remain when you see the man-made damage occurring in the surrounding areas.
The protected Sipidan reef is protected from fishing, but there were still causes for concern on our dive. On several occasions, marine life such as sea cucumbers, sea horses, and star fish were probed by our dive master to the point of abuse. At one point, a girl on the dive trip had to signal for him to stop.
I don’t regret going to Sipidan and will agree that it is world class diving, but it seems that there are still vital improvements that need to be made. Go to Sipidan for the beautiful underwater life that you will encounter but be prepared for the shanty town that awaits the entry to paradise, and the conflicting messages about marine conservation.