Among the international scuba community, the island's reputation as one of the world's best macro diving sites is no secret. Muck diving, a term used to describe limited visibility dives at shallow sites with usually sandy bottoms, is one of the industry's latest rages. It focuses on encounters with unusual little critters popularly known as macro-life.
Muck diving is a world away from steep wall and coral reefs, with their almost limitless visibility and easy-to-spot reef and pelagic life. In other words, muck sites offer you the opportunity to flirt with the more bizarre and unusual life marine life to be found.
Needless to say, diving in Mabul gives macro photographers some great opportunities to capture some extremely rare ecological species which have carved a niche for themselves in the underwater world around here. Look out for species like multicoloured nudibranchs, ghost pipefish, devil scorpionfish, stonefish, mantis shrimps, mandarin fish, ribbon eels, snake eels, frogfish, seahorses and crocodile fish, all of which make this island their home.
Froggy Lair is a site typical of Mabul as it is full of wonderful critters and a keen pair of diver's eyes can be treated to sights such as crocodilefish, an awesome variety of nudibranchs, garden eels, mantis shrimps and, as the name of the site suggests, lots of different species of frogfish in various colours and sizes.
Photographers tend to love the line-up of critters here and if you are lucky you may even spot the likes of a flamboyant cuttlefish and blue-ringed octopus. The visibility is seldom impressive but when you are up close to such a line-up of small but fascinating marine creatures, great visibility is not needed.
Along the east side of Mabul, several dive resorts have collaborated to create an artificial reef. Old dive boats and a variety of man-made structures in the shapes of pyramids and crates have been sunk into the sand. At first sight you could be forgiven for thinking it is nothing but junk but on closer inspection you will see that this is a carefully constructed reef. However, it is the myriad marine life that the reef houses that are the real stars of the show.
Large groupers lurk in quiet areas while schools of batfish and juvenile barracuda cruise around the outer edges of the reef. Frogfish, lionfish and scorpionfish pop up in different parts of the structure while ribbon eels and lively juvenile sweetlips provide a splash of colour and entertainment.
Eel Garden is named after the large colony of garden eels that rise from their lairs on the sandy sea bed, swaying this way and that, feasting on current-swept morsels. There are also ribbon eels in the area and the sea floor seems to be peppered with the homes of shrimp-goby partnerships.
You may spot little cleaner shrimps on rocky areas of the reef. They will happily step on board your hand or even into your mouth to do a spot of 'cleaning'. Also look out for frogfish in various hues including black, rose and blue, and mantis shrimp scurrying around the reef.
Seaventures Platform – Diving below the ugly legs of a converted oil rig may not sound like fun but it is! Lying just off the coast of Mabul Island, the dive site below the oil rig is covered in junk and incredible marine life. In what looks like an underwater apocalypse, you'll see moray eels and nudibranchs by the dozen as well as yellow and red frogfish.
The sea bed is nothing spectacular being mostly rubble with sandy patches and piles of metal rods or other industrial junk. But there is plenty of joy in the junk if you take time to explore.
Dive The World Malaysia Recommendations: Seaventure Platform and Eel Garden.
More detailed information on the Mabul dive sites on our www.dive-the-world.com website.
When you stay in a dive resort on Mabul Island you will probably visit Sipadan for 2 or 3 days' diving, depending on your length of stay. Other days will be spent getting to know the sites around Mabul and Kapalai.
Special rates often apply at these resorts for Malaysians, Singaporeans and expatriates living in those countries with work permits.
Due to its geographical position, the island of Mabul is open for scuba diving all year round, with April to October offering excellent weather conditions.
You can access Mabul Island by flying into Tawau airport. This can either be direct from Kuala Lumpur or via Kota Kinabalu, both well connected to airports throughout Asia. Kota Kinabalu is Sabah's most happening town and many people choose to have a day or two there before taking the 45 minute flight to Tawau. Once you land in Tawau you will be transferred by minibus and then speedboat to Mabul.
Great for: Small animals, underwater photography and beginner divers
Not so great for: Visibility and non-diving activities
Depth: 5 - 20m
Visibility: 5 - 15m
Surface Conditions: Calm
Water Temperature: 27 - 29°C
Experience Level: Beginner - advanced
Number of dive sites: 12
Distance: 5 km (10 minutes) west of Kapalai
Access: Dive resorts and liveaboard
Recommended length of stay: 5 - 14 days, including Mabul, Sipadan and Kapalai sites
Other sites that can be visited from here: