Diving in Mabul Island: A paradise for macro divers

Mabul Island is located in the east of Borneo in the Celebes Sea. The small island is about 20 kilometres away from Semporna. It is always overshadowed by Sipadan, Borneo’s most famous diving region. The islands are close, and many divers start their trips there from Pulau Mabul. In addition, the permits in Borneo’s most beautiful diving area are limited. Therefore Mabul Island is the typical diving area for all those who did not get a permit.

Fortunately, the dive spots around the island have a lot to offer. There are not so many big fishes, and the visibility is worse. But you can dive into a unique world of small, funny-looking creatures. Mabul Island is considered one of the best places in the world for muck diving, if it is not even the best diving area for that.

Mabul Island
Marine life at Pulau Mabul

As usual in macro diving, the visibility is usually rather modest, with about 7 meters around Mabul Island. The corals and seabed inhabitants include much exotic marine life: nudibranchs, blue-ringed octopuses, dwarf squid, dwarf firefish, mantis shrimp, porcelain crabs, pygmy seahorses, hairy jumping crabs, and on and on. One could continue the list indefinitely.

But barracudas, mackerels, and eagle and devil rays also pass by the island’s dive sites. You can even see whale sharks on rare occasions. Many turtles live around Pulau Mabul. Often ten or more of them can be seen during just one dive.

There are plenty of turtles at Mabul
Resting turtle

Dive sites around Mabul Island

Mabul Island does not only offer an insane diversity of underwater life. The selection of dive sites is also outstanding. There are over 15, and many have their unique appeal. Variety is guaranteed with wall dives, many shallow coral reefs, and even a wreck. The dive sites are all quite shallow, rarely exceeding 15 meters. Also, there is only a slight current, so Mabul Island is also suitable for beginners.

Mabul Island diving at Froggies Lair

Froggie's Lair

Froggie’s Lair is probably the most famous spot in Mabul. And a very typical one. The colourful reef slopes continuously until it flattens at around 14 to 15 meters. When the reef turns into sand, the most exciting point is reached. A breathtaking variety of underwater fauna lives on both sides: nudibranchs here, crocodile fish there, and schools of barracuda overhead. In addition, two boats were sunk here. These are also extremely interesting.

Lionfish near Mabul Island


Seaventure promises a memorable diving adventure: the site is located about 16 meters below an old oil platform. On the massive steel substructure of the platform, colourful corals have settled over the years. Macro fans will definitely get their money’s worth. Pygmy seahorses are common here, and lionfish, tassel-shaped scorpionfish, and leaffish also live there. Moray eel sightings are almost a daily occurrence.

Diving at Tinos Paradise

Tino's Paradise

Tino’s Paradise is characterized by a rope that broke a few years ago. Since then, it has been lying on the bottom at a depth of about 16 meters. Meanwhile, a lot of corals have formed on the rope. It has a diameter of more than one meter and is a colourful diving highlight. In addition, the adjacent sandy bottom has a lot to offer. You can find dwarf firefish, stonefish, pipefish, blue-ringed octopus, and many other species around Tino’s Paradise.

Diving Season

Pulau Mabul is a suitable diving destination all year round. However, the best time is during the dry season, from April to November. Then the diving conditions are best. The sea is relatively calm, and visibility is good. And this is also a good time for a beach vacation, as the weather is usually good and pleasantly warm. The water temperature is over 80 °F (27 °C) all year round.

Approximately from December to March is the rainy season. It does not rain all day, but the regular and heavy rains are still noticeable. The sea is then a bit more turbulent, and visibility is worse.

Turtles come to the beaches between May and September to lay their eggs. With a bit of luck, you can experience this highlight live.

Nudibranch at dive near Mabul Island
Nudibranch near Mabul Island

How to get to Mabul Island

Mabul Island is located about 15 kilometres south of Semporna in the Celebes Sea. The arrival is via the airport of Tawau. From there, there is a good road connection to Semporna, which is about 80 kilometres away. The drive takes about an hour. From Semporna, it takes another 15 minutes by boat to Mabul Island. Check in advance with your accommodation how arrival and departure are organized.

Accommodation in Mabul

There are a variety of accommodations on the island, from homestays or budget hotels to luxury resorts and water bungalows. It should be noted that not every accommodation can offer permits for Sipadan. You must stay at least 3 or 4 nights in many accommodations to get a one-day permit. However, even then, there is no guarantee. The chances are better the longer you stay. It is advisable to book your accommodation early. Due to the limited permits, some are often fully booked, especially in the best diving season from March to May.

Travel warning

In the past, including recent ones, there have been kidnappings and attempted kidnappings in the marine area between the Southern Philippines and Sabah. The area includes the islands from Sandakan to Tawau and the coastal regions. Many countries have therefore been advising their citizens against travelling to Mabul Island for many years. Please check the travel and security advice of the relevant ministry in your home country.

Our recommendation

Whether you come to Malaysia just for diving or want to go diving during a Borneo round trip, Mabul Island is undoubtedly worth visiting. For macro diving, the area is world-famous anyway and promises unique encounters. But it is also worthwhile for all other divers with lots of turtles, sometimes sharks or manta rays. Thanks to the proximity to Sipadan, you can connect both islands perfectly. And at the latest, you will see larger sea creatures in abundance in Sipadan.

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