Does the world lie on the back of a gigantic turtle? We don’t know, but we can tell you that Sipadan just might be the centre of the turtle universe. Sea turtles are an endangered species worldwide but this is one of the very few places where close encounters are guaranteed on every dive.
It was the sea turtles that first put the island on the map when it became part of Sabah’s turtle egg native reserve in 1964. Later a 1989 Jacques Cousteau documentary called Ghost of the Sea Turtles launched Sipadan into legendary renown. The late oceanographer described it: “I have seen other places like Sipadan, 45 years ago, but now no more. Now we have found an untouched piece of art.” Till this day, divers speak of Sipadan as among the best diving spots on Earth, featuring many unique highlights.
The island was formed by corals growing atop an extinct undersea volcano over thousands of years. Sipadan is pretty much a column of rock rising 600m (2000 feet) from the sea floor, poking out of the ocean 10km (6.2 miles) south of the continental shelf. Enveloped in strong, nutrient-rich currents in the middle of the Indo-Pacific basin, many thousands of species converge here in this ecological city of wonders.
Turtle Cavern – Turtle Cave – Turtle Tomb
When you walk from the Island away to the drop off on the right and 20 metres underwater is the mysterious Turtle Cavern which leads to the Turtle Cave with the Turtle Tomb. The picture above is featuring Alexander schepens and our Cave dive instructor Jimmy when we exited the cave and entered the cavern….clear signs are warning not properly trained and equipped divers not proceed further.
Diving through the mysterious cave system is an unforgettable experience, and by many accounts likely second only to the”cenotes” of Mexico. Once you entered the cavern on the left side you will find the entrance to the cave. A narrow corridor of about 25 meters leads then into the major chamber of the Turtle Tomb and all the connecting chambers, shelfs and tunnels. This is nothing for the fainthearted as the dead ends are many on the way to the tomb nearly 200m from the entrance where turtle skulls and bones litter the bottom.
The cave is one of the most beautiful coral caves that can be found anywhere.
Unlike at limestone caves no stalagmites have formed here but the colours at the walls do indicate different water levels over time. The white sandy bottom and bright coloured ceiling enhance rather than absorb the light of the torches. The shelfs are home to the caves occupants, most notably flashlight fish, moray eels, spiny cave lobster, shrimp and large snapper that often take advantage of a divers light to get their prey.
Skeletons have been found of turtles that had lost their way and drowned inside, earning the cave its name and a folk belief that this was the final resting place of turtles. Proper training and equipment are required to fully explore this cave system, without which you could suffer the same fate. But swimming just a few meters into the cavern is for most divers already thrilling enough, if only for the majestic view of the deep blue sea out from inside.
We went for you inside…….with the proper equipment.
Laying careful and correct safety lines while getting in….finning frog style to avoid that the very very fine dust is kicked up from the bottom blinding not only the view for photographing but also blinding our view on our way out.
Once inside the tomb there are 10’s of turtle skeletons. Older ones and very recently died turtles which bodies are still decomposing. As we progressed through our dive we started thinking…..but the only skeletons we see are from adult turtles. True or not but at least we did not find bones from young turtles….so while it is obvious that also turtles would get lost here maybe there is more to the story and the popular belief that turtles come here to die.
On the way out of the Tomb and after you exit through the narrow corridor almost into the cavern there is a 25 m deep hole on the left side. Once you enter and decent you find a skeleton of a Dolphin who also came here and died….while seemingly he could have easily found the way out ….?
For Alexander and myself it was indeed an unforgettable experience which we will always treasure….the darkness is so dark, the clarity of the water so clear, the silence so silent…..and the spirits of the turtles so present.
Enjoy the below photo gallery and please contact us for any further info as you plan your next diving holiday.
© All for a smile