Mabul Island is a small island located off Sabah in West Malaysia, on the Island of Borneo. Mabul is a popular destination for divers and snorkelers which can only be reached by boat from the town of Semporna.
- Travel: See bus times from Kota Kinabalu to Semporna
About Mabul Island
Mabul Island is tiny. It’s 822 metres long (at its longest point) and 457 metres wide (at its widest point) and rises to approximately 3 metres above sea level (at its highest point). Despite its diminutive size, Mabul Island hosts 10 resorts and 2 villages inhabited by people from a distinct ethnic group which is nomadic and stateless, often referred to as ‘sea gypsies’. Much of the resort accommodation, and large parts of the native villages, is located in the sea built on platforms resting on wooden posts made from the local ironwood, which is less vulnerable to corrosion by saltwater than most other types of wood. Aside from diving, kayaking and snorkelling there is absolutely nothing to do on Mabul Island other than relax on the beach and go swimming. Nonetheless, Mabul Island is an enormously popular destination and if you want to stay there you need to book a long way in advance and pay relatively high accommodation costs for the privilege.
The primary reason Mabul Island is so popular is that it is only 15 minutes away by speed boat from Sipadan Island, which is a strong contender for being the world’s best dive site. Overnight stays at Sipadan Island are prohibited by law, so that means for divers who want to avoid a long daily trip from the mainland to reach the dive sites around Sipadan a stay at Mabul Island is a comfortable alternative to staying overnight on a live board dive boat which will be moored in the evening just outside the restricted zone. Permits to dive at Sipadan Island are limited, typically only 120 divers and snorkelers are allowed each day, and booking into a resort at Mabul Island improves your chance of securing one. The resorts on Mabul tend to be very good at arranging diving permits and the resorts often trade these permits amongst themselves to make best use of them. Mabul Island itself doesn’t have a coral reef to dive off, it does though have plenty of fish and turtles and possibly some of the best ‘muck diving’ sites in the world. Muck diving is popular amongst a section of the diving community and involves searching the ocean floor for the strange and colourful sea creatures that live in the sand, some of which are extremely rare and difficult to spot.
Location of Mabul Island
- Mabul Island is located approximately 30 km by boat to the south of Semporna.