Popular Dive Sites around Tioman Island
As far as I'm concerned, this is the most beautiful dive site in Tioman without a doubt. This submerged underwater pinnacle, situated between Pulau Labas and Pulau Sepoi, begins at 12 m deep and slides down to deeper than 40 m, embracing small boulders & caves covered with colorful soft coral and underwater swim-through formations in between, which makes perfect for wide-angle photography. The rock formation is simply amazing because everything is covered in soft coral, hard corals, sea whips, crinoids, sea fans and barrel sponges. The coral life here is relatively well-preserved because this site is rarely dived. Strong currents often bring schools of yellow snappers, fusiliers, barracudas, jacks, turtles and sharks whilst colorful tropical reef fish such as angelfish, butterfly fish, emperor angelfish and parrot fish, etc.often wander carelessly through diversely shaped sea fans & barrel sponge corals at the deepest part. At 45-48m deep, there is also a weirdly shaped sponge coral area, looking like a kind of sculpture museum, which is the best theme park that I've ever visited.
Bahara Rock / Bahara Light House
Locally knwon as Tokong Bahara, this is my second favorite dive site on Tioman Island. These isolated sea mounts host a navigation lighthouse since this area is regarded as a main shipping line for fishing trawlers and passenger boats. Due to its isolated location in the middle of open sea, strong currents often bring large pelagic animals such as manta rays, eagle rays, sharks and GTs. Perfect for a drift dive, this small sunken rock, located on the southwestern corner of Tioman Island gives a great wall formation covered with colorful soft coral and sponge coral, making home for many reef fish species. I often dived this site very early at sunrise on Sunday mornings before sailing back to Singapore and crystal-clear water & strong current brought many pelagic animals like giant trevallies, black-tip reef sharks, green turtles, manta rays and eagle rays. It is told that once a whale shark was spotted here on 01 April and that everybody considered this whale shark as an April fool's joke.
This dive site got its name from its discovery by Admiral Keppel who first came to Singapore in 1837. The vessel HMS Magicienne, the 24 gun frigate was passing through these waters at the moment when this rock formation was discovered. The rock pinnacle rises from 8 m below the surface and the surrounding coral plateaus are the habitat of large manta rays, whale shark (normally spotted in the early part of the season March/April), rainbow runners, barracudas and other equatorial reef species. It is a wonderfully large reef with an abundance of marine life and the coral diversity here is fantastic. Giant moray eels, hunting jacks & trevallies, green sea turtles and schools of yellow reef fish are almost guaranteed here.Some of the largest Gorgonian sea fans can be found here, too. This sunken reef, ranging between 8-40 m, is spread widely in the middle of the ocean. Located at the northern tip of the island, this area is filled with golden hard coral boulders covered in green moss looking like a Christmas tree. Hard cabbage coral on this site is relatively pristine and untouched. This is the dive site where I have seen the most black tip sharks around the island. As it is located in the open sea, current can be quite strong sometimes. Normally, divers jump in up current and drift one time along the large reef.
Chebeh Island offers 2 main dive sites; North & South. The choice can be made depending on the current direction. This dive site is characterized by being a cluster of large volcanic rocks that go down to a sandy flat bottom at a depth of 27 meters. The rocks form crevices and tunnels large enough to allow divers to enter and explore. Sea conditions are usually calm but visibility reaches 8 meters only. There may be a swell and some currents on the surface, but they soften up as you reach greater depths. The highlight of Pulau Chebeh is many swimthroughs and tunnels in the shallow area (6-15m) created by huge volcanic rock formations. Mini wall diving, underwater canyons, incredible boulder formations mixed with rich and dense colorful soft corals as well as the gorgonian sea fan gardens make this a very popular site. The topography of this site is fascinating with swim through between granite boulders, mini-tunnels and small caves. At 20 m deep, there is also a big cave filled with yellow reef fish to explore. When it comes to fauna and flora, the most common species are soft corals, black corals, colorful gorgonians, pufferfish, angelfish, butterflyfish, wrasses, morays, mutton snappers, blennies and lizardfish. In the sandy bottom, you'll be able to observe hard corals, Christmas tree worms, annelids, starfish, cushion stars, scorpionfish and stingrays. Pulau Chebeh also offers great night diving by giving opportunities to spot red cowries, hermit crabs, sleeping baby sharks, stone fish and crocodile fish.
Pulau Labas This island resembles a piece of Swiss cheese due to it abundance of caverns. Pulau Labas has two dive sites depending on the conditions; the head and the tail, both of which being equally fascinating to swim through. This is a really beautiful reef with many caverns and huge labyrinths of swimthroughs full of tropical reef fish. Labas with its overgrown rock formation makes a very easy and perfect dive for beginners as there is usually no current and the reef is quite shallow. You can see black tip reef sharks as well as many Titan trigger fish and moray eels. This is also a good place for underwater photography in Tioman. This dive site is characterized by a cluster of large volcanic rocks that slide down to a flat sandy bottom at a depth of 17 meters. The rocks form crevices and tunnels large enough to allow the diver to enter and explore. There is also a small steel wreck on the northwestern side of this site which is the remains of a Japanese fishing boat, but what remains of this wreck is just its skeleton. Sea conditions are usually calm but visibility reaches 5 meters only. You should take special caution due to the strong swell that can occur in this area. The site has no signaling buoy because the whole island can be circled in a single dive. About fauna and flora, the most common species are soft corals, black corals, colorful gorgonians, pufferfish, angelfish, butterflyfish, wrasses, morays, mutton snappers, blennies, lizardfish, cuttlefish, hard corals, annelids, starfish, cushion stars, scorpionfish and stingrays. Titan Triggerfish here can be a little feisty and sometimes attack divers. Though they are not really capable of serious direct damage, the experience can be unnerving and lead to greater problems. This is my favorite place for night diving around Tioman for its variety of small creatures, such as anemone crabs, squat shrimps, nudibranchs, gobies and sea horses, which is good for macro or super macro photography.
Renggis Island is located just minutes away from Lalang beach and Kampung Tekek which is the main village in Tioman Island. To be exact, this small island is located right in front of the boat jetty to Berjaya Beach, Golf & Spa Resort. Island-bound visitors from Mersing will surely pass by this tiny forest-clad rocky outcrop. This is a popular site for beginners because it's shallow (5-12 m) except when descending to the shipwreck at 25 m and there is very little current. Visibility is quite average if not slightly poor at about 8-10 m. Usually, weekend live aboard operators departing from Singapore stop here first on Saturday mornings to do a check dive after sailing overnight from Singapore on Fridays whilst the boat crew clear the customs at the main jetty located near the island. The number 1 highlight of this dive site for me is definitely its extra-large resident green turtle with shiny purple eyes that I see almost every time I dive this site. This turtle is often nesting among the hard corals and eating dead jellyfish bodies or soft coral remnants. It is the most friendly creature on Tioman Island for it appears to be enjoying trying different postures in front of my camera as if it was waiting to be photographed. Blue spotted rays and black tip reef sharks are also a main attraction of this dive site. Apart from these big animals, there are many kinds of reef fish to spot, such as gold-band fusiliers, peacock rock cods, spine cheek breams, different types of wrasses and parrot fish. The variety of hard corals of this dive site is rather decent. Beautiful fields of green stag horn (Acropora loisetteae) corals do create a beautiful underwater scenery. Otherwise, most areas are filled with brown hard corals, plate corals, leaf corals and encrusted plate corals. You can also find different type of sea anemones with several colors. In fact, I even saw a colony of multi-colored sea anemones hosting both false clown anemonefish and tomato coral anemonefish. Perhaps due to its topography of mild sloping gradient, the dive site lacks of spectacular soft coral species such as large gorgonians which are more prevalent in a boulder wall diving spot.
This dive site noticeably hosts a colorful selection of sea sponges such as green sponges and blue tube sponges. Otherwise, the soft coral species are mostly dominated by leathery finger corals and knobby finger corals with bright green star feathers. You can also find a kind of wooden structure with a rusty bike and a running machine attached here and sometimes, cute black tip baby reef sharks and blue spotted rays swim through it, which makes a comical, fun scenery for my underwater photography. I am assuming that this was put in here by one of the dive shops to have their open water students practice their buoyancy. Another particular highlight of this dive site is the existence of a shipwreck a few hundred feet away from the rocky outcrop of Pulau Renggis. In fact, there is even a stone monument before entering the shipwreck zone on which the details of this wooden fishing trawler were etched. According to the information that I gathered through the internet, this ship was sunken by a team of Dive Logic members. As far as I am concerned, this shipwreck is not quite interesting to explore due to poor visibility and lack of soft coral life. Pulau Renggis is also a popular site for night diving due to its great macro life such as nudibranchs, anemone crabs, blue ribbon eels, gobies, etc.
Pulau Jahat is another spectacular rocky dive site in Tioman. The name, ?Pulau Jahat? means naughty island in Malay. The locals also call it Batu Jahat. Batu means Rock in Malay language. With depths varying from 5 to 25 meters, the dive here is exciting and extremely challenging during strong currents. This rocky island is surrounded by large boulders that create tunnels to swim through plus caves and corridors. As this site has a dramatic series of underwater pinnacles and coral bommies, the tour around the caves is one of a kind. Pulau Jahat has everything from giant rocks with swim throughs, hard & soft corals & vast arrays of fish; whether it be a small clown fish, or a group of giant bump head parrot fish. Torches are necessary to witness the beautiful scenery inside the caves. There are also coral garden beds filled with diversely shaped sea fans and purple soft coral species here at the deeper part below 20 m and this is really beautiful to photograph. The marine life on the current side can be simply amazing, including jacks, GTs, dogtooth tunas, mackerels, barracudas, common tropical reef fish, green sea turtles and the must-see sharks. On top of this amazing pelagic life, a myriad of small critters such as nudibranchs, blennies and sea horses can also be seen here for those who like shooting macro.
Salang House Reef
Salang Village is located in the northwestern tip of Tioman Island, which is the last stop of the ferries arriving from Mersing. The jetty area connecting to Dive Asia delivers an amazing shore dive including Roger wreck, which is a small broken wreck which used to be a wooden Thai fishing trawler which lies at 20 m deep sandy bottom. When you ascend to the deck of this wreck at 12 m deep, you can swim through hundreds of schooling yellowtails, which is an amazing experience. A buoyancy structure with a rusty bicycle was deliberately placed by local dive instructors. Right below the arrival jetty, a huge twirling school of shiny silver bait fish can be spotted. On top of this shallow reef built of Staghorn, Tabletop, Brain and Blue corals and anemones, schools of bumphead parrot fish and hawksbill turtles often swim through. There is a good macro life, too, including a variety of sea horses, pipefish, hingebeak shrimps, saddleback clownfish and nesting cuttle fish. Night diving here can be fascination also as you can often spot parrot fish sleeping in their cocoons, hunting yellow head moray eels, scorpion fish, rabbit fish and sleeping green turtle.
Tioman Wreck Diving
The deepest, the biggest and probably the most interesting wreck for experienced divers to explore on Tioman Island is KM Sipadan; This former Royal Malaysian Navy warship was sunken on 29 March 2012 to become an artificial reef. KM Sipadan was commissioned about 48 years ago under the name of KD Sri Sawarak and the warship was later renamed as KM Sipadan. It was decommissioned by the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency in 2005. Prior to its sinking, it was cleaned not to pollute the South China Sea and its engine as well as weapons was removed. She is 31 m long and 4.5 m wide and lies now at the Sawadee dive site at the depth of 32 meters with the deck at around 25 meters. Sawadee is just south of ABC. Due to the depth of the wreck, it is especially suitable for Nitrox, Wreck and Deep Specialty courses. It is attracting lots of fish life and thanks to its large openings, it can be penetrated both from stern to bow or vice versa. This wreck sits upright 32 m deep and is connected with lines to the 2 former fishing vessels (the Sawadee Wrecks). It is better to dive these wrecks using Nitrox to have a longer bottom time so that you won't go into deco. So far, only 1 diver death was reported on this wreck, which occurred during an Advanced Open Water Course. This is the only wreck with its shape relatively well preserved on this island. Apart from KM Sipadan, there are several nameless illegal Thai fishing trawlers sunken all around the island but these are mostly bits and pieces, therefore, not very photogenic.
Tioman Macro Life
I have seen a wide variety of crabs during night dives at Pulau Renggis, Pulau Labas and Pulau Chebeh, such as hermit crabs, anemone crabs, spider crabs, porcelain crabs and some peculiar looking shiny red crabs with black dots, of which I don't know the names. I also have encountered many kinds of sand gobies accompanied by partner shrimps, cute hard coral blennies, a wide range of nudibranchs, colorful reef fish sleeping in their cocoons and scorpion fish on the sandy bottom while I was shore diving at Salang House Reef, departing from Dive Asia. The most special macro creature that I saw for the first time in my life at Tioman is an Indian devil walker toddling clumsily on the sandy bottom of Salang House Reef; I didn't even know its name until a Facebook friend of mine told me what it was. As all the weekend live aboard boats departing from Singapore mandatorily schedule one night dive for Saturday evening (I don't know why), I had to change into macro port & lens because wide angle photography is not interesting during night diving for me, even though I am not that into macro photography which I suck at and find rather boring, but for those who are passionate about macro / super macro photography, I think Tioman Island can be as interesting as Lembeh Strait or Anilao for many unknown and unusual species of crabs and weird reef fish behaviors that you often see during night diving.
Mini-Bio of Diver, Isabella Lee (Korean Name: Young Hee Lee)
Born in Feb 1971, South Korea, I had left Seoul at the age of 19 and lived in France, Germany, Australia & Papua New Guinea. I currently reside in Singapore since Nov 2014. I have been taking underwater photos for over 15 years now since Nikonos / film era and I currently own 4 sets of DSLR cameras; Canon 7D, Canon 5D Mark II, Canon 5D Mark III and Nikon D810 which is my favorite for its focusing speed, image clarity & functional versatility. I have been diving in many countries such as Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines, Solomon Islands, Fiji, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, Seychelles, Mexico, Palau, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, etc. and my favorite diving places are Miline Bay in PNG, Great Barrier Reef in Australia and Maldives. I am a zero gravity breather. I like spending my time underwater because it offers me a kind of escape and sanctuary from noisy above ground reality. I love living this illusion of being on another world underwater, breathing peacefully in no gravity environment. Every minute, every second spent underwater is memorably special and immensely precious for me whereas time spent on earth between my dives is nothing but an annoying process of finding & preparing means for my next dive trips so that I could go back to underwater world quickly and spend maximum of my time there again and everything else seems quite trivial to me.
Words & Pictures: Isabella Lee
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