Diving at Sepanggar Island, Kota Kinabalu with Dive Borneo Bah!

Sepanggar Island Scuba Diving

I must admit, before June 2023, I'd never heard of Sepanggar Island. When I was invited by a friend to go diving at Sepanggar Island, Kota Kinabalu, I was naturally a bit sceptical.

Kota Kinabalu has a mediocre reputation as a diving destination, probably due to overcrowding at the more well-known Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park.

A quick Google search introduced me to Dive Borneo Bah!, a company based in Kota Kinabalu that runs diving operations to Sepanggar. The images of the corals and wildlife found there certainly got me intrigued.

I have been diving for a few years, mostly around the Peninsular Malaysia islands of Tioman and Perhentian. Sepanggar would be my first diving experience in Borneo; therefore, I was keen to experience what it could offer.

Diving at Sepanggar Island, Kota Kinabalu - trip report

We met up with the Dive Borneo Bah team at Jesselton Point at 8 am, and by 8.15, we were ready to board the dive boat. We were led by divemasters Harry and Brian; additionally, we were joined by Mr Johnny Chew, the owner of Dive Borneo Bah.

Scuba Diving Sepanggar Island
Gearing up for the dive.

The entire team was friendly and professional throughout; moreover, they were keen to emphasise safety, responsible diving, and having fun!

For this trip, we could only do two dives; therefore, the divemasters chose two dive sites - Clement's Reef for the corals and South Point for macro (and a star attraction - more on this later).

Clement's Reef

This dive site is located to the north of Sepanggar Island. As we descended, the visibility was pretty good, around 20 metres. The divemasters say the visibility can be as good as 20 - 30 metres, depending on the season. There was a mild current; however, this wasn't a problem as we simply drifted along, making for a leisurely dive.

Sepanggar Island Corals
The coral's formations appear healthy.

The coral formations were beautiful and healthy with minimal bleaching; marine life was prolific. Throughout the dive, we were accompanied by schools of snappers, fusiliers, damselfishes and wrasses.

The divemasters also showed us several porcupinefish, a scorpionfish and a few nudibranchs, including a gorgeous black-and-yellow one they call the 'Pokemon nudibranch'!

Nudibranch Sepanggar Island
This stunning Hypselodoris nudibranch was spotted by one of the divemasters.

The surface interval was done at a sheltered cove nearby, accompanied by generous servings of coffee and locally-sourced biscuits.

Sepanggar Mount Kinabalu View
The great view of Mount Kinabalu during the surface interval, especially in good weather.

South Point

As its name suggests, this dive site is located on the southern point of the island. Here we will be focusing on macro, including a fish that has been a star attraction at this place recently.

The visibility could have been better than the previous site; however, it was still decent at around 15 metres. There was no current, and the temperature was a comfortable 31℃.

Sepanggar Island Underwater Marine Life
This Zebra Lionfish was sheltering within a barrel sponge.

As soon as we reached the seafloor, we spotted two Zebra Lionfish sheltering in a barrel sponge. A few metres away, three small cuttlefish were huddling near the bottom, well camouflaged.

As we moved, the divemaster pointed out interesting animals, including a porcelain crab and transparent cleaner shrimps. Sheltered amongst a rock, we spotted banded coral shrimps, dancing shrimps and a gorgeous electric flame scallop.

Underwater Photography Sepanggar Island
This tiny porcelain crab was difficult to spot as it hid amongst the anemone.

Diving Sepanggar Island
Nice coral formations at South Point.

The Star Attraction

As dive time was running out, I wondered if we could spot the star attraction. Sure enough, divemaster Brian soon alerted us to the presence of this well-camouflaged bottom-dweller - an orange-coloured frogfish! (I believe this is a juvenile Painted Frogfish)

Sepanggar Island Frogfish
The frogfish was masterfully camouflaged, posing as a piece of sponge or coral on the seafloor.

The fish was astounding! Barely bigger than my fist, it has a big upturned mouth and dark spots scattered throughout its irregularly-shaped body.

This bizarre-looking fish was slowly 'walking' on the seafloor; moreover, it was swaying its body along with the currents, completing its camouflage act. I was fortunate enough to observe and photograph this fish up close, which was an amazing experience.

After the dive ended, the dive team dismantled and packed up the diving gear, and we headed off for the short hop back to Kota Kinabalu.

Sepanggar Island Dive Boat
The dive team efficiently packed up the diving gear before heading back.

General Information on Diving at Sepanggar Island, Kota Kinabalu

Where is Sepanggar Island?

Location of Sepanggar Island
Location of Sepanggar Island, in relation to Kota Kinabalu city.

Sepanggar Island is located 7 km north of Kota Kinabalu, opposite the naval base at Sepanggar Bay. The island can be accessed from Jesselton Point in the heart of Kota Kinabalu and takes about 10 - 20 mins to get to, depending on the dive site.

How to go to Sepanggar Island?

Sepanggar Island is easily accessible due to its proximity to Kota Kinabalu. There are multiple flights a day to Kota Kinabalu International Airport from Kuala Lumpur and other major cities in Malaysia; there are also direct international flights from Singapore, China, Hong Kong and South Korea.

Accommodation can be found throughout the city, ranging from budget to luxurious 5-star hotels. Likewise, food and shopping options are plentiful and cater to every taste and budget.

Jesselton Point (the main jetty of Kota Kinabalu) can be easily reached by car/e-hailing from anywhere within the city; additionally, some hotels are conveniently located within walking distance.

Dive Borneo Bah! - The Dive Operator at Sepanggar

Only a few operators are diving at Sepanggar Island, and Dive Borneo Bah is the most experienced one. This diving company is owned by Mr Johnny Chew and is based in Kota Kinabalu. Mr Chew is a well-respected and extremely experienced diver and used to be the regional manager for PADI.

The company has been running dive operations in Sepanggar since 2018; therefore, they are familiar with the dive sites and animals you may see there.

The diving packages offered include full or half-day fun dives, night safari dives, discover scuba dives, and snorkelling sessions. They also conduct PADI Open Water, Advanced and Rescue Diver courses. For further enquiries, kindly contact Dive Borneo Bah directly, and they will be more than happy to assist you.

What can you see there?

Marine Life Sepanggar Island
The Two-spot Banded Snapper is an uncommon species; nevertheless, it can be seen here.

Despite its proximity to Kota Kinabalu, Sepanggar Island is quite pristine; therefore, it offers the possibility of encountering a kaleidoscope of colourful and interesting marine life:

  • Sepanggar is quite good for macro - you may see seahorses, nudibranchs, reef shrimps, porcelain crabs, lobsters, etc.
  • Interesting bottom-dwelling fish such as scorpionfish, devilfish, lionfish, frogfish, pipefish and several types of clownfish.
  • Sharks - it's possible to see the leopard, bamboo, nurse and cat sharks here; moreover, if you're really lucky, you may encounter a Whale Shark!
  • Cuttlefish, reef squid and octopi.
  • Schooling barracudas, fusiliers and snappers, including the uncommon two-spot banded snapper.
  • Colourful reef fish include parrotfishes, Moorish Idols, butterflyfishes, and wrasses (including the gorgeous Blueside Fairy-wrasse).
  • Sea turtles (Hawksbill and Green).
  • Featherstars, blue starfish, whip corals and barrel sponges.

Sepanggar Island Cuttlefish
These small cuttlefish were huddling together, well camouflaged. They were spotted at South Point.

Dive sites around Sepanggar Island

There are at least 18 dive sites surrounding the island, including:

  • Clement's Reef
  • South Point
  • JC's Runway
  • Macro Haven
  • Bikini Bottom (yes, this refers to that Bikini Bottom!)

Dive Sites Sepanggar Island
Dive sites around Sepanggar Island. Image credit: Dive Borneo Bah!

From talking to Mr Johnny and the other divemasters, Clement's Reef is consistently one of the best/favourite dive sites at Sepanggar.

When to go?

You can go diving at Sepanggar year-round; however, certain times of the year may be preferable:

  • Jan - March: the water temperature is cooler (around 28℃); however, this is nudibranch season and the best time to spot the Whale Shark!
  • Apr - early July: this is when the visibility is best, averaging 20m or more.
  • November - February: the monsoon season brings about more rain and decreased visibility; however, diving is still regularly conducted as Kota Kinabalu is not badly affected by the monsoon.

Things that are good to know

  • You will usually meet the diving team at Jesselton Point. Jesselton Point is located in Kota Kinabalu city centre; hence, it's easily accessible.
  • There are no changing areas at the jetty, so you can either wear your dive clothes beforehand or change on the boat. Bring along towels and a change of clothes to dry up after the dives.
  • The day dives usually start at 8 am, and the night safari dives begin around 5 pm.
  • Lunch is included if you opt for a full-day trip (3 dives). Snacks and hot drinks are included for a half-day trip (2 dives).
  • Dive Borneo Bah discourages single-use plastics; hence, they won't use disposable plastic packaging. This is a good thing!
  • The dive boats are equipped with a first aid kit and emergency oxygen.
  • They carry spare equipment (i.e. spare regulators) on every diving trip.
  • I like that they beforehand request your relevant diving information using an online Google form. This way, everything is ready by the time you meet them. For example, using the form, you can indicate which equipment you need to rent or any other special needs such as food allergies. You can also provide them with your height, weight and shoe size, ensuring everything will fit properly when you arrive.
  • Note that the dive team will set up and disassemble the dive gear for you.
Dive Borneo Bah!
Contact them via Facebook.
Call/Whatsapp: 012 323 0036

Sepanggar Dive Centre
Dive Borneo Bah!


In summary, diving at Sepanggar Island is a great way to enjoy beautiful corals, colourful fish and interesting macro wildlife, all within 20 minutes from bustling Kota Kinabalu. It's especially great for those who want the convenience of a big city without compromising the diving experience.

Additionally, I was impressed with Dive Borneo Bah operations and professionalism. The friendly and knowledgeable staff also goes a long way!

I look forward to diving at Sepanggar with Dive Borneo Bah again in the future. With numerous excellent diving sites and away from the bustling crowds, Sepanggar Island is a hidden gem and one of Kota Kinabalu's best-kept secrets!

This article was written by Ashraf Anuar Zaini, a scuba diving birder who writes for Birdwatching Asia.

Malaysia Asia

Blogging since 2007, but writing online since 1997. I belong to the 1st generation of worldwide bloggers, which is of course old-school. Since 2008, I created Malaysia Asia and this travel, flood, gadget and lifestyle blog has won numerous physical awards from tourism boards around Malaysia. (Not those online awards). After 12 years of blogging, I have semi-retired and now blog about things I like, do product reviews and enjoy life. My work has been featured in Lonely Planet, CNN Travel, Yahoo Travel, Wall Street Journal, and many other international publications. Find out more about me and thank you.

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