Diving at Mantanani Island Trip Report

Mantanani Island Scuba Diving

Sabah is very well regarded as a scuba diving destination in Malaysia. Destinations such as Sipadan and Mabul need no introduction. However, many lesser-known islands dot the coast of Sabah, and one of these is Mantanani Island (Malay = Pulau Mantanani).

In mid-October 2023, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to go diving at Mantanani Island with JSK Mantanani Island Resorts and here is my scuba diving trip report.

Diving at Mantanani Island Trip Report

Mantanani Island Resort JSK Jetty
The main jetty at JSK Mantanani Resort is picture-postcard perfect!

This diving session came about fortuitously, as I was primarily at Mantanani Island for birdwatching. Due to the last-minute nature of the arrangement, it was only possible to visit one dive site.

Despite this, all the arrangements were efficiently handled by the recreational manager of JSK Mantanani Resort, Mr Dasuki. Being a divemaster himself, he would also be joining the dive session. The dive team set up all my equipment, and we were ready to go.

At about 4 pm, we headed to one of the divemaster's favourite dive sites - 'Tukun'. This dive site was a mere 5 minutes away by speedboat. According to the divemasters, the 'Tukun' dive site is a mix of natural coral formations and artificial reefs.

These artificial reefs consisted of concrete blocks placed by the government to attract more sea life. The dive site is no deeper than 20 metres.

Scuba Diving Mantanani Island
Going down! (Image credit: DM Azizul JSK Mantanani Resort)

As soon as we entered the water, it was immediately apparent that the visibility was excellent (about 20 metres). The clear blue water and the gorgeous afternoon sunlight made for beautiful underwater vistas. Led by divemaster Azizul, we headed straight down to 19 metres. The dive site was a ridge of beautiful coral formations flanked by white sand.

Pulau Mantanani Diving
The clear water and gorgeous afternoon sunlight make for a breathtaking underwater vista. (Image credit: DM Azizul JSK Mantanani Resorts)

Marine life was plentiful along the main coral ridge. We were accompanied by large schools of colourful tropical fish, such as snappers, fusiliers, surgeonfish and butterflyfish.

The corals were very healthy, with various colourful hard and soft corals bringing the reef to life. Moreover, I did not notice any significant coral bleaching.

Mantanani Island Corals
The corals at this dive site were healthy and teeming with marine life. (Image credit: DM Azizul JSK Mantanani Resorts)

Mantanani Artificial Reefs

Located on the sandy expanse adjacent to the reef, several cubical concrete structures came into view. These are the aforementioned artificial reefs, or 'tukun'. The hollow structures provide ample hiding places for fish and other marine life. The structures are covered in sessile marine creatures, such as anemones, soft corals and sponges.

Artificial Reef Mantanani Island
The hollow concrete artificial reefs were teeming with life. (Image credit: DM Azizul JSK Mantanani Resorts)

Swimming around the artificial reefs, I saw a kaleidoscope of colourful tropical marine fish. A trumpetfish was spotted hunting amongst one of the hollow structures. Not far away, a gorgeous Zebra Lionfish was sheltering within. Various surgeonfish grazed the surfaces for algae, and numerous butterflyfishes gave the whole area a dash of colour.

Lionfish Mantanani Island
Look closely, and you can see a Zebra Lionfish sheltering within this artificial reef! (Image credit: DM Azizul JSK Mantanani Resorts)

Ending the dive

Before ending the dive, divemaster Azizul led me around the other side of the main coral ridge. Again, I was impressed at the beauty and the pristine nature of the reef. We ended the dive just before 5 pm and returned on the short boat ride to JSK Resort.

Marine creatures encountered while diving at Mantanani Island

During my dive session, I managed to spot the following marine creatures:

  1. Several types of angelfishes, including the Six-banded Angelfish, Semicircle Angelfish and the breathtakingly beautiful Regal Angelfish
  2. Butterflyfish include the Long-nosed Butterflyfish, Pennant Bannerfish, Humphead Bannerfish and Spot-tail Butterflyfish.
  3. Large school of Big-eyed Snappers
  4. Porcupinefish
  5. Groupers such as Slender Grouper, Coral Hind, and Leopard Coral-grouper
  6. A Bent-stick Pipefish was well camouflaged on the seafloor.
  7. Trumpetfish are quite common here
  8. The aforementioned Zebra Lionfish
  9. Dash-and-Dot and Two-barred Goatfish.
  10. Many colourful nudibranchs can be seen amongst the reef. According to the divemaster Azizul, this dive site is quite suitable for macro life.
  11. Many more that I can't remember!

Pulau Mantanani Marine Life
A large school of Bigeye Snappers accompanied us during the dive. (Image credit: DM Azizul JSK Mantanani Resorts)

General Information on diving at Mantanani Island

Where is Mantanani Island?

Mantanani Island is located roughly 90 km northeast of Kota Kinabalu, as the crow flies. Access to the island is via boat from jetties at Kuala Abai or Rampayan Laut.

Both jetties are around 1.5 to 2 hours drive time (depending on traffic) from Kota Kinabalu city centre. This relatively close proximity to a major city makes the Mantanani Islands convenient to access.

Location of Mantanani Island
Mantanani Island is located roughly 90 km north-east of Kota Kinabalu.

Pulau Pulau Mantanani
Map showing the Mantanani Islands.

Where is JSK Mantanani Island Resorts?

The resort is located on the north side of Pulau Mantanani Besar. Access to the resort is from their jetty at Rampayan Laut. Simply search for 'JSK Rampayan Jetty' using Google or a navigation app. The boat ride to the island takes around 45 minutes, depending on sea conditions.

Pulau Mantanani Besar
Map of Pulau Mantanani Besar, showing where JSK Mantanani Resorts is located.

When to go diving at Mantanani Island?

You can go to Mantanani Island year-round; however, the monsoon season usually increases winds and rainfall and decreases visibility.

The monsoon season is usually from November to February. Nevertheless, Sabah as a whole isn't as severely affected by the monsoon as some other states in Malaysia.

The dive operator - JSK Mantanani Island Resorts

This well-appointed resort only recently began offering SCUBA dives to its guests. According to Mr Dasuki, they started their diving operations on the 1st of October, 2023 (barely three weeks before I arrived).

Nevertheless, they have scouted the islands and have around 15 dive sites available. This number will likely get higher in the future.

Dive Package Promotion Pulau Mantanani
The JSK Mantanani Resort banner advertising their diving packages.

The diving packages start at RM 250 and include the following options:

  • Discover SCUBA dives (DSD) for non-divers looking to get their feet wet.
  • Fun dives (day and/or night) for certified divers.

If you would like to go diving at Mantanani Island with JSK Mantanani Island Resorts, head over to the links below:

Additional Information on the Mantanani Islands

Mantanani Island Sabah
The Mantanani Islands are surrounded by breathtakingly beautiful azure waters. The small island on the left is Pulau Lungisan.

The Mantanani Islands are made up of three islands. These are Pulau Mantanani Besar (where all the resorts are), Pulau Mantanani Kecil and Pulau Lungisan. In addition to the resorts, several villages are located around Pulau Mantanani Besar. Conversely, Pulau Mantanani Kecil is uninhabited, with only a maritime radar station.

Pulau Lungisan is a small island in between the two Mantanani Islands. This steep-sided islet is uninhabitable and is a major seabird roosting site.

Mantanani Island is famous for its white sand beaches and azure blue waters. The sunsets and sunrises are stunning and among the best in Sabah. Consequently, the island is popular with tourists looking for fun in the sea and sun.

Sunrise at Mantanani Island
The sunrise seen from the JSK Mantanani jetty is absolutely stunning!

Another thing that Mantanani was famous for in the past was the dugong. These shy and endangered marine mammals frequently visited the surrounding waters to look for food.

There was even a documentary about the relationship between a boy and a dugong filmed here a while back. Unfortunately, these gentle sea creatures can no longer be regularly found here.

Additionally, about 11 years ago, my colleague David also did some scuba diving at Mantanani Island, and you can also read his article from a decade ago.

Conclusion:

Scuba diving at Mantanani Island is a great way to explore a less well-known scuba diving destination. The clear, blue waters and vibrant marine life will likely excite divers and nature lovers.

Its location within 2 - 3 hours of Kota Kinabalu makes it quite convenient to access. If you're looking to dive in Sabah, the Mantanani Islands are well worth considering.

Even though it was just one dive, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was particularly impressed by the pristine corals and the multitude of marine life that I encountered during the dive.

The picture-perfect island just makes the overall experience even more memorable! I look forward to returning to Mantanani Island and JSK Mantanani Island Resorts to explore the other dive sites.

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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