Location of Mabul Island in Darvel Bay
Mabul is a small island off the south-eastern coast of Sabah in Malaysia. The island has been a fishing village since the 1970s. Then in the 1990s, it first became popular to divers due to its proximity to Sipadan island.
Located 15 km from Sipadan, this 20-hectare piece of land surfaces 2–3 meters above sea level, consists mostly flat grounds and aerial view is oval-shaped. Surrounding it are sandy beaches, perched on the northwest corner of a larger two square kilometre reef.
Mabul island is administered by Semporna, Tawau district.
There are 2 main villages on the island i.e. "Kampung Mabul" and "Kampung Musu". From 1999 census, it was recorded that there are approximately 2000 villagers living in Mabul, half of them children below 14 years old. The majority are immigrants from relatively nearby clusters of islands of the southern Philippines. They are mainly Bajau Laut and Suluk Muslims who live a nomadic lifestyle.
Basic amenities include a mosque, schools, community and fishermen hall. The main transportation mode from one point to another is by boat.
Mainly fishermen, the village source of income depends on sea products such as squid and fish. Traditional fishing methods are called "Payau" and "Sangkaliya". Mabul fishermen prefers catches close to the Malaysia-Philippines borders, perhaps due to its abundance. An average fishing trip will take 3–5 days out in the sea. When the men return, their catches are being sold in the mainland, Semporna.
It was said that Mabul was owned by a man from Menampilik island. Back in the 1970s, he and the villagers then used to plant coconuts on the island, apart from fishing. Later in 1992, Sipadan Mabul Resort (SMART) purchased a part of land on the east of Mabul intended for tourism.
It is more correctly recognised now that the reason for the quality of the MUCK Diving is simply a result of overfishing uses of cyanide and dynamite by the local people of this area.
The reef is on the edge of the continental shelf and the seabed surrounding the reef slopes out to 25 to 30 m deep. There are several dive resorts operating on Mabul island.
Mabul is arguably one of the richest single destinations for exotic small marine life anywhere in the world. Flamboyant cuttlefish, blue-ringed octopus, mimic octopus and bobtail squids are just a few of the numerous types of cephalopods to be found on Mabul's reef.
Many types of gobies can be found including the spike-fin goby, black sail-fin goby and metallic shrimp goby. Frogfish are everywhere -giant, painted and clown frogfish are regularly seen along with almost the whole scorpion fish family.
There are six resorts here, which provides accommodation for scuba divers - most located on the island or on stilts over the water, while one is on a converted oil platform about 500 meters from the beach. There are also several homestay & backpacker accommodations which also arrange diving. All of the resorts/homestays can arrange a day trip to the nearby island of Pulau Sipadan. Be warned that there is a permit system for Sipadan and all permits may be booked months in advance. Diving is good around Mabul itself there is a good wall at Panglima and the best muck diving sites are called Paradise. There is good diving at Kapalai especially the house reef.
How to get to Mabul
By Air Flights to Tawau Airport, the nearest airport to Mabul, from Kota Kinabalu take 55 minutes. From Kuala Lumpur it takes 2 and a half hours to get to Tawau, you then need to take a bus, taxi or minivan from Tawau airport to Semporna and from the jetty take a boat organised by your dive operators or resort to the Island.
- Sipadan, Mabul Kapali, - Sabah's underwater treasure, published by Natural History Publications.