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‘I still see all Big 5s in one day’: Clement
Published on: Sunday, June 12, 2022
By: Kan Yaw Chong
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One of the Big 5s of Sipadan– pack of Jack fish.
SABAH’S high-yield dive industry was reportedly worth RM700 million in pre-Covid days.

Everybody is keen to see the full return of its pre lock-down prosperity after the borders were opened on April 1.

To do so, the reputation of a pivotal dive site like Sipadan must stay positive.  

But over the years Sabah’s dive guru Clement Lee said he had heard murmurs as follows: 

“I have been getting negative talks or reviews of less marine life especially in Sipadan,” Clement told Daily Express.   

Is it true?

One of the famous Big 5s of sipadan – Dense school of Barracuda. 

“Since I had not been to Sipadan for five to six years, I had no way of verifying the claims or otherwise,” Clement said. 

“So it became imperative for me to pay Sipadan a revisit to see it for myself,” he said. 

“I did, it so happened that Sabah Tourism asked me to attend the May 28 ‘Malaysian International Expo’ in Kuala Lumpur to help them give a talk entitled ‘Sabah underwater uncapped’.       

‘I saw all the big 5s in one day ’

“To update myself for the presentation, I revisited Sipadan and in two days of diving (May 12-13, 2022) I was totally surprised!”

“In both days I saw all the Big 5 signature marine life – such as the famous vortex of Barracuda, the big pack of Jackfish, Bump head Parrot fish, Turtles and Sharks!

Yes, all five in one day for 2 consecutive days in Sipadan.”

“So all these talks of no more barracuda, no more Bump Head Parrot etc were not true clement said.”

“But of course you need to time yourself well to be there at the Bump Head Parrot fish habitat in order to see them and in our case, we left Mabul early at 6:00am to ensure I am at Sipadan at the right place and right time,” Clement noted. 

“I had also read reports of fungal disease attack on the White-tip sharks so honestly speaking I paid special attention to this but all the White-tip sharks that I saw (including the Black-tip shark), I didn’t see any “fungal damage” on the sharks’ bodies and to give those reports the benefit of the doubt, I deduced that perhaps they had fully recovered.”

‘As plentiful and beautiful as ever’ 

“My conclusion is that the marine life in Sipadan is still robust and as plentiful as I used to see for decades ago, I have not been disappointed at all in this recent trip.

“All the Big Five 5 we saw 40 years ago in 1982 are still there today but not necessarily the same schools or shoals but perhaps their new generations. It tells me one thing, there is certainly enough food chain down there to sustain this abundant marine life.

Awesome look of the Bumphead parrot fish – definitely one of the most sought after Big 5s of Sipadan (left). White-tip shark – one of the Big 5s of Sipadan (right). 

“As for the corals and famous walls of Sipadan, they are as beautiful as ever. I have done thousands of dives in Sipadan before and in my recent trip there I was as ‘excited’ as before if not more.”

“Sensing this, a resort Manager to remarked: ‘You don’t look like a 70-year old as your zeal is as fired up as a newly certified open water diver!

“Back to renowned ‘Macro Heaven’ Mabul, I was pleasantly surprised to see so many huge green turtles resting not only on the platforms of sunken wrecks (steel boats purposely sunk as artificial reefs) but also on the house reefs.”

Increase in sea turtle population observed

“So, definitely I can see the increase in turtle population which may not necessarily come from Sipadan as there are still plenty there. Hence I am very happy to notice this phenomenon in Mabul water where the turtles can now call “home,” Clement said. 

“Besides turtles, I could see eagle rays and even a baby whale shark came visiting at the nearby Kapalai, where I also saw a ‘Lembeh Sea Dragon’ for the first time ever so it’s no longer a monopoly to Indonesia where it was discovered.” 

“Some people can literally spend weeks in Mabul just to photograph lovely macro creatures such as Harlequin Shrimps, Nudibranch etc,” Clement said.

Green Turtle resting on ledge at the famous drop off. 

A large Green turtle on the platform of a sunken boat wreck in Mabul (left). Nudibranch Bornella Aguilla, spotted in the west side of Gaya island, recently (right).

‘No dive destination like Sabah’   

Besides the Big 5s, Clement says he has been exploring a lot of the small critter world of late to attract divers’ interest in this segment.” 

“There is no dive destination like Sabah to see the best of both worlds,” he asserted.

“You can fly in to Kota Kinabalu in the morning and 10 minutes away is Tunku Abdul Rahman Park and Sepangar Island where there are plenty of macro to see, like blade shrimps, whip coral goby, nudibranch and surface to see the iconic Mt Kinabalu in the distant landscape.”

“One main reason I like to get Kota Kinabalu into the macro world is that I figure international divers upon arrival here can stopover for a couple of days to check jet lags or review their diving skills and also rig up their camera set up and explore Kota Kinabalu’s underwater macro,” Clement said.

”I also believe Kota Kinabalu is one of the best places to do diver certification course because of the convenience.”   

“In actual fact, beyond Sipadan, 70pc of my underwater shots of late cover sites like Si Amil, Mabul, Kapalai, Bohey Dulang, Mantabuan, Mantanani, Kota Belud Usukan Bay, all these macro critters are slowly being exposed to push the macro market.”   

In the process he also see striking big beauties too like the Lion fish in Sulug Island in Tunku Abdul Rahman Park and even the Whale shark between February and May when they are frequently sighted.

Non-divers may mistake this as an underwater plant but it is a spectacular soft coral in the form of a purple sea fan on the famous Big Wall of Sipadan. 

Spectacular overhangs and crevices on Sipadan’s famous big wall. 



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December 20, 2014