The secrets of Semporna islands are well kept—as are many of the magical haunts of the island of Borneo.
Located off the northeastern coast of the Malaysian state of Sabah on Borneo, Semporna Marina Park is part of the larger Coral Triangle—a vast swath of water that is home to half the world’s reefs with 75 percent of its coral species. Over 3,000 types of reef fish and seven species of turtles inhabit it.
With over 14 major isles and atolls, it also has Malaysia’s largest array of coral reefs. Two idyllic islands for diving and snorkeling include Mabul and Sipadan. The former is recovering from over-fishing and now has healthy reefs with blue-ringed octopus, spike-fin gobies, and frogfish. The latter, Sipadan, is also a conservation recovery story. The main dive operator pays out local villagers to collect garbage to ensure that the sea remains pristine. It is shaped like a mushroom from coral growing atop an extinct under-water volcano.
The Semporna Islands are also part of the Tun Sakaran Marine Park (TSMP), with eight alluring islands, each with special places for exploring surreal sea-life. This has several conservation programs in motion for responsible tourism. After all, the best kept secrets are secret for a reason. In this case, it’s for preservation and natural appreciation.
Fly to Tawau Airport from Kuala Lumphur or Kota Kinabalu. According to local blogger “Tadpole” or Murphy Ng, it takes an hour from the airport at Tawau to Semporna. Advises Tadpole, “Taxi is always available in Tawau Airport, because the taxi drivers keep track of the arrival of flights. Do not go to Tawau city and take a taxi to Semporna from there, it’s a waste of traveling time (take nearly 2 hours).”