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Cavern Diving at Turtle Tomb, Sipadan

Written by Melanie Hwa 25 Sept 2022.

As a young and enthusiastic diver, I had tons of questions for my OW instructor, Fairul. One of which I remembered clearly 11 years later was the question – “What was your scariest dive so far?”

He paused and took a second to think, then responded with “The scariest dive I’ve done thus far was the penetration dive I did in Turtle Tomb, Sipadan”. That was the very first time I heard about the infamous dive site and about what entails in a cavern dive. Since then it has always been a desire of mine to explore what holds beyond.

Since my very first year of diving, I have visited Sipadan every year, sometimes thrice in a year and Turtle Tomb at Sipadan is a must visit for my divers. However, we often only enter and exit the cavern without penetrating its chambers just to get a taste of what it is like to be entering a dark cave. That is, until last August, when I had a chance to finally go beyond.

Turtle Tomb, Sipadan

The dive site is located off the island – a mere 2 mins boat ride off the shore. The entrance of the cave is huge, easily 15-20m wide at about 14m depth. As you enter the cave, light escapes you and naturally, we rely on our torches for vision. As you glance up, there are stalactites majestically draping the cave and boulders covered with fine silt around the corners of the cave.

As we swam 20m into the first chamber of the cave, we were greeted by an entrance to the second chamber. Our guide started to set up our line. We followed the line by tracing it with an “O” using our index finger and thumb. We tried our best to be neutrally buoyant, using only the Frog Kick to avoid kicking up fine silt as well as to avoid contact with the narrowing cave as we swam through it.

Concentrating only on the light from our torches and our breaths, we soon realize that we have entered the second chamber. Shaped like a horseshoe, on the left, it leads up to a small tight chimney. As we swam up towards the chimney – pillars appear on both the left and right side of the pathway (very LOTR-like). The tight chimney leads out into the open – and I must confess, that I wanted to try to swim through it, but my buddies – as planned earlier, swam back down to the chamber. Slightly disappointed, I followed suit.

As we followed the corners of the chamber, there were lots of turtle skeletons that were laid to rest at every turn. All of their skeletons are in perfect condition, some even had two turtle skeletons laid side by side. It felt like a cemetery for turtles and an eerie feeling crept up deep inside me which I shook off – catching it early and knowing that it is fine and there is nothing to be scared of.

For those who don’t know – these turtles got lost inside the cave and eventually died as they were unable to find their way out for their next breath (yes, turtles are required to surface every 45 minutes – 1 hour to breathe).

Swimming around the chamber and shining our torches as we explore every nook and cranny was certainly an experience for me. Looking up at air pockets that glistened and shimmered as our bubbles merged together was interesting to see. At the very end of the horseshoe, we once again followed the line out to the first chamber of the cave.

We then swam along the edges of the cave on our left to another entrance which goes deep into the cave. Checking our NDL and air, we did not proceed to explore the other chamber (it was not in the plan as well! It’s important that we plan our dive and dive our plan at all times).

As we continued to explore, swimming vertically down and into another shallow chamber, we found a dolphin skeleton. As we continued along the cave, we eventually moved towards the exit of the cave. This is another sight that will never grow old for me.

The light from the open ocean dawned upon the opening of the cave – like a beacon of light, its bright blue waters greeted me with warm embrace as we swam towards it. I turned back for another look around the cave as I exited the cave feeling like an 11-year goal was finally fulfilled.

Now I know, you’ll have some questions upon reading this. So here are some of the common questions I’ve had so far;

Would I do cavern/ cave diving again?
Most certainly.

Is cavern/ cave diving for everyone?
Not really. Reasons are due to the level of skills of the diver at that stage as well as personal preferences.

What is required to do this?
Perfect buoyancy, great air consumption, experience dive guide as well as a great deal of confidence and calmness to adversity.

How do I do this?
Come take up your cavern diving specialty with us.

Want to know more or join us for our next cavern dive? You can certainly chat me up when you see me next or just drop us a message!

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