Tun Sakaran Marine Park
Tun Sakaran Marine Park is truly a beautiful slice of heaven on earth. Pack with breathtaking views, soul soothing beaches and a line of impeccable islands, Tun Sakaran Marine Park is the largest marine park in Sabah, Borneo comprising of 8 unique emerald green gems set in the azure crown of the Celebes Sea. Also known as Semporna Islands Park, the whole area of 350 square kilometres was officially gazetted as a protected marine haven in 2004. Recognised as one of the most diverse marine ecosystems on earth, Tun Sakaran Marine Park was once compared to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia by the representative of United Kingdom Marine Conservation Society.
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Located about 20 kilometres from Semporna, approximately 2 hours of boat ride, the beautiful marine park can also be reached around 2 hours as well from Darvel Bay in Lahad Datu. In fact, departing from Darvel Bay is perfect after your wildlife adventure either in Danum Valley, Kinabatangan River, Bukit Piton, Tabin Wildlife Reserve or even Sepilok. Closely guarded, preserved and monitored by the Sabah Park, this spectacular area is overwhelm with dazzling array of amazing aquatic creatures and colorful coral reefs, while also sharing its home with 2000 nomadic Bajau Laut people. Bajau Laut or Sea Gypsies, are actually village settlers who reside in house boats and stilt houses around the islands, makes Tun Sakaran Marine Park a truly unique destination. Its heaven on earth for nature lovers, the blue green surreal beauty of Tun Sakaran Marine Park beckons with a hundred and one promises of a wonderful experience both above and underwater. Whether its kicking back and relaxing to the sound of nature, while immerse into the mesmerizing views of the horizon or explore the world of exotic sea life, the islands in the Tun Sakaran Marine Park will cater to pretty much all your getaway cravings. There are 8 islands and 2 reefs in this protected area, consisting of Bohey Dulang, Bodgaya, Sebangkat, Selakan, Mantabuan, Sibuan, Maiga, Tetagan, as well as the Church reef and Kapikan reef. What is really amazing is that these islands remain mostly untouched, due to the fact that there are no developments at all in terms of resorts or hotels, in these pristine islands.
Bohey Dulang is the most popular islands among all in this protected marine park. It is actually a mountainous island form by the remnants of an ancient volcano and is separated from Bodgaya, by a shallow channel. The crater around Bohey Dulang is now flooded with sea water, creating a majestic 25 meter deep lagoon, with a long stretch of stunning coral reef. Bohey Dulalng is popular for its stunning views from the peak, where you will get the birds-eye view of the entire park including other islands around it. In order to reach the top, you will need to hike a 600 meter nature trail which takes around 40 minutes. But bare in mind as the path can be a little slippery, especially after heavy rains. During the hike, expect to see various of rare plants species which can only be found in Bohey Dulang, such as Trichoglottis geminata , a rare orchids that grows on volcanic rocks. However, if you are a bird lover, the island is a paradise for birdwatchers where species including partridges, babblers, owls and hornbills can be seen flying freely. Perhaps before you go, take a tour at the giant clam hatchery along with the local seaweed farms within the vicinity.
Meanwhile, next to Bohey Dulang lies the largest island in Tun Sakaran Marine Park. Bodgaya island, is a picture-perfect island set amidst crystal clear blue water, is about 8 kilometers long and 15 kilometers wide. Pack with flora and fauna, numerous of terrains and peaks to explore and amazing snorkelling sites at the gorgeous lagoon, Bodgaya Island is ideal for the adventure seekers. Not far from the northern tip of Bohey Dulang is the smallest yet the brightest little gem in the crown known as Mantabuan island. It may be tiny, however it is supremely beautiful due to its incredible biodiversity of hard and soft corals, which can be seen from the surface. This multi level dive area is connected to the nearby Kapikan reef, makes it one of the favorite spot for divers and snorkelers.
Looking to relax and picnic by the beach? Sibuan island is said to be one of the most beautiful islands around here. Laced with glorious coconut trees and white powdery sandy beaches, Sibuan island will be fantastic for a relaxing picnic and a beautiful vacay postcard. Despite being one of the smallest island, Sibuan is also one of the best muck-diving spot in Sabah. Connecting to the Church reef, Sibuan is bless with perfect combination of shallow underwater plateaus and steep coral encrusted slopes, surrounded by amazing marine life. And another popular picnic spot for visitors is the Maiga island. Hopping further south from Sibuan, this little spot of heaven can be recognized from the distance, as unique rows of coconut trees line its beaches, offering shelter from monsoon winds. Maiga island is teaming with reef life, so prepare to see such delights as dancing angel fish Blue tang and snappers darting across the sides of the reef.
Now lets visit the Bajau Laut ‘Sea Gypsies’ who had made Sabah an attraction in their unique way. Living off wooden boathouses or huts built on stilts atop coral reefs around the islands of Selakan, Maiga, Bohey Dulang, Mantabuan, Sibuan and Tatagan, the nomadic and seafaring Bajau Laut had become a part of the Tun Sakaran Marine Park landscape. Located at the south of Maiga island, Selakan island is considered to be the most populated island in the marine park. The only school can be found in Selakan, catering to all of the Bajau Laut children from the surrounding islands. On the other hand, Tatagan island is located at the tip of Bodgaya, where there used to be a flourishing village and now lies uninhabited. And do you know that the Bajau Laut are an exceptional free divers? Bajau Laut are true master of the sea. Many of them having mastered the art of free diving to the depths of 20 meters and more, while holding their breath for minutes at a time, to hunt fish, lobsters, sea cucumbers and other marine life.And according to the 2010 study by University Malaysia Sabah, found that the Bajau Laut rarely, if ever, set foot on land.
Finally, of all islands in Tun Sakaran Marine Park, Sebangkat island is the nearest to Semporna mainland. Located about 10 kilometers away, on a clear day it can be seen from Semporna coastal town. In Sebangkat island, there is a seaweed farming community, so drop in if you are curious or would like to learn more about the seaweed cultivation.
For this reason,, the best way to explore the park is to take an island hopping tour to explore the treasure of Tun Sakaran Marine Park archipelago. There are lots of things to do here. Explore the thriving jungle, admire spectacular views from the peak, dive with countless friendly sea creatures, snorkel to watch the colourful underworld, catch hawksbill and green turtles mating from May to August and spot some fascinating aquatic life including manta rays, eagle rays, whale sharks, hammer head sharks, reef sharks and giant clam. And of course, you wont have time to visit all of the islands, but certainly a day trip or two to this incredible park will leave you both lasting memories and a total desire to return.