Southeast Asia has fascinated avid scuba divers for decades, especially since it’s home to one of the most important reef systems in the world, the Coral Triangle, a marine area located in the western Pacific Ocean. The triangle is home to the largest diversity of coral reefs and fishes in the world (about 30 percent of the ocean’s corals), all of which are found in the waters of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Timor Leste and the Solomon Islands.
The Coral Triangle nurtures six of the world’s seven marine turtle species and more than 2000 species of reef fish and encompasses portions of two biogeographic regions: the Indonesian-Philippines Region, and the Far Southwestern Pacific Region. It’s been nicknamed “the Amazon of the ocean” for a reason, after all.
Here, we break down some of the Coral Triangle’s best diving spots so you’ll know where to get started.
Pulau Sipadan, an oceanic island located off the coast of Sabah in Malaysia, is often hailed as one of the best dive sites in the world — especially since diving celebrity Jacques Cousteau raved about the island’s diversity of marine life.
The island sits on top of an extinct undersea volcano and is surrounded by almost 1,900ft deep canyons, which results in a unique landscape underwater. Residents of this oceanic island are the jacks, barracuda, bumphead parrotfish and white-tip sharks, and unique experiences include witnessing a hypnotic barracuda vortex and swimming through huge schools of whirling jackfish. Additionally, green and hawksbill turtles come ashore onto the island between April and September to nest.
Dive season: All year round, although April to December boasts the best conditions.
Difficulty level: Mid to advanced, with some strong currents and drifts dives in certain spots.
Raja Ampat may be notoriously hard to get to, but the journey to this remote destination well worth it. One of the most celebrated dive destinations in the world, this stunning group of islands on the eastern-most point of Indonesia is home to the greatest reef biodiversity, more than 1,300 species of coral reef fish, and five species of rare and endangered sea turtles including the hawksbill sea turtle.
Diving in the turquoise waters of Raja Ampat, you will find wobbegong sharks, white-tip reef sharks, manta rays, batfish and large schools of tuna and mackerels swimming amongst never-ending colourful reef walls and various corals.
Dive season: All year.
Difficulty levels: Suitable for all levels, although some spots have strong currents and thus, are not recommended for beginners.
Only accessible by liveaboard, the Tubbataha Reef is Philippine’s best dive site. This underwater sanctuary is made up of almost 100,000 hectares of Marine Protected Area in the centre of the Sulu Sea. The national marine park, Philippine’s first, was marked a world heritage site in 1993.
Tubbataha Reef National Marine Park includes the North and South Reefs, and is a unique example of an atoll reef — made up of endless reef flats and vertical walls dropping to over 100m in depth — with a very high density of marine species. The reef system has over 600 species of fish and 300 coral species, and is the nesting site for hawksbill and green turtles, as well as many species of birds.
Dive season: Best explored by liveaboard from March to June.
Difficulty levels: All levels.
The Solomon Islands, located 1860 kilometres to the North-East of Australia, were shaped by earthquakes and volcanic activity thousands of years ago. Here, divers can explore underwater caves or hundreds of ships and aircraft on the ocean floor, which, over the years, have formed spectacular, artificial reefs which attract masses of fish and an incredible variety of coral life.
The waters surrounding the islands also boast a large diversity of sea creatures, including reef sharks, big schools of jacks, barracuda, big bumphead parrotfish, and the occasional manta ray.
Dive season: All year
Difficulty levels: All levels. However, deep diving experience or advanced training is recommended at some sites due to depth. Wreck training is also recommended for divers interested in exploring the various wrecks.
Established in 1980, Komodo National Park is located within a 1917 square km area — and is made up of Komodo, Rinca and Padar Islands. The National Park is renowned for its diverse marine life, with more than 1,000 species of tropical fish, 260 species of coral, and rare marine mammals (such as the dugong), that call the nutrient-rich waters home.
The national park is home to some of the best dive spots in the world, including The Passage, a drift dive between the two islands of Gili Lawa Darat and Gili Lawa Laut — home to white tip reef sharks, turtles, various rare fishes, and a vibrant coral garden — as well as Sabayor, where you can spot schools of giant trevallies, coral trouts and snappers.
Dive season: All year round, with the best weather conditions from April to November (dry season).
Difficulty levels: Mid to advanced. Komodo National Park has some of the strongest currents, so it’s not recommended for beginners.