Since early this year, there has been a proposal to increase the number of permits for divers visiting Sipadan Island. The proposed increase was from 120 permits a day to 176 permits a day.

Big schools of Trevallies are a common site at Sipadan. © Nick Melidonis
Big schools of Trevallies are a common site at Sipadan. © Nick Melidonis

Why Increase Number of Permits?

This proposal was of course met with those who are for, and against it. On the one hand, there is the demand from divers who want to to visit the island. There are also a number of dive centres and resorts, new and existing ones, who would like to be given permit allocation as well.

On the other hand, there were concerns raised by various conservation groups that this could cause irrecoverable damage to the reef system around the island.

Sabah Parks, I think, has acted in a pragmatic way in balancing all the forces to come up with a solution that would minimise the impact on the reefs and underwater creatures from tourism and at the same time allowing local players to benefit in the tourism economy.

What is the Impact?

When we had the 120 permits per day quota, it was based on the permit allowing divers to dive up to 4 times a day at Sipadan. With the new quota of 176 permits a day, the permit only allow divers to dive up to 3 times a day at the island.

In addition, beginning from 2020, Sipadan will be closed to all water activities including diving and snorkelling from 1 to 31 December every year to give the area a period of recuperation.

So taking all this into account, we see the number of permits a day going from 120 to 176, an increase of 46.7%, but with the total number of dives available to all divers in a year only increasing by 0.66%.

Check out our article for a comprehensive guide to visiting Sipadan Island, including how to get a permit. See also the SCUBA Travel guide to the dive sites of Sipadan and learn why Sipadan dives have been voted the best in the world.

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