Tuesday, 12 September 2017

The Semporna region - a photographer's paradise!

The Semporna region has some of the best dive sites in the world so it is hardly surprising that many divers arrive with GoPro, point and shoot or full camera set up in hand! What exactly are these photography aficionados hoping to spot?

The "big stuff" 

For many divers, the main goal of their dives will be the "big stuff", they will come seeking sharks, turtles, rays and schooling barracudas and will not be disappointed! The turtles around Mabul are plentiful and not shy! They will usually be happy to pose whilst you snap away and you may even be rewarded with a smile! Sharks can be trickier due to their lack of interest in staying still! White tip sharks and leopard sharks are amongst the easier sharks to photograph as they are able to rest immobile on the bottom for periods of time and with some patience you will be rewarded with some great shots! Glimpses of hammerheads can often be fleeting and by the time you realise what you're lucky enough to be seeing they are gone, every so often someone will get that elusive schooling hammerhead shot though!

"Macro mania"

 Most experienced photographers come seeking the smaller more cryptic inhabitants of the reefs around Mabul & Kapalai as well as the Tun Sakaran Marine Park. A patient search and the eagle eyes of one of dive guides will usually help to show up all kinds of reef dwellers such as nudibranchs, shrimps, crabs, pipefish, frogfish, stonefish and much much more. Slow moving marine life has a huge attraction for photographers, allowing for plenty of time to perfect that shot! The more photography a diver does, the more they find themselves getting into the smaller inhabitants of the reef, often to the extent that they will move 50m or less in one dive! Nudibranchs hold a special appeal due to the large number of different species, colours, patterns and their inability to go anywhere in a hurry! Divers will often find themselves staring at a frogfish, camera at the ready waiting for the elusive "frogfish yawning" shot!

"After dark"

Once you feel as though you have mastered both wide angle & macro shots you may start to wonder what else there is and that is where a whole new world opens up - the night dive! Venture onto the reef after hours and you will find an array of critters waiting for their turn to be the star of your show as well as challenging you with new shooting conditions. Night dives are a great time for a slow paced dive, exploring the reef one circle of torchlight at a time producing as many if not more macro sightings than day dives! Parrotfish sleeping in bubbles in the reef, spanish dancers and all sorts of cuttlefish, squid, eels and seahorses make for fantastic subjects and will keep you occupied for hours (or until you get cold or low on air!!).

Whatever your level of experience and camera set-up, the Semporna region will have something for you to photograph - ask your guide for tips & tricks, chances are they're an avid photographer themselves!!

Friday, 21 July 2017

Sipadan Barracuda Point - Why we love it!

Barracuda Point is a world-famous dive site, and it's often top of the wish list for our divers when they make their trip to Sipadan…  It's a favourite of our dive staff too - you'll be hard pushed to find a staff member who doesn't rate this amazing place in their top three, if not their number one!

Barracuda Point is in between Drop Off (Turtle Tomb) and Coral Garden, located close to the island.  There is a sloping coral reef, which drops down into a channel, with another (smaller) reef rising and then sloping off again before that 600m drop. As the reef takes a sharp corner we get some super fun currents there… There is also a plateau at the end of the channel, which is often where our friends the barracuda can be seen.

We start the dive in the shallows with the jackfish (bigeye trevally) - there are some keyholes (crevices in the reef) where we can see schools of batfish or pickhandle barracudas, a wonderful greeting as you descend after your back roll off the boat!  As we cruise in the shallows with the the enormous school of jackfish, very often bluefin trevally and GT's (giant trevally) are around too, looking for prey. We also keep an eye out for the bumphead parrotfish in the shallows – decreased visibility in the shallows is often an indicator that they are there, as they poop out sand – it can get quite murky!

Before we even drop to our max depth, or get to the barracuda tornado it's an awesome dive! We go over the wall and make our way down to our max depth, often passing some white tip reef sharks and huge grey reef sharks on the way. When descending -  ALWAYS keep your eye on the blue – as the barracuda sometimes hang out there in a wall of fishy-ness, or sometimes cruise past like a high speed train (we call this getting "buzzed" by the barracuda!).

The wall itself is awesome - with crags and crevices (where we sometimes shelter from the currents to watch the sharks!), but don't forget to look beneath you as we often see turtles resting on the ledges of the wall if they're not swimming overhead.  But we don’t stay there, we make our way round to the sloping coral reef on the corner – there’s a beautifully coloured school of red tooth trigger fish and longfin bannerfish mixed together. Watch out for big grey reefs, white tip reef sharks, the barracuda (again) – but also for dogtooth tuna zipping past hunting, or giant groupers hanging out. Watch out for behaviour too – if you see smaller fish schools zipping into the shelter of the reef – look and see what’s chasing and hunting them!

From the outside reef, we make our way back into the channel – sometimes there’s no current, and we get to explore this at our leisure. Spotted garden eels, great barracuda getting cleaned. White tip reef sharks hanging out under corals, or day octopus going about their business. We pass by Turtle Rock – a world-famous cleaning site for turtles (sometimes they fight over who gets cleaned next!) – making our way down the channel nice and easy. If there’s no current, the barracuda form the mesmerising world-famous tornado – almost hypnotic! There's an enormous boulder about halfway down the channel which can have some cool macro finds if you can tear your eyes away from the rest of the action.

But if the current is pumping you can cruise down the channel like Superman!  Sometimes we wait it out and fin gently into the current here as the barracuda tornado becomes a wall – no less spectacular, a wall of barracuda as far as you can see! Sighting the tornado or wall of barracuda is top of every diver’s wish list – and the amazing spectacle is what gave this dive site its name.

After we've had enough of the barracuda (as if that is possible!) we can cruise down the channel making our way shallower (keeping an eye out for napolean wrasse) until it's time to make the safety stop…  Sometimes the current stops abruptly at the end of the channel, throwing us back where we came from - but that just means you get to see it all over again!  And sometimes we cruise on in to the next dive site, Coral Garden.  But that's a story for another time…

Safety as always is Scuba Junkie's top priority - so regardless of your experience we'll give you a fantastic dive at Barracuda Point!  We know the tides and the conditions really well, and all of our DM's have hundreds (if not thousands) of dives there.  Hope to see you soon at Sipadan!!

Monday, 9 May 2016


April 28th was D Day.  Online dictionaries define D Day as “the day on which an important operation is to begin or a change to take effect.”  D Day for the DMTs means the equipment exchange and stress test.  It’s the last day of the course and a good way to end on a high note.  I thoroughly enjoy it for many reasons, but mainly because (i) I am in charge and (ii) I am really good at giving orders…..

After consulting the Instructor Manual for the rules and grading criteria for completing the equipment exchange, I gave the group a few minutes to powwow aka create an action plan (see the photo below).  PADI lists the equipment exchange as:

“In confined water, demonstrate the ability to effectively respond to an unusual circumstance underwater by exchanging all scuba equipment (except exposure suits and weights) with a buddy while sharing a single regulator second stage...”

We even had paparazzi underwater.  One of our guests volunteered to take photos of us throughout the morning.  After a fun morning underwater, we took apart our equipment and rinsed the sand out of our hair, bodies, and kit.

The snorkel test took place on the 30th where Scuba Junkie proudly welcomed 6 new divemasters to the professional world.  Sadly, both Daniel and Peter left us the next day.  The girls (Katrine, Moa, Sara, and Shantha) signed up for the 6 week Eco course.  They are currently working on the finishing the Reef Check course, shadowing divemasters, and going on boats.

Pssst, whalesharks have been sighted recently!  If you have any questions about our DMT program, please do not hesitate to contact us!

Congratulations to Daniel, Moa, Shantha, Sara, Katrine, and Peter!  We hope to see y’all underwater soon!


Toward the end of the month, we focused on the DM conducted programs.  These programs include:

     *ReActivate, which is a program designed to refresh water skills and scuba knowledge when a person hasn’t dived in a while;

     *DSD diving, which is a program designed for people who want to experience diving without completing the open water course;

     *Discover Local Diving, which is a program designed to introduce people to a new diving area; 

     *Skin Diving/Snorkeling

I divided the candidates into two groups of three again.  While I was working with one group, the other group shadowed different instructors on a variety of scuba courses and divemasters leading fun dives.  After five days, we switched.

The first five days I had Daniel, Shantha, and Sara practicing their briefings and guiding.  Below is a photo of the team taking a break on the jetty.

Here is a silly photo of Daniel, Sara, and Katrine practicing their buddy checks.

The last five days of the course, I worked with Peter, Moa, and Katrine.  Here’s a photo of them right before a debrief.

It was great fun working with so many different personalities on the course.  As with anything, each person has his or her own strengths and weaknesses.  For instance, some people are stronger at briefings while others have stronger underwater skills.  What made this month really special was how everybody helped each other out.  It was awesome watching my scuba babies grow as divers!


After a week of paperwork and lectures and just being INSIDE the classroom, the divemaster candidates finally made it to the water to tackle the mapping project.  The group split up into two teams of three people.  They practiced skin diving techniques, measuring distances with fin kicks, navigating around Awas and the House Reef with a compass and using natural features, and learning how to plan and work together as a team.  Take a look at the photos below.  

Daniel, Shantha, and Sara drew a map complete with very colorful pictures of each of the structures.  Peter, Moa, and Katrine produced a PIRATE’s treasure map.  Both groups displayed such creativity in their efforts.  It’s been really amazing to see them grow as divers and as friends!


It’s the time of the month. Without further ado, I would like to introduce the April divemaster candidates:

Hi, I am Katrine, a Belgian girl living in Malaysia, who loves diving!  I love it so much that almost every “long time off”, I come to this amazing island to dive with Scuba Junkie.  I can never get enough of it!  The combination of always wanting to be under the surface and my curiosity to learn made doing my DMT the next logical step.  I did all my other courses here at Scuba Junkie, so I signed up for the 6 week Eco DMT program.

My name is Daniel, and I am from Spain.  As a child, I always loved snorkeling in the Mediterranean Sea.  In 2011, while I was studying biology at university, I decided to go deeper by taking my OW [open water] course.  Since then, I cannot stop diving, and I have fallen even more in love with the underwater world.  Completing my DMT course while enjoying the beauty of the Coral Triangle’s biodiversity is a dream come true.

Becoming a divemaster has always been a dream of mine.  When I came to Scuba Junkie six weeks ago, I realised that enrolling in the course was something I could actually do.  So now I am back in Semporna and Mabul fulfilling my dream.  I can’t wait until I am able to guide divers in this awesome underwater world.

Why do I want to be a divemaster? Why NOT?
We’er only here once.
Live what you love doing.
Soak up the sun while it shines.
Drink a beer while it’s cold.
Escape the concrete greys.
Walk amongst the tall greens.
Swim in the deep blue.

Although I was first certified as a scuba diver 20 years ago, I didn’t find many diving opportunities in Colorado, USA, where I grew up.  When I quit my job as a surgical technician 2 years ago and began traveling the world, I realised that I had the chance to start diving again.  I fell in love with diving all over again and have been diving and traveling ever since.  I am hoping that I will be able to travel to many more countries as a divemaster, which will enable me to see even more of the world – both above and below the surface of the sea!


I am Sara, a Swede living in Melbourne, Australia.  I have been fascinated by the underwater world for many years.  More recently, I have started to enjoy capturing macro shots with my camera, so that I can show my non-diver friends how amazing this underwater world is!  I am doing the DMT course because I want to learn more, challenge myself, and see if this industry could be for me.  I miss my coffees, aerial yoga, and being able to make cakes whenever I want, but Mabul, diving, and the DMT course is making it all well worth it.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016


It's that time again! We are in the middle of our Shark Week! A week dedicated to our beloved friends in the ocean. During this week we can highlight the dangers that face these graceful creatures, inform guests and the local community about sharks, and share what can be done to help them.

So far, along with Green Semporna we have worked with the local kids and the Kolej Komuniti, teaching them about shark conservation and biology, and why they are so important to the ocean ecosystem. There have been Presentations given by our environmental officer Dave, and a few of Scuba Zoo photographers/videographers, Bertie and Jason. A fund raising Pub Quiz as well as multiple beach cleans. 

Shark conservation is Crucial to the health of our oceans. Lets protect these animals from extiction!