The Turtle Graveyard of Sipadan

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Back in the early 1980s, the famous ocean explorer Captain Jacques Yves Cousteau and his team paid a visit to the island of Sipadan, off the coast of Borneo to film a documentary about its crystalline waters. One of the highlights in this film was a mysterious underwater cave in which they found lots of bones and skeletons of sea turtles. For lack of a better explanation, Cousteau suggested that perhaps old sea turtles just went there to die peacefully. In reality, the turtles enter the cavern by accident and then get lost in the labyrinth of the tunnels. Unable to find an exit, they eventually become disorientated and drown.

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Photo credit: Borut Furlan

The island of Sipadan, located in the Celebes Sea off the east coast of Sabah, is the only oceanic island in Malaysia. Rising 600 meters from the seabed, it was formed by living corals growing on top of an extinct volcanic cone that took thousands of years to develop. The island is located at the heart of the Indo-Pacific basin, the center of one of the richest marine habitats in the world.

Sipadan is famous for turtle spotting. Frequently seen in the waters around the island are green and hawksbill turtles, enormous schools of barracuda in tornado-like formations as well as large schools of big-eye trevally, and bumphead parrotfish. Pelagic species such as manta rays, eagle rays, scalloped hammerhead sharks and whale sharks also visit Sipadan.

The entrance to the Turtle Cavern is on the side of a large limestone wall that begins a few meters below the surface and plunges straight down to a depth of about 600 meters. The mouth of the cave is located at a depth of 20 meters from the surface. A large sign near the entrance warns inexperienced divers not to enter without the appropriate equipment or experience.

The inside of the cave is an intricate maze of chambers and corridors. The floor of the cave’s chambers are filled with fine white sand, upon which are several bony remains of long dead turtles. The unfortunate victims had entered the cave perhaps to rest, or hide from predators, or out of curiosity. Once inside they became disoriented and lost in the dark, and drowned. Turtles aren’t the only air-breathing animal to have drowned in the cave. In another corner of the cave, there is an intact skeleton of a dolphin.

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Photo credit: www.diveadventures.com.au

Sources: The Right Blue / Dive Site Directory / Wikipedia

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