Celebes Sea near Tanjung Redeb, Indonesia

Diving Sangalaki Island

Part of the Marine Heritage Park, Sangalaki Island is one of the richest diving grounds in Indonesia, which is saying quite a lot! The uninhabited island is surrounded by a wide lagoon and shallow reefs extending well out to sea. The currents vary from gentle to moderately strong, there are no walls, and little drift, just an abundance of rare and exotic marine life, including giant turtles, and the famous schools of Manta rays, or devil-fish.

The majestic Manta rays have been aptly compared to stealth bombers. This is especially true of the glistening all black ones which can be seen here at Sangalaki Island. They usually swim in the upper waters, somersaulting and gambolling, their massive wings breaking the water as they soar into the air and come crashing loudly down into the water so snorkelling or free diving is a wonderful way to observe them, and they will often come over to greet you. These amazing creatures are strong, swift swimmers and may even cross the open ocean, their sandpaper skin and wide wingspan attract Remora and other parasites, which they remove regularly at reef-side “cleaning stations” as well as by their crashing dives. They live off the plankton which they filter through the many rows of teeth on their lower jaw. These are so plentiful around Sangalaki that the Mantas rarely have to seek in deeper waters for food, which is probably why they can be found here in large numbers throughout the year.

Giant Green Turtles nest on the sandy beach all year round and you can see them in all sizes swimming under ledges and in the gullies throughout the reef. The rare Hawskbill turtle can also be found here and there have been occasional sightings of the Leatherback Turtle as well.

There are over 500 varieties of soft and hard coral in the reefs surrounding the island (the entire Caribbean has only 67) and the invertebrate and fish life of all sizes is just as prolific, so you ned not fear running out of things to see. The reef is riddled with small ridges and gullies which form individual mini ecosystems, each with its own population of exotic fish and coral including stingrays, cuttlefish, batfish, barracuda, triggerfish, angel fish, and a variety of grouper.

There is no accommodation on the island itself, but the nearby resorts at Derawan and Maratua Islands have regular diving excursions to Sangalaki, and it is well worth taking a day to enjoy the high quality dive sites here.

Sangalaki Island map of dive sites.

Sangalaki Island map of dive sites.

Notable Dive Sites

Coral Gardens: Just west of the small channel is an undulating bed of brightly coloured hard and soft corals shelving gradually to 27m before becoming sandy. Among other beauties you can see sponges, giant sea fans, purple carpet anemones, feather stars and gorgonians, and giant clams, as well as cuttlefish and many species of graceful angelfish and butterfly fish darting in and out among them. From here you can drift through Turtle Town and on to Sandy Ridge.

Turtle Town: Lurking under overhanging rock shelters and in the coral gullies, you can find numerous turtles of all sizes. The giant Green Turtle is the most common, but you can also find other species. They breed all year round and can be seen playing and hunting in the shadowy depths amongst the colourful corals and a plenitude of other fish.

Sandy Ridge: Famous for its blue-ribbon eels, this beautiful dive site abounds in small sharks and shoals of fusiliers, snapper, catfish and jacks. A variety of soft corals and sponges can be seen, including lettuce coral, tube coral, and even some Gorgonian sea fans. The amazing Giant Clam can be seen on the seabed, along with lobsters and other crustaceans.

Manta Run, Manta Parade, Manta Avenue: On the northwest side, you can explore the corals at 28m while Manta rays circle overhead. Expect to encounter groups of 20 to 50 of these majestic creatures. They are wonderful in small numbers, but seeing them en masse like this is an awesome experience. It is not uncommon while admiring the corals and sponges, and observing the unique nudibranches, Coral Trout, orange-striped triggerfish and barramundi to see the shadow of a ray hovering overhead.

Manta Cleaning Station: The sandpaper texture of the Manta ray's skin offers a perfect host for remoras and other parasitic fish. Just off the edge of the reef the Manta rays queue at the cleaning station where cleaner fish and small wrasse pick off these parasites and other debris from their gills and fins. It is a fascinating site to see these magnificent creatures waiting patiently while the cleaning takes place.

Best Time to Visit

Food for the various species is so plentiful, and the water temperature is so consistent that you can dive all year round and expect to see large quantities and variety of most species. Even the Manta rays and giant turtles are permanent residents. The turtles and rays seem to be especially active at the full moon so you might want to take that into consideration.

Although visibility is reduced during the rainy season from November to March it is still generally over 20m.

Dive Resorts

Borneo Cottage Maratua

Borneo Cottage Maratua

$$$$

From $785 to $1,025 / diver twin share for 7 days 6 nights.

From $665 to $905 / non-diver twin share for 7 days 6 nights.

This dive resort will bring divers to Maratua Island, Kakaban Island, and Sangalaki Island .

Maratua Paradise Resort

Maratua Paradise Resort

$$$$

From $1,065 to $1,268 / diver twin share for 7 days 6 nights.

From $533 to $735 / non-diver twin share for 7 days 6 nights.

This dive resort will bring divers to Maratua Island, Kakaban Island, and Sangalaki Island .