Tun Sakaran Marine Park, also called the Semporna Islands Park, is an archipelago of eight islands and two reefs located off the east coast of Sabah, Malaysia, close to the town of Semporna.
The Park covers an area of 350 square km and was gazetted as a state park by Sabah Parks in 2004. Its stunning setting and marine biodiversity make it a popular tourist attraction for day trippers.
The eight islands are as follows:
1. Bohey Dulang
This island rises steeply from the shore up to a peak of 353 metres, which you can climb to enjoy spectacular views.
Some degree of fitness and proper footwear is required to reach the top and, if you have time, you can continue along a ridge to two other peaks.
Here you can sense that you are standing on the rim of a long-extinct volcano crater which blew its top and was semi-submerged to form these beautiful islands and lagoons.
Rock pools, streams and waterfalls are concealed within the dense vegetation which provides a refuge for exotic birds, mammals, reptiles and insects.
You can visit the Giant Clam and Marine Invertebrate Hatchery built on stilts above the sea near the Bohey Dulang jetty.
Seven species of Giant Clam are native to Sabah’s waters but are under threat due to over-harvesting, pollution and human activity.
2. Pulau Bodgaya
This island is separated from Bohey Dulang by a narrow stretch of water. It is the biggest island in the Park with an area of 796 hectares and is a hilly island covered in dense jungle.
The ground slopes steeply upwards from the shore, leaving a narrow, wave-cut shingle terrace.
There are two peaks here, the highest of which, Mount Bodgaya, reaches 455 metres. The absence of sandy beaches and difficulty of accessing the shore at low tide means that this island is less disturbed by tourists than Bohey Dulang.
3. Pulau Maiga
Maiga is a flat and sandy island with coconut-fringed beaches and a calm, shallow bay with clear water suitable for swimming and snorkeling.
A community of Bajau Laut (sea gypsies) live here in rustic huts built on wooden stilts above the sea.
This tropical paradise island is less visited by tourists. Some of the island is under threat from sea erosion like many low-lying islands the world over.
4. Pulau Sibuan
A beautiful tear-shaped island and one of the most famous in the area due to its unspoilt beaches and excellent diving conditions with close proximity to Church Reef.
It is small, only 15 hectares and again populated by a community of friendly Bajau Laut.
5. Pulau Sebangkat
The closest of the islands to the mainland, about 10km from Semporna. The locals cultivate seaweed which is dried in the sun and sold in Semporna. There is a good sandy beach along the southern coast.
6. Pulau Selakan
One of more populated islands with a village and the only school in the marine park.
Children from the other islands have to come here by boat for their lessons. The island covers an area of 32 hectares and is built on coral limestone, raised a few metres above sea level.
The limestone bed has been eroded and undercut to form a rocky shoreline around much of the island.
There are small stretches of sandy beach around the village, and also at the northern end of the island. Patches of mangrove occur along the north-west coast.
7. Pulau Tetagan
A small island almost joined to Bodgaya, only separated by a shallow channel. It has an area of 30 hectares.
Similar to Bodgaya it is steep sided and covered in jungle but its highest point is only 80 metres above sea level. The shoreline is mostly rocky with a small beach and a sand bar at the northern end.
8. Pulau Mantabuan
A flat island surrounded by a pristine sandy beach. It is the smallest island with an area of only around 10 hectares.
The Malaysian Army maintains a post here to deter pirates and criminals from neighbouring countries who have been known to kidnap hostages in this region.
The two reefs
Kapikan Reef is a good scuba diving and snorkeling site with turtles, barracuda and stingrays among the marine life spotted here.
Church Reef is another popular dive site with clear visibility and gentle currents. Divers have reported sightings of rays, turtles, barracuda, parrotfish, and plenty of nudibranchs.
How to get To Tun Sakaran Marine Park
The transfer to Tun Sakaran Marine Park from Semporna by speedboat takes about 45 to 60 minutes. Boats depart from the tourist jetty at Kampung Bangau-bangau in Semporna.
You will see Tun Sakaran Marine Park island hopping day trips advertised everywhere in Semporna.
These trips depart around 8.30am and return to Semporna at 5pm. Costs vary considerably so do shop around.
A tour usually includes a return boat trip, snorkeling equipment and a snorkeling guide, packed lunch, jetty fees, conservation fees and Sabah Park entrance fees.
This article first appeared in Malaysia Traveller