Ever since Jacques Cousteau described the reef encircling Palau Sipadan as an “untouched piece of art,” divers have flocked there to experience its overwhelming diversity of marine life for themselves. Those divers know that any trip to Sipadan isn’t complete without at least one dive at Barracuda Point.
Barracuda Point is the exception that proves a cardinal rule of dive sites: If the name includes a sea creature, i.e. Angelfish Alley or Crab Corner, that creature is unlikely to appear during the dive.
While the near-certainty of seeing a hundreds-strong tornado of chevron barracuda is the defining feature at Barracuda Point, you’ll see plenty of other life as well. For starters, a giant school of jacks hangs out at the top of the wall near the site’s entry point. As you descend through this cloud, look out for a stampede of bumphead parrotfish storming the reef. The wall itself, which extends down hundreds of feet, is alive with vibrant soft and hard corals. Nestled along the wall is an almost comic diversity of reef fish, and nudibranchs of all shapes and colors. Spiny lobsters tuck into small crevasses, and the occasional green or hawksbill turtle snoozes on larger ledges. As on all Sipadan dives, keep an eye on the blue, where you might spot gray reef or whitetip reef sharks cruising by.
About 15 to 20 minutes into the dive, you’ll encounter a channel cutting through the wall to the right. Depending on the current, you might find a swarm of reef sharks here at around 65 feet (20 m). The barracuda tend to be much shallower at around 40 feet (12 m), and can congregate anywhere along the channel. If the current is ripping, position yourself close the swarm, grab hold of the rocky bottom, and enjoy the show for as long as your deco time and air supply permit.
When it’s time to let go, shallow up along the wall on right side of the channel, watching for gray reef sharks resting along the sandy bottom, or the odd eagle ray buzzing by. The channel and sloping wall are full of macro life as well, should you care to slow down and search for leaf scorpionfish, pipefish, crabs or commensal shrimp galore. Complete your safety stop along the top of the reef, which sits conveniently at around 16 feet (5 m). Peek under the abundant table coral and you might find a juvenile shark hidden in the shadows, but beware the titan triggerfish guarding its territory.
Depth: 15 to 130 feet (5 to 40 m)
Water Temperature: 80 to 84 F (27 to 29 C)
Exposure Protection: Rash guard & board shorts or 3 mm shorty during colder months
Visibility: 100-plus feet (30-plus m)
When to go: Year-round. Book well in advance, as daily permits are in short supply
Skill level: Appropriate for new divers if currents aren’t too strong
Christina Koukkos is a New York-based freelance writer and editor. She covers scuba diving, responsible tourism, off-beat destinations, cultural travel and other topics. She’s a certified PADI dive instructor and MSDT as well as an amateur underwater (and topside) photographer. Learn more about her at https://koukkos.com/, on her blog, Taking the Fork, on Instagram or Twitter.