Peninsular Malaysia - East Coast
Layang Layang is located 300 km off the coast of Sabah in the South China Sea. It is part of a group of 600 islands known as the Spratly Islands. The small artificial island (50 acres) was built by the Malaysian navy to put a base on in 1985 and is little more than an airstrip.
Now there is one resort on the island as well as the navy and the only way for divers to get there is with the resort's 19 seater plane from Kota Kinabalu or by liveaboard. As seats on the plane are limited the resort can get booked up well in advance so divers who want to go at peak times need to book early. Diving at Layang Layang runs from March to September and is closed for the rest of the year when the South China Sea gets rough. April and May are the peak months to visit when hammerhead shark sightings are virtually assured. The island is also very popular with bird watchers and East Malaysians call the island "Terumbu Layang Layang" or "Swallows Reef."
Layang Layang is a coral reef atoll, the thirteen linked reefs covering fourteen square kilometres. There is a central lagoon which is good for smaller marine life and is often used for night dives but most dives are done on the outer edges when the visibility is superb and the big pelagics can be seen. The surrounding seas are 2000 metres deep and there is nothing else for miles around making this spot a magnet for pelagic marine life. Manta rays are also common visitors as are tuna, giant trevally, barracuda and occasionally whale sharks. The coral is pristine, there is no river run off or pollution to damage its health. The navy keeps the fishing boats away so the reefs full of life.
Crack Reef gets it's name from from a large vertical crack in the reef that starts at the surface and continues down beyong 40m. This is normally a relaxing wall dive although sometimes currents can whip divers along at speed. Underwater photographers have a difficult decision to make on this dive site. That is whether to go for a close up lens or wide angle because both big and small marine life can be seen here.
The reef wall is covered in exquisite soft corals of all colours plus sea whips, feather stars and gorgonian sea fans. Reef fish are everywhere including schools of snapper, fusiliers, wrasse, sweetlips and parrotfish.
Moray eels poke their heads from coral cracks. Nudibranchs and crustaceans are numerous. Turtles are often seen feeding on the reef and white tip reef sharks cruise by regularly. Visibility is always superb making divers think that they are shallower than they really are.
Dog Tooth Lair is named after the large schools of dog tooth tuna that can be seen at the drop off here. The drop off starts at about 40m and drops into the 2000m deep abyss. Above 40m is a sloping coral garden with ledges and overhangs.
All the usual reef fish such as snapper, wrasse, fusilier, parrotfish, surgeonfish and angelfish can be seen here. Other blue water species that can be seen at Dog Tooth Lair are barracuda and trevally. Hammerhead sharks cruise past this dive site in season.
Even oceanic sunfish are occasionally spotted here. On the reef ledge look out for white tip reef sharks and sting rays. Turtles feed on this reef as well.
D'Wall is a sheer vertical from 1m below the surface down to 2000m. That's 2km deep! There is a slight ledge at 40m where leopard sharks sometimes rest but other than that it's straight down.
Thw wall is stunning, a mixture of soft coral, barrel sponges, gorgonion sea fans and crinoids. Large schools of reef fish are everywhere. Bait fish carpet reef patches trying to avoid predators. Visibility is routinely more that 50m.
Big fish like this dive site. White tip reef sharks and grey reefs cruise past. Dog tooth tuna and barracuda are out in the blue. Trevally hunt on the reef edge. Manta rays cruise past in schools and, at the right time of year, schools of hammerhead sharks can be seen. In April and May big schools are seen. After that smaller groups or solo sharks are spotted.
For macro fanatics this dive site is equally impressive with nudibranchs and crustaceans everywhere. This is a dive site that you will want to dive more than once.
Gorgonian Forest is another adptly named dive site as the wall here is covered in huge and colourful gorgonian sea fans that just keep getting bigger as they feed off the current that flows along the wall. The wall is also covered in soft coral like whip corals and black coral with all the usual attendant reef fish.
The currents are normally just moderate making for a pleasant drift dive. Visibility is superb, tempting divers out away from the wall into blue water to look for pelagics.
This is one of the best dive sites around Layang Layang to spot hammerheads sharks. Scalloped hammerheads are most common in April and May. That's the best time to see big schools.
This is also a dive site where anything could pass by. Whale sharks, manta rays and silvertip sharks have all been seen here along with dog tooth tuna, giant trevally and barracuda.
Navigator's Lane is another Layang Layang dive site with excellent visibility and beautiful healthy coral. Hard and soft corals fight for space with sponges, sea fans and feather stars. This dive site would look amazing even if there were no fish here.
As it happens there are thousands of fish here. All the usual reef fish species are present plus schools of hunting fish such as barracuda and giant trevally.
This is also a dive site where divers can see hammerhead sharks at the right time of year. Manta rays are also common. Currents can be strong.
The Runway is a vertical wall dive which, like many dive sites at Layang Layang offers offers the chance to dive with both big and small marine life. Underwater photographers have to choose between macro or wide angle. Divers have to switch between admiring the wall and scanning the blue.
The wall is covered in soft corals, sea fans, sea whips and feather stars. Glassfish carpet areas of the wall and large schools of snapper and fusilier are ever present.
Trevally and tuna come in from the blue to hunt. Hammerhead sharks and manta rays are always a possibility.
Shark's Cave is another Layang Layang dive site that delivers just what it's name states. This is another wall dive dive into the abyss but there is a ledge at 30m where Leopard sharks like to rest in the day. These placid sharks can be approached very closely by divers.
At 24m deep is the entrance to a cave which is home to nurse sharks and white tip sharks as well as leopard sharks. The cave is about 6m long and the entrance is 3m wide so there is plenty of room to get in and out but it is advisable to leave space for the sharks to exit the cave past you in case they get spooked.
Out of the cave on the wall there are soft corals and gorgonian sea fans plus schools of reef fish. Pelagic fish can be seen in the clear blue water, often darting into the wall to hunt for bait fish. Hammerhead sharks and manta rays are common here too.
Snapper Ledge is another beautiful reef that divers can drift along and admire the coral.
Currents are usually milder here than on other Layang Layang dive sites making it suitable for all levels of diver. It makes a pleasant shallower afternoon dive.
As the name suggests there are large schools of snapper here as well as fusilier, wrasse, parrotfish, pufferfish, butterfly fish and angel fish.
The Tunnel is another easy, sheltered dive site and is very popular as a night dive. The shallow sloping reef is mainly hard corals including staghorn, plate, table, brain and mushroom corals.
However once the reef hits 10m it drops off into the abyss and the wall is covered with soft corals and gorgonian sea fans. The hard coral reef is mainly a nursery for small reef fish.
Anthias and Damsels provide the colour. Other ever presents are pufferfish, parrotfish, snapper, wrasse and fusilier. Turtles can be seen here also. On the wall swirling schools of amber jacks can be seen.
On night dives look for mantis shrimps, pink squat lobster, hermit crabs, decorator crabs and spider crabs.
The Valley is a gentle sloping hard coral dive site in the shallow areas before dropping off over the edge to 2000m. The hard coral formations create large ledges and crevices that are full of life and adorned with soft corals, sponges, anemones and seafans.
All the usual reef fish are here plus many nudibranchs and crustaceans. Turtles rest under coral ledges and white tip reef sharks often cruise by.
At the edge of the drop off pelagic species like barracuda and tuna can be seen.
Wrasse Strip is another Layang Layang dive site that offers so much more than just big fish spotting. The coral reef here has a vast array of hard and soft coral varieties.
In the shallow sections of the dive the sunlight pooring through the water lights up the different coloured hard corals.
Of course big fish are here too. Swim to the edge of the reef at 30m and you are likely to see eagle rays and possibly manta rays. Turtles are also common on the reef. But the star of this dive is the coral itself.
Wreck Point is not a wreck dive site, there is no wreck here. It is a sloping hard coral reef from 1m below the surface down to 10m from where it drops off suddenly.
The wall is covered with barrel sponges and gorgonian sea fans. Reef sharks are usually seen just away from the wall. Manta rays and dog tooth tuna are also common.
Wreck Point is a popular night dive when humphead parrotfish can be seen sleeping on the wall. This is also a popular snorkelling site as the reef is so shallow and the visibility is excellent.