TARP dive sites
Three kilometres off the coast of Kota Kinabalu are five islands that have been designated the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park (or TARP for short), named after Malaysia’s first Prime Minister. Each of the islands is fringed by shallow coral reefs. These reefs are not up to the very high standards of other Sabah dive sites like Sipadan or Layang Layang but they do make a pleasant day trip dive from Kota Kinabalu for those who need to hear their bubbles. They are also good sites for training dives and a good place to learn to dive before heading to a Sipadan resort. Local Kota Kinabalu dive centres depart daily from Sutera Harbour to dive sites around Pulau Gaya, Pulau Manukan, Pulau Sulug, Pulau Sapi and Pulau Mamutik.
Above water all the islands are beautiful with white sand beaches surrounding thick tropical vegetation on sandstone rocks. There is lots of wildlife to see. The islands are accessible all year round. There is bungalow accommodation on Mamutik island. Underwater visibility averages about 10m. Currents are normally weak, there are plenty of sheltered bays suitable for snokellers as well as divers. Most dive sites are no deeper than 25m. Several dive sites are very good for night dives.
One of the best dive sites is Mid Reef, which has several species of healthy hard coral, sponges and some anemones. Divers can find moray eels, lionfish, scorpionfish and many other small reef fish. Clownfish can be found in the anemones. Stingrays can be found in the sandy patches.
The largest island of Pulau Gaya has several nice dive sites where reefs are home to schools of juvenile fish as well as anthias and damsels. Macro divers will enjoy hunting for nudibranchs and gobies. At Pulau Sapi you can find cuttlefish, octopus and crustaceans like crabs and shrimps. Leopard sharks can be seen at Pulau Sulag as can triggerfish and turtles. Turtles are also found off South Reef at Pulau Mamutik, including hawksbill and olive ridley.