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Your Guide to Diving in Layang Layang

Hammerhead Sharks at the Coral Atoll

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...Highlights: hammerhead sharks, turtles, schooling fish & big pelagics...
...Diving environment: healthy reefs, wall diving, advanced divers, off the beaten track...

Located in waters 2,000 metres deep, Layang Layang is an atoll of 16 amazing linked coral reefs. The One Resort island is part of the 600 islands, reefs and shoals in the South China Sea known as The Spratly's. The name means 'Place of Swallows' in Malay and the island is sometimes known as Swallow Reef or 'The Jewel of the Borneo Banks'. The atoll isn't that large - it only covers an area of 14 square kilometres. Situated about 300 km off the Borneo coast, Layang Layang is a sparkling scuba diving gem, surrounded by waters teeming with a rich biodiversity of marine life and some of the most heart-stopping diving opportunities around.

Diving in Layang Layang: Schooling hammerheads at the Malaysian atoll - photo courtesy of ScubaZoo
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Although concentrating on only one feature does not do justice to Layang Layang's varied reefs, the draw card for scuba divers from all over the world is the chance to see vast schools of hammerheads cruising around. This is one of the very few places in the world where, at the right time of year, you have a good chance to drop down into an enormous school of hundreds of these marvellous creatures.

The extraordinary coral gardens of these virgin atoll reefs surrounding Layang Layang Island, have never been fished or experienced any kind of man-made pollution. They are undoubtedly the healthiest reefs in Malaysia and rank as high as any for fish species and coral diversity too.

The visibility in these waters often exceeds 40 metres. In fact, the extraordinary visibility and exciting variety of marine life can sometimes be misleading and dangerous to scuba divers - watch your depth and no-decompression limit when diving here - you could well be deeper than you think. Talking of depth - fun trivia fact:: at a depth of 40m, Layang Layang has the deepest post box in the world, where divers can stop by to mail their waterproof postcards to their friends and loved ones, something so very rare and unique about a scuba trip here!

Don't just imagine yourself hanging in the crystal waters of Layang-Layang at 25 metres down as hundreds of hammerheads cruise past only metres from you mask - do it!

Dive Site Descriptions

Crack Reef

A dive which can give everyone a buzz, both depth junkies and shallow reefers. This site sees another extraordinary shallow coral garden flourishing under the sun's rays, and a gradual descent which becomes a slide into the void of the South China Sea.

You'll begin with a descent down the wall to either of the 2 ledges at 30 metres. From here you can peer over the lip and down the slope to check for resting leopard sharks. Ascend a few metres to a prominent alcove, and search the gorgonians around for pygmy seahorses. Several of the fans between 21 and 27 metres have resident seahorses.
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How to Dive Layang Layang Island

Layang Layang is a small island in the South China Sea, not far from the shores of the Malaysian state of Sabah. It is part of an atoll with a calm shallow lagoon on one side and a deep drop-off into the open ocean on the other. The tiny island consists of little more than a landing strip, a navy base and a dive resort. Special local rates apply at the resort for Malaysians, Singaporeans and expatriates living in those countries with work permits.

No liveaboards regularly make it this way out into the South China Sea so there is only "one show in town" for diving Layang Layang.

The Diving Season

Located within the equatorial belt, Layang Layang has an equatorial climate. Temperatures range from 28°C to 32°C. Although an equatorial climate comes with fairly high humidity, the cool sea breezes make staying on the island very comfortable. The Meteoblue websiteOpens in a new window has more information on the climate of Layang Layang.

The dive resort opens only for 6 months of the year - from March to August, ensuring diving only in the best weather at Layang Layang, and the hammerheads and other big pelagics are present more or less throughout this time, with a greater frequency of sightings around the March - May period. The resort usually closes between September and February because of the heavy monsoon rains that fall here, and you cannot dive here at that time.

In the absence of the marquee creature, the scalloped hammerhead, there is still a lot of good scuba diving to be enjoyed here with healthy walls covered in hard and soft corals and boasting an impressive array of reef fish. Being a tiny speck in the South China Sea, nutrient-rich currents continually wash over the reefs here bringing in the marine life. Other residents during the season include barracudas and big-eye trevally. Occasional visitors to the island that require more luck than exact timing can include manta rays, thresher sharks, whale sharks, melon-headed whales and even orcas.

Normally the visibility is very good, exceeding 30 metres although it can drop. Water temperatures remain quite constant during the short season here, usually hovering around the higher end of the 25 to 30°C range. You should expect visibility in the range of 10 to 40m. The seas can pick up at any time in the waters around Layang Layang outside of the calm lagoon where the resort sits. It is not unusual to surface from a dive in bigger waves than were present upon entry.

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Where is Layang Layang and How Do I Get There?

Review our map below of Sabah, showing the location of the atoll. Here, you will find information on how to get to Layang Layang.

Map of Sabah (click to enlarge in a new window)

Reef Summary

Depth: 5 - >40m
Visibility: 20 - 40m
Currents: Gentle
Surface conditions: Calm
Water temperature: 25 - 30°C
Experience level: Intermediate - advanced
Number of dive sites: ~20
Recommended length of stay: 5 - 8 days

Useful References

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... Thank you for taking the time to correspond with me in depth during the preparation of the trip ... -- , Santa Barbara.  [More customer reviews]