Diving Tioman Island
by Graham Collins
Tioman is the third largest Malayasian island, off the east coast of the peninsula. The island is about 38 by 19 km. There is a road which extends about 3-4 km past the airstrip and ferry terminal and a couple of km either side. The coast is a marine park area with a limit of 2 miles offshore for commercial fishing, though this is not effectively enforced at present. The water is warm, from 27 to 29 oC. Most resorts accept credit cards, but there is a 3% charge. Exchange currency before you get to the island as you won't get a good exchange rate on Tioman. There is no decompression chamber on Tioman Island: the nearest is in Singapore. Make sure you have adequate travel insurance for diving.
In the past, the airline, Berjaya Air, ran flights from both Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, however now, the only way to get to Tioman is by ferry from Mersing or Tanjung Gemok ferry terminals (around a 2 hour trip). The ferry timetable is only released around a month in advance, so contact your resort or dive centre for the ferry timetable.
There are a number of dive centres on the island. From the internet, we picked Tioman Dive Centre.The centre is owned and managed by Rosie since 2011.
The dive centre itself is on the beach within the grounds of the Swiss Cottage Chalets, which provide low cost accommodation suitable for most divers. A little more luxury may be found at the Babura Hotel complex about 50 meters along the beach. For those who also need a golf course, the Berjaya Resort complex is a short taxi ride further out along the road.
We stayed in a beach front chalet which has a double bed, optional single extra single bed, and a toilet and hot shower area. Tioman Dive Centre can arrange accommodation and airport or ferry terminal pick-up for divers. The village of Tekek extends along the road from the airport area to Tioman Dive Centre, so there is a good choice of restaurants within a couple of minutes walk, as well as shops selling beer, liquor, cigarettes, basic toiletries, sun creams, mosquito repellant etc. Located between the tropical forest and the sea, there are mosquitos, but not malaria, and sand flies from the beach. Simple precautions will help minimise the number of itchy patches on exposed skin.
The diving around the Tekek area of Tioman is typically between 10 and 25 meters deep, and being normally flat calm with limited currents, the diving is suitable for all grades of diver from beginners to much more experienced.
The season runs from early February to November, the out of season time is associated with unpredictable weather during the monsoon. The best time of the year for visibility is March – June and visibility may drop in July and August.
Typically visibility is between 15-20 meters, but sometimes drops to 5 meters for no very obvious reason. Dive sites (with the exception of the outer islands) are only a few minutes boat ride away from the dive centre, so 3 50-55 minute dives per day is the norm with Tioman Dive Centre.
There are a few small wrecks of wooden fishing boats, which provide a focus for fish life, and lots of coral. Turtles are frequently spotted, but sharks are less common. There are black-tip reef sharks around but they are shy, and there are also some Coral Cat small sharks. The area is an excellent place for nudibranch spotting, and for other invertebrates.
On our visit we dived at:
(See our dive sites page for full details of these dives.)
- Tom Yam wreck (depth 22 m) - lots of fish life including lionfish on the wreck and a school of juvenile barracuda patrolling above.
Ringgis Island (depth 12 m) - dived here twice, saw 3 turtles and a black-tip reef shark (twice) and some fully grown barracuda
Photo by Graham Collins
- Pirate Reef (depth 12 m) - very close to the dive centre, brief glimpse of a turtle
- Sawadee (depth 26 m - although the seabed is at 30m) Here there are 2 wrecked fishing boats close together. The visibility was very poor, more UK than tropical, so we stayed on just one wreck. There was a large stonefish resident and large barracuda above the wreck, and many other shoaling fish
- Soyak Island (depth 10 m) - about a 15 minute ride in the boat and is a very scenic dive
- Timok Island (depth 12 m) - again a 15 minute ride from the centre, excellent for nudibranch spotting.
- Soyak Wreck (depth 25 m) - another fishing boat just out across a sandy bottom from the island itself
- Ringgis Wreck (depth 22 m) - by now the visibility had improved considerably so we were able to lots of fish life and many nudibranchs on and around the wreck.
- Hidden Reef (depth 16 m) - A reef complex close to Ringgis Island, but on this dive covered by a current. We came across 2 lost commercial fishing nets caught on this reef, showing the 2 mile fishing limit is being ignored. We understand that these nets will be removed by Tioman Dive Centre in the near future.
- Tekek House Reef (depth 10 m) - just out from the dive centre, this shore dive is very scenic and interesting. Dropping to 10-12m out on the sand most of the site is at around 8m. There are turtles that are often present, and a whole variety of corals and fish life.