“The most romantic of the British North Borneo Company’s possessions is doubtless that lying between Silam in Darvel Bay and Batu Tinagat in Sibuco Bay. Here turquoise blue seas are dotted with innumerable fantastic shaped islands, spotted with verdure and fringed with white sandy beaches, and coral reefs bearing Pearls, Pearlshells, Beche-de-Mer and other valuable sea products are seen lying fathoms deep in its pellucid waters.” K.P. Tabrett, The Foundings Of Semporna
Semporna is small fishing town on the East Coast of Sabah, Borneo. It faces the Celebes Sea and is surrounded by a scatter of islands that have calmed tropical waters, harboured extensive marine ecosystems, and provided Semporneans the wealth of the ocean since time immemorial.
Apart from fishery, Semporna is a hub of seaweed farming, shrimp farming, pearl farming and other aquacultural industries.
While the town itself has no beach or other physical attractions, Semporna is a gateway to world-famous islands less than an hour away by boat. Hence tourism is an important industry, encouraging investment in the protection of the region’s natural beauty.
Semporna is known best as the gateway to exquisitely beautiful tropical islands offering white sandy beaches and world-class diving. Among them are the famed oceanic Sipadan, muck-diving gem Mabul, shallow reefbed Kapalai and rising star Mataking. All of which are 30 – 45 minutes on boat ride
The waters surrounding Semporna are part of the Coral Triangle, considered to be the global epicentre of marine biodiversity. Thousands of species of coral, fish, turtles and many other marine life forms some rare and endangered are to be found here.
Semporna enjoys a tropical coastal climate: hot and humid all year round with cooling sea breeze and occasional rain. Because of the strategic location, the town and the destination islands often escape heavy monsoon storms. Daytime temperature varies between 28 to 34 degrees Celsius and water temperature is a balmy 27 degrees Celsius.
The Bajau ethnic group is composed of several sub-ethnic groups with a heritage rich in culture and customs. They are usually Muslim, with some incorporating traditional beliefs that predate Islam. The Bajau are peaceful folks and their warmth and friendliness to visitors and strangers are well known.
The Bajau of East Coast Sabah were historically a nomadic and seafaring people who lived much of their lives on boats as Sea Gypsies, living off the ocean by fishing and trading. Today most of them live all around Semporna and other parts of Sabah, and their activities have expanded to farming and business sectors.
Nevertheless, their relationship to the sea continues to survive. Their livelihoods, as well as those of the Kadazandusun, the local Chinese and other ethnic communities of Semporna, largely depend on the gift of the sea through fishery, aquaculture and tourism.
The Bajau possess an endangered artistry of handcrafting fishing canoes and migratory vessels known as lepa. Every April, the East Coast Bajau gather for the Regatta Lepa to celebrate their maritime heritage. During this festival, hundreds of brightly decorated traditional lepa will parade near the coasts of Semporna and compete in various events. Young ladies too enliven the festivities and do their part to keep the culture alive by performing traditional Bajau dances in beautiful traditional costumes.
* It is advisable to book the accomodation 1 month prior to the event.