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An Unforgettable Dive: Parrotfish in Paradise

Adventurer Katie Leeper had the perfect dive day staying on and diving around a decommissioned oil rig in Malaysia
By Tiffany Duong | Published On July 9, 2024
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An Unforgettable Dive: Parrotfish in Paradise

Katie Leeper reignited her passion for diving while traveling to Southeast Asia.

Courtesy Katie Leeper

As scuba divers, we’re privileged to explore, enjoy and play beneath the surface—something the vast majority of people on the planet will never experience. While it’s hard to pick a favorite, each of us certainly has a dive we’ll never forget. Whether it’s crossing something off of our scuba diving bucket list, making eye contact with a humpback whale or simply enjoying a perfect day underwater with our favorite dive buddies, we love to share dive stories with other aquaholics.

To celebrate the beauty, variety and joy that this sport brings, we’re sharing some truly unforgettable dives from around the world, as told by the divers who lived them first-hand. We hope you’ll enjoy them as much as we do!

Name: Katie Leeper

Certification: I got certified when I was 15, in Florida in the Springs/Panhandle.

Current: An adventurous, free spirit, enjoying scuba diving to encounter sea life. Fell in love with Thailand, meditation and Buddhism while traveling.

Follow: @katieleeper

Katie Leeper’s Roctopus Dive School coworkers reignited her love for scuba.

Courtesy Katie Leeper

My ‘Must Have’ On Any Dive Trip

My Insta360 dive camera. Having that has changed the game for me because it allows me to experience my dive, but then also share it with those around me, with friends and family who will never dive.

In one of my videos, I was filming a fish, and my dive buddy was trying to get my attention because I was swimming over a turtle without even noticing it. You see the fish I am filming, my buddy signaling at me, and then I am visibly shocked when I finally see the turtle.

Related Reading: An Unforgettable Dive: So Many Sea Turtles in Panama

My Unforgettable Dive:

Diving on the Seaventures Dive Rig in Malaysia was one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had. I stumbled upon it while I was in Koh Tao, Thailand. I read about the diving and endangered land creatures and knew immediately that I wanted to go there.

It’s a decommissioned oil rig that’s been converted into a dive resort. Think: a liveaboard that doesn’t move. It’s an all-inclusive experience, and you can dive off the rig or house reef anytime, day or night.

Bumphead parrotfish at Sipadan Island. Carey

The rig is a short boat ride from the Sipadan Islands–with some of the best dive sites in the world. In the last few years, they’ve put strict mandates on how many divers can stay overnight on the rig to protect the reef. The amount of marine life there was so shocking. I was also amazed at how alive the coral was and how there wasn’t a single piece of trash.

It showed me that they are protecting the reefs. These places have so much marine life, and we need to protect them through really strict mandates. I think these rules are beautiful and necessary things. I don’t think enough places are doing that.

We got up early in the morning to go over the dive briefing and plan, including what fish we might see. For me, I dive to see different marine life and bumphead parrotfish (Bolbometopon muricatum) are one of the fish this site is known for. Their huge teeth make them look almost human-like, or maybe like dinosaurs.

We got so lucky! Right when we got down, a huge school of bumpheads swam right past us. I love parrotfish because they’re so colorful and poop sand. Bumpheads are so funny looking and so ugly, but also so expressive.

Related Reading: Fighting to Save the Caribbean's Coral Reefs

I also saw at least 20 sea turtles on that dive—it was insane. Because there isn’t a huge human footprint in the Sipadan Islands, they aren’t fearful. A little further, there was a massive school of jackfish. I’ve never seen so many fish underwater, so maybe it was more like a university than a school. The current was very strong, so we just floated with the jackfish for the rest of the dive. It was so, so beautiful.

Before I arrived, I read about how these islands are some of the best diving in the world. But being here is an unreal experience, and at times I am completely in awe of the nature that surrounds me.

For our surface interval, we spend some time eating breakfast on an island. Someone chops down coconuts, and we enjoy fresh coconut water in the sunshine.

On the second dive of the day, the current was whipping, and there are a lot of sharks. We know it is shark feeding hour and make sure to be there. At one point, in every direction I look, there was a shark. They are feeding, and we are just in the middle of all of it. It makes me feel so small, like a small piece of the world, and I love it.

As we dive a little deeper, we run into a sleeping zebra shark (referred to as leopard shark locally) (Stegostoma tigrinum) around 100 feet. I had never seen a shark like that, just chilling.

It is the most magical day of diving. At night, the adventure continues; there are cuttlefish and octopus right on the house reef. The night dives at Seaventures Dive Rig make me feel like we were in space! We watch octopuses change colors, see eels the size of dinosaurs, and simply admire the reef for hours.