Tourism and marine environment

Ironically, tourism threatens islands

<b>Mamutik island</b>: A plastic scourge is endangering Sabah marine life.

Plastic trash, feeding coral fish and killing sharks for their fins spoil the fun

Story by Olivia Peter
Pictures by Flanegan Bainon

<i>Masidi with Baby M, a coral which he has adopted</i><i>Theresa Tham</i>Sabah’s islands are popular with tourists because of their pristine waters, according to Masidi Manjun, minister of tourism, culture and environment. More than half a million tourists make a beeline for the islands of Manukan, Mamutik, Sapi, Sulug and Gaya which make up the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park. They are attracted to the stunningly colourful corals, fish and other marine animals. But pollution from rising plastic trash, lavish feeding of fish with commercial fish food and tourists’ penchant for eating shark fins are killing corals and other marine life.

The problem is grave enough for Masidi to ban tourists from feeding coral fish with food pellets and discourage them from bringing plastic bottles of drinking water to the islands and eating shark fins cooked in soup, an Asian delicacy.

“We don’t know whether the fish feed is safe for the environment,” he says. “The fish can feed themselves.” But tour companies say tourists are thrilled by the experience of seeing the fish eating voraciously in the clear water as they feed them from their boats.

Three-quarters of Malaysia’s corals are found in Sabah. And they are dying from a process known as “coral bleaching” during which they lose colour and die. There are many reasons for this. But warming of sea because of increased chemical pollutants is one, according to marine biologists.

Twelve popular dive sites of the peninsular Malaysia, notably those of Tioman and Redang, have been closed from July until the end of this month to allow corals to recuperate. About 60% of them are found to be dying. The situation isn’t so bad in Sabah, according to Theresa Tham who heads a marine environmental awareness campaign.

<i>Rayner Joe Binijin with a "reef block" to be planted on the seabed</i>Tham says a five-year programme to rejuvenate corals in the sea of Sabah’s best known islands such as Sipadan and Mabul besides those of the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park has been successful. It involves growing corals in concrete reefs 2 metres underwater to allow photosynthesis in which corals use sunlight to make food for themselves.

Sharks, she says, are being killed for their fins to extinction. This has upset the marine ecology as more parasitic animals which are food for sharks are left to feed on corals, marine biologists say.

But the greatest scourge is the rise of plastic waste in the sea which is strangling exotic scorpion fish, stone fish, mantis shrimps, lobsters, blue-spotted rays and hawksbill turtles, and destroying corals.

On September 25, 120 divers brought up 811.5kg of trash from the sea around Mamutik, Manukan and Sulug. Most of this is lightweight plastic bottles, food wrappers and plastic bags that together are as heavy as a small Malaysian saloon car such as the Perodua Viva.

One tonne of plastic is the weight of 33,000 plastic water bottles of 30-cm (one-foot) tall. If they were to line the road from tip to tip, they will cover about 25km (15.6 miles) from Kota Kinabalu city centre to the Nexus Resort and Spa at Karambunai.

Last year divers recovered 700kg of trash from the same areas. – Insight Sabah
 

Related stories:

The evil of plastic

A losing battle against rubbish

 

Posted on October 1, 2010

Malay 中文
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