SEMPORNA: Just days after photographs of dead sharks emerged from Mabul Island off here, tourists caught on camera sharks slumped on a longboat, the tails of at least four hanging on the side.
Having just returned to their boat after a dive off the reef on Ribbon Valley on the south side of Mabul on July 22, the visitors from Sweden outcried that it was not something they had expected to see on their vacation.
Jonas Neander who shared the images with the Sabah Shark Protection Association (SSPA) said he was upset to witness the boat zooming by with sharks, so close to the dive haven of Sipadan.
“I couldn’t believe it when we came up after the dive and saw the boat with the shark tails clearly hanging over the edge – in the middle of the day!
“We had followed the online updates about the finning on Mabul – but to see it (dead sharks) with our own eyes was so disappointing, especially given the spectacular biodiversity of these waters, which bring us back year after year,” Neander said.
Fellow diver Ewa Hansen said it did not matter where the sharks were from and supports efforts to ensure protection of the species.
“We have heard about the plans to create safe havens for sharks in Sabah – we applaud this initiative, especially if it involves alternative livelihoods for those who currently catch the sharks.
“These plans show great leadership and forward thinking. It would be amazing to see such protection for this area, it would ensure people can keep coming and enjoying the diving and wildlife here for years to come,” Hansen said.
A scientific study of sharks in Sabah’s east coast, particularly the Semporna region by the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) in 2012 valued a single living shark at USD 815,000 (about RM3.6 million) in terms of tourism revenue for the state, compared to its fins at USD 100 (about RM440).
In a statement today, SSPA said it was deplorable that divers who visit Sabah in particular the Semporna region, had to witness the destruction of sharks before their very eyes.
“It is sad and unfortunate that tourists who are supporting the local economy by diving in Sabah are seeing dead sharks while on holiday.
“They are here to appreciate what Sabah has to offer in terms of its biodiversity and we have an obligation to ensure sharks remain in our waters, not just for the economic spin-off, but also to ensure the health of the marine ecosystem, in which sharks play a vital role as apex predators.”
The association added that it could not verify the species of sharks that were seen on the boat.
SSPA said conservation groups in Sabah were working hard to protect sharks and that State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun had been vocal about the subject yet unable to make much headway.
It lamented that the Federal Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry Ministry “does not seem willing to amend the law to provide more protection for shark species or to include a ban on shark hunting”.
“Protecting sharks will benefit fishermen and the local economy while ensuring the future of Sabah’s diverse marine life. We must all work together to save Sabah sharks,” SSPA said.
Global shark tourism generates a revenue of around USD 314 million annually and is expected to keep growing to a potential USD 780 million annually over the next 20 years.
SSPA comprises the Malaysian Nature Society (Sabah branch); Marine Conservation Society (MCS); Shark, Education, Awareness and Survival (SEAS); Scubazoo; Tropical Research and Conservation Centre (TRACC); WWF-Malaysia; Shark Stewards; and Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP). -BERNAMA