KOTA KINABALU: Ten years ago, Dr Elizabeth Wood conducted surveys at Pulau Banggi, off Kudat and reported that the area was thriving with fish.
Yesterday, participants of the Tun Mustapha Park (TMP) Mini Symposium at the 1Borneo Grand Ballroom near here yesterday were told a different story.
Coral reef researcher Dr Maria Beger said in her presentation entitled ‘the Health of Reefs and Fish Biodiversity of the Proposed Tun Mustapha Marine Park’ that her group had researched several sites around Pulau Banggi and found that the diversity of fish there was alarmingly low.
Inspections conducted by Beger’s group on other dive sites found between 200 and 250 species per dive in Palawan Island while at Pulau Banggi, the highest number was only 134 species per dive.
“There wasn’t much there…there was hardly any sharks, garoupa or butterfly fishes,” she said.
A lecturer from the Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) Borneo Marine Research Institute, Zarinah Waheed, concurred with the findings, saying her team had also found very few fish during their survey which was carried out last year.
She also said that her team had covered most of the island, except in the western parts as the effort was hampered by typhoon.
According to UMS School of Business and Economics lecturer Dr James Alin, not gazetting the Tun Mustapha Park years ago has been a great loss to Sabah not just financially but also in terms of loss of corals and marine species within the affected region.
“It has been ten years (since the proposal to make the area a park) and it still hasn’t been realised. We can only calculate our losses by calculating how much it would cost us to restore the region to its former conditions,” Alin reporters after listening to the five papers presented during the morning session of the Tun Mustapha Park mini symposium, which painted a bleak picture on marine species diversity at Pulau Banggi.
He added that gazetting the area into a park would benefit not only the environment but also the people who depend on fishing for a living.
The State Government, through a State Cabinet decision, approved the proposal to gazette the Tun Mustapha Park in 2003.
The objectives of the establishment of the proposed TMP are to protect and enhance biodiversity of terrestrial and marine environment of the area, to exploit the marine and terrestrial resources of the area in an ecologically sustainable manner and to alleviate the socio-economic condition of the local people particularly the hard-core poor of the area, through ecologically sustainable economic development.
Sabah Parks was mandated to coordinate the development of a management plan that was required for the subsequent gazetting of the Park, in collaboration with relevant government agencies and other stakeholders including academics, local communities and NGOs.
Once fully gazetted, TMP will be the largest marine park in Malaysia with 1.02 million hectares and managed in line with the concept of multi-stakeholder collaborative management.
The proposed TMP is a globally significant conservation area. It was recognised as one of the priority conservation areas (PCAs) of the Sulu Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion (SSME) and is located within the Coral Triangle, the centre of the world’s marine diversity.
TMP boasts a rich marine biodiversity as it is home to the elusive dugongs, endangered sea turtles, timid river otters, the mysterious estuarine crocodiles as well as other regular visitors such as the migratory whales and many more marine creatures yet to be discovered.
Having diverse habitats that range from a first class forest reserve to protective mangroves, seagrass habitats and fragile coral reef ecosystems contributed to the rich marine biodiversity and create productive fishing grounds that support a large number of coastal communities within the region.
Since 2003, there have been on-going efforts to profile and increase understanding of TMP through ecological studies, scientific expeditions and community surveys to gather local knowledge, build support and increase participation of local communities in the development and management of TMP through capacity building and awareness raising and develop a management plan for TMP through a multi-stakeholder consultative process.
A major milestone was the formation of an Interim Steering Committee, a multi-stakeholder committee supported by multi-stakeholder Technical Working Groups that coordinated efforts towards the gazettement of TMP.