Malaysia's first 'underwater cops' to protect coral reefs in Sabah

Malaysia has tasked its first four dive marshals (pictured) to act as "undersea policemen" to prevent divers from damaging the coral around Sipadan Island, which is located off Sabah. The waters around Sipadan are popular with divers around the world
Malaysia has tasked its first four dive marshals (pictured) to act as "undersea policemen" to prevent divers from damaging the coral around Sipadan Island, which is located off Sabah. The waters around Sipadan are popular with divers around the world for their diverse marine life.PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

SEMPORNA • Four dive marshals of the world-renowned diving haven of Pulau Sipadan have become Malaysia's first underwater enforcers. The four, who are from Sabah Parks, have been tasked to ensure divers do not destroy or damage the rich coral at mushroom- shaped Sipadan, the country's only oceanic island.

Tourism, Culture and Environment permanent secretary Ginun Yangus said the presence of the dive marshals would enhance the protection of the natural undersea environment. "They will be like undersea policemen who will act against divers trampling or destroying coral. It is a major step forward. In due time there will be more dive marshals," he said at a function to mark the official gazetting of Sipadan waters as a Sabah Parks conservation area on Saturday.

"Dive masters from various tour operators should also assist in ensuring tourists do not disturb or destroy coral," added Datuk Ginun.

He said the general health of the coral in and around Sipadan was good, although certain areas preferred by divers might be slightly stressed. "We have 12 diving points around Sipadan, but most people prefer going to Barracuda Point, Drop Off Point and South Point," he said, urging visitors to look at other sites in the diving haven instead.

Mr Ginun, who flagged off the gazetting of a 1km radius of the sea around the island as a park, said the move enabled the authorities to act against people who destroyed coral in the area.

A total of 16,846.5ha of coral reefs and sea area around Sipadan are now officially a park area. Previously, only the 13.5ha island was gazetted and Sabah Parks was not able to enforce conservation laws in the surrounding waters.

Sipadan is also gazetted a "Restricted Area" by the National Security Council (NSC).

As of now, 120 divers are given permits daily by the NSC at a fee of RM40 (S$13.50) each. Mr Ginun said Sabah Parks is now looking at the possibility of charging fees from visitors to the island.

THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 07, 2016, with the headline 'Malaysia's first 'underwater cops' to protect coral reefs in Sabah'. Print Edition | Subscribe