KUDAT (Sabah) • Malaysia has launched its biggest marine protected area off Sabah, known for its teeming biodiversity and home to endangered dugongs and green turtles.
Gazetted on May 19, nearly 16 years after the proposal was first mooted, the almost 898,763 ha Tun Mustapha Park (TMP) is about 12 times the size of Singapore and corrals more than 50 islands and islets off the northern tip of the Sabah state.
"This is a historical event for us," Sabah Chief Minister Musa Aman was quoted as saying by the New Straits Times, when he unveiled the marine park yesterday.
FACTS AND FIGURES
SIZE: Almost 898,763ha, about 12 times the size of Singapore FEATURES: More than 50 islands and islets
MARINE LIFE OFF NORTHERN SABAH: Over 610 species of hard corals and fish, as well as endangered green turtles and dugongs
POPULATION WITHIN THE PARK: 80,000; mostly fishermen
DAILY CATCH: 100 tonnes of fish valued at RM700,000 (S$234,000) daily
EXPECTED ECOTOURISM INCOME: RM343.4 million over 20 years
"With the establishment of this large marine park, Malaysia's commitment in the Convention of Biological Diversity, United Nations Environment Programme to protect at least 10 per cent of the marine and coastal area can be achieved by 2020," he said.
Lying within the Coral Triangle - a six million sq km marine area sustaining some 120 million people in the western Pacific Ocean - the TMP boasts one of the world's richest marine flora and fauna complexes, including coral reefs, mangroves and seagrass beds.
This is the first multiple-use park in Malaysia, where ecotourism is expanded and fishing is restricted to designated zones to better protect the marine and coastal ecosystems and manage the rich underwater resources that support some 80,000 coastal inhabitants.
State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Masidi Manjun said the TMP is unique as it is the only marine park where two seas - the Sulu and the South China sea - meet, The Star reported.
According to WWF-Malaysia, a group affiliated with the World Wide Fund for Nature conservation organisation, the TMP produces Sabah's third-largest volume of fishery products from coral reefs, bays and open waters - about 100 tonnes of fish worth some RM700,000 (S$234,000) daily.
But like many fertile fishing grounds, the area is under threat by overfishing, destructive fishing and uncontrolled coastal development.
With conservation and protection in place, ecotourism is expected to generate an income of RM343.4 million over 20 years for the park, according to a valuation study published by PE Research, with partial funding from the United States Agency for International Development's Coral Triangle Support Partnership.
The TMP is one of Sabah's three marine parks, including the Tun Sakaran Marine Park and the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park. With the latest addition, the aggregate size of protected marine parks in Sabah is now about two million ha.