Marine life at world's best diving sites off Sabah under threat due to fish bombing

KOTA KINABALU (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The town of Semporna on the east coast of the Malaysian state of Sabah is known for being the gateway to some of the world's best diving sites.

But conservationists are warning that fish bombing, the practice of using explosives to catch marine fish, is threatening the marine ecosystem there.

"At least 86 per cent of the corals in the district are on the verge of destruction due to fish-bombing activities," said Semporna Priority Conservation Area team leader Choo Poh Leem.

"Such actions are also leading to the extinction of marine life," she said during an awareness programme with parents, teachers and students in Semporna last Friday (Jan 25).

The practice of killing turtles for meat, taking turtle eggs and harvesting them for food or selling them was also a huge problem in Semporna, she said.

Some 300 turtles were recorded to have been killed as of 2017, she added.

Ms Choo said turtle viewing and the release of hatchlings were also marketed as part of tourism products.

But she warned that if the community kept killing turtles or taking their eggs, there would be no more turtles left to see.

A person found with one turtle egg can be fined RM50,000 (S$16,500) and up to RM250,000.

Ms Choo stressed that enforcement agencies must be more proactive and play a bigger role in making sure such activities were stopped.

"Enforcement of laws is vital to helping curb fish bombing," she said.

To this, Ms Choo said the team would be working with enforcement agencies to hold a workshop on the issue on Feb 26 at the Semporna Fisheries Department office.

Earlier, Deputy Chief Minister Jaujan Sambakong, who officiated the event, reminded the community to be responsible and to help protect the environment.

"Our nature is our treasure, without them we will not be able to introduce Sabah to the world," he said.