SEVENSEAS Marine Conservation & Travel Issue 11, April 2016 - Page 30

his June, Malaysia will officially establish the biggest Marine Protected Area (MPA) in the country. The Tun Mustapha Park (TMP) will occupy a whopping 1.6

million hectares of seascape of the northern tip of Sabah province, Malaysian Borneo. This region contains the second largest concentration of coral reefs in Malaysia. It is also home to thousands of people who depend on its resources - in many ways it is a microcosm of the entire Coral Triangle bioregion, where environmental protection must be balanced with the needs of growing coastal populations.

Malaysia's Minister for Tourism, Culture & Environment Datuk Seri Masidi made the announcement last week, also declaring that Tun Mustapha and Malaysia's two other major MPAs, Tun Sakaran and Tunku Abdul Rahman would also become shark sanctuaries. According to Masidi, sharks are a crucial aspect of Sabah's nature based tourism industry. "Shark species are vital to the diving business, as it generates about RM380 million (US$9.4 million) per year. We will lose the shark population in 10 years time if stakeholders continue serving shark fin soup," he claimed.

Managing such an enormous area will require a lot of teamwork and policy makers, local communities, NGOs, businesses and scientists are all coming together to help ensure that the new MPA works. Since TMP will be a multi-use Park based on a zoning system, it has taken years of dedication from stakeholders to develop an action plan that balances local and commercial interests with ecological sustainability.

Back in September 2012, a research team comprising 30 marine scientists and volunteers set out on a 19-day expedition to gather data from the many diverse marine ecosystems within the soon to be established Park. All in all they logged more than 800 hours underwater. Preliminary results from the expedition found that 57% of the reefs analyzed were in excellent or good condition.

1.6 Million hectare marine park about to open in Malaysia

The Coral Triangle

Photography by James Morgan