SEVENSEAS Marine Conservation & Travel Issue 11, April 2016 - Page 35

More than 500 reef fish species were recorded as well as numerous species of coral, including four rare types that were previously only though to occur in Semporna, eastern Sabah and Berau, Indonesia. But it wasn’t just confirmation of the richness of the marine environment that was important. There was also abundant evidence of negative human impacts, including bomb fishing (a total of 15 bombs were heard during the trip), overfishing and pollution. Iconic species like sharks and turtles were conspicuously absent; when megafauna such as these are missing, it indicates that an ecosystem is under pressure.

This data conveyed the urgent need for a sustainable management approach in the Tun Mustapha Park, in order to preserve existing biodiversity and to allow depleted fish stocks and damaged coral to recover. Those areas with minimal damage can recover in as little as three to five years, according to WWF Malaysia. Areas with more significant damage will require longer – five to ten years or more.

Detailed data on species will also impact on zoning – deciding which areas should be no take zones and which should be limited use. Working in tandem with policy makers, local communities and businesses, science is helping ensure the best approach to managing the Tun Mustapha Marine Park. The area has huge as yet largely untapped potential for nature based tourism development. Besides the potential for dive based tourism, the area is replete with beautiful white sand beaches, pretty islands and stunning seascapes. There are a number of key turtle nesting areas, offering opportunities for voluntourism through a local charity.

The challenge now is to make it all work.

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