Malaysia: Semporna community, tourists applaud shark conservation efforts

The Borneo Post 11 Apr 16;

SEMPORNA: The local community and tourists in Semporna joined together to applaud the state government’s recent efforts for shark conservation and marine protection.

The support was evident at Shark Week, a conservation event co-organised by Scuba Junkie, the award winning dive operator, and Green Semporna, a community-led conservation organisation based in Semporna.

Shark Week, which is now in its third year, focuses on responsible, reliable information about sharks and rays and their conservation issues and efforts worldwide, particularly the sharks of Sabah and the work of the Sabah Shark Protection Association (SSPA).

The importance of Sabahs marine ecosystems and the conservation efforts to protect them, by both the Malaysian government and environmental NGOs, were also highlighted during the week.

This is my third visit to Sabah, said Yali Yuan, a tourist from Beijing, China at Shark Week on Pulau Mabul.

I come here every year because of the amazing wildlife, and because I want to dive with sharks. Sabah is so beautiful I have been diving in both Semporna and Kota Kinabalu and I have seen so many different types of sharks and rays. Anything the government is doing to protect this unique place, especially the creation of shark sanctuaries, is to be applauded!

Shark Week was once again an amazing success, with over 200 local school children taking part in conservation activities on the island, as well as hundreds more at Shark Awareness Roadshows at local schools in Semporna.

The Marine Recreation class from Kolej Komuniti, Semporna, visitied Pulau Mabul for a two-day conservation workshop, which included a special section on sharks and rays, specifically the sharks and rays of the Semporna region and the need for another shark sanctuary there.

I enjoyed the conservation workshop, particularly the fish identification lesson and snorkel. But I was really fascinated to find out about the different types of sharks and rays seen in my home area, it seems incredible that such diversity is on my doorstep rivalled by only a handful of places around the world. I think it would be good to have something in place to protect the sharks and rays here, something to keep my home area so special, said one of the students attending the workshop.

Sabah has an amazing wealth of marine biodiversity, not least the number of sharks and rays seen in the area. There are an estimated 63 species of sharks and 68 species of ray in the Semporna region alone, and Sabah in particular is one of the worlds best places to dive and snorkel with sharks, boasting species from the extremely rare and elusive Borneo shark to the largest fish in the sea, the graceful whale shark.

The creation of the three shark sanctuaries in Sabah is a vital step. The sanctuaries will not only protect our wildlife, but will ensure future tourism revenues and provide livelihoods for local people. It is estimated that a shark will bring in US$1.9 million in diving tourism, over its lifetime. Creating sanctuaries for Sabahs sharks makes sound environmental and economical sense, said director of Kolej Komuniti Semporna, Norasmah Jaafar.

The event also had numerous presentations and talks from shark experts, held at Scuba Junkies Mabul Beach Resort, which were popular with visitors to the island with full attendance every night.

Many tourists to the island remarked on the unparallelled biodiversity of the region, and commended the honourable plans of Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun to create three shark sanctuaries in Sabah, and his continued calls to ban shark hunting and finning in Sabah.

Many also voiced their support for the work of the Sabah Shark Protection Association, particularly the #myfinmylife campaign, which aims to aid shark conservation by reducing the demand for shark fin soup.

We at Scuba Junkie are fortunate enough to be in a position where we can engage both local communities and tourists in shark conservation activities and promote the work of the SSPA. We were inspired by the support we received for Shark Week, in particular the support shown for the creation of another new shark sanctuary in the Semporna region, said environmental officer for Scuba Junkie SEAS, David McCann.

We have thousands of divers coming here every year to dive with sharks and rays. The dive industry in Semporna is healthy, and provides sustainable livelihoods for many in the region. Creating a shark sanctuary in Semporna would ensure not only that the remarkable biodiversity of sharks and rays here are protected, but ensure that tourists would continue to come here for many years, said manager at Mabul Beach Resort, Steve Ashby.

Sharks are responsible for maintaining a healthy marine ecosystem. With so many people in the Semporna region relying on the ocean for sustenance, they stand to lose this ability if sharks are not protected. Sharks in our oceans will help ensure a healthy ocean for the local communities, a win-win situation, McCann continued.

Such was the success of Shark Week, while Shark Week 2017 is already in the planning stages.

Being from Semporna, I am very proud to have seen the support for shark conservation in Shark Week,” said chairperson of Green Semporna, Rina Ismail.

“It has been a really busy, but positive week. Green Semporna will continue working towards better shark conservation in this area. Our dedicated Shark Team have a series of events planned for this year. However, it saddens me to still see shark products on sale in Semporna, but hopefully with everyone working together we will bring an end to this and sharks will remain where they belong, in the oceans, bringing joy to many people.

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