Malaysia: "Ghost nets" destroying life within Sabah's marine park

Avila Geraldine New Straits Times 20 Jun 18;

KOTA KINABALU: Ghost nets have been wrapping themselves around coral reefs, trapping and killing hundreds of marine life daily within Tunku Abdul Rahman Park, a popular tourism spot and dive site off here.

Over the years, concerned divers have taken their own initiative to remove fishing nets caught in coral reefs within the protected marine park covering five islands – Gaya, Sapi, Manukan, Mamutik, and Sulug.

Despite their efforts in protecting the marine life and highlighting the matter to relevant authorities, ghost nets continue to creep into TARP and become threats to the coral reef and marine life.

Divemaster Jude Junius said tourism activities may collapse if illegal fishing and the dumping of nets within TARP off here persist without effective and proper monitoring from relevant authorities.

“Our reefs are being threatened at a very alarming rate and it will die off if this continues.

“We are doing our part but there is little we can do. Sabah Parks and the fisheries department need to take heed of this problem.

Fishing trap set up by irresponsible individuals within Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park off Kota Kinabalu. Photo Courtesy of Jude Junius.
“We have stumbled upon 100m to 300m long fishing nets caught on reefs. The 300m net is worse because it means leisure divers can see them throughout the whole dive.

“We boast of Sabah being rich in marine biodiversity, but this situation makes the diving industry look bad especially when a diver has just been certified and is looking forward to experience underwater adventure,” he said.

Diver removes a fishing trap found within the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park off Kota Kinabalu. Photo Courtesy of Jude Junius.
Jude also pointed out fishing traps found hidden between reefs as a method to catch fish by irresponsible individuals, and questioned the point of having a conservation fee paid to Sabah Parks.

Since last month, concerned divers had discovered more than 13 ghost nets. Jude noted Gaya Island marine conservation and dive operators namely Borneo Dream, Diverse Borneo, and Land Below The Wind sponsored them the boats and diving gear for the cleanup initiative.

Meanwhile, Sabah Parks TARP manager Anthony Tinggi said the parks relied on information from divers and the exact coordinates, so it would be easy for their team to act on complains with regards fishing nets.

“We have five divers in our marine unit and our team has also removed ghost nets during their dives. I agree we cannot work in silo to tackle the problem and we need to have a strong cooperation from the diving fraternity,” he said.

Fishing trap set up by irresponsible individuals within Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park off Kota Kinabalu. Photo Courtesy of Jude Junius.
He noted that Jude has come to see him to discuss on cooperation, adding TARP management assisted in providing boats and manpower to help in the removal of ghost nets.

“However, we stopped (providing boats) for a while as our divers and boatmen were fasting during the Ramadan. We will nonetheless continue to assist them. I am also looking into establishing a Honorary Ranger.

“We have informed the matter to Sabah Parks director (Dr Jamili Nais) and I am in the midst of preparing the proposal paper to be presented to the top management,” he said.

On the origin of the ghost nets, Tinggi however believed the fishing nets were not being dropped intentionally in TARP but had drifted from outside the park’s boundary.

Diver removing fishing nets with marine life trapped in it within Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park off Kota Kinabalu. Photo Courtesy of Jude Junius.
Having said that, he stressed that Sabah Parks continues to conduct patrols around TARP, including in the wee hours when fishermen were believed to conduct illegal fishing activities.

“However, we have never come across fishermen or fishing boats within the marine park,” he added.

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