SIPADAN, Sabah, 19 June 2020: The Covid-19 pandemic hit the tourism industry in Sabah, especially the dive industry – where many operators have been left with time on their hands.
Staff at the award-winning five-star PADI dive operator Scuba Junkie are making the best use of this time by joining the conservation organisation SEAS, (Sea Education Awareness Sabah) in their activities.
Last week to support World Oceans Day they carried out an annual beach and reef clean-up campaign but with a difference — there were few if any tourists on Mabul island and strict social distancing measures were imposed on divers.
“Usually for World Oceans Day, guests and staff work together to do the large beach and reef clean-ups around the island, said Scuba Junkie Dive manager and chairman for SEAS, Khairuddin Bin Riman. “This year, the beach and reef clean-ups were limited, but we still made a significant impact, including lifting discarded fishing gear from dive sites – including one 20-metre drift net.”
He continued: “Beach and reef clean-ups are the most straightforward way for dive operators to contribute to marine conservation. Plastic pollution is a major global problem, with an estimated 8 million tonnes of plastic ending up in the oceans every year. But local efforts – such as the Sabah BebasSampah campaign – can have huge, positive benefits for the immediate environment. Thinking global, but acting local does make a difference.”
For Scuba Junkie, conservation efforts are ongoing. Staff are being trained as Reef Check Eco divers, which will enable them to take part in coral reef health assessments in the upcoming months.
“Around the world, scientists have been documenting the effect of the pandemic lockdown and what it means for the natural world – hoping that the downturn in human movement gave ecosystems a well-needed break,” said David McCann, conservation manager for SEAS, “Reef health check assessments will allow us to document what has happened to our local reefs and identify whether or not the MCO has had a positive impact.”
“We are optimistic,” said Mohd Khairul B Hamsah, instructor for Scuba Junkie. “We took our first guests after the MCO to Sipadan, and the very first things we saw in the water were two endangered scalloped hammerhead sharks and a spotted eagle ray. We also saw baby grey reef sharks on all dive sites around the island – even a school of about 50 of them on one site. In addition, there are schools of jackfish, barracuda, bump heads and reef fish that have made Sipadan world-famous.
“We are looking forward to re-starting in-water projects again,” said McCann “Obviously the lockdown affected our capacity to carry out some conservation projects, but also provided us with unique opportunities to develop others, such as our outreach and supporter engagement programmes.
“We released 966 green turtle hatchlings from our hatchery, which were live-streamed by popular demand to audiences worldwide, and also developed a series of online presentations for students abroad to learn about marine conservation in Sabah.”
“We look forward to continuing these programmes and interacting with guests coming back to Mabul over the next few months.”
Scuba Junkie is offering a ‘Conservation Upgrade’ for bookings during June and July, where guests can ‘upgrade’ their stay and take part in conservation activities with SEAS staff – including special workshops for younger students. The money raised from the upgrade goes back to community projects on the island.
Mabul is a small island off the south-eastern coast of Sabah in Malaysia. The island has been a fishing village since the 1970s. In the 1990s, it first became fashionable with divers due to its proximity to Sipadan island.