The damage caused by barge on the precious coral
SEMPORNA: One of Pulau Mabul’s most famous dive sites, Paradise One, was badly damaged in the early hours of this morning by a giant barge.
The world-famous dive site is favoured by many international divers, and is also home to rare species of coral – many of which were identified in WWF-Semporna’s prestigious Hard Coral Mapping Project.
Pictures sadly show extensive damage, particularly to some of the healthy hard coral colonies.
The dive site is renowned for its night dives, and also as a training site for Reef Check Malaysia Eco-diver courses.
The heavily loaded barge arrived in Mabul waters on the night of 24 June with building materials for a government project on the island.
It became apparent the boatmen were trying to land the barge on Mabul Island, where upon a resort manager on the island, who has asked to remain anonymous, tried to intervene.
The manager stated; “When we saw the barge stationed off the reef, I went and spoke to the contractor based on the island and explained that this size of barge was too big to safely land on Mabul, and that he would need to use a barge one-third of the size.”
They continued, “I explained that the draft of the barge was larger than the water space available even at high tide, and that if he tried to land the barge it would get stuck on the coral reef and cause considerable damage. I’m so sad that the contractor did not heed my advice or warnings, the damage is devastating to see.”
“It is terrible to hear about the damage to this reef. We have been carrying out successful marine conservation outreach programmes with the local community on Pulau Mabul for many years now. Many of our volunteers are horrified to know of the damage, we carried out many beach cleans in that particular area to protect the corals there,” said Adzmin Fatta, Co-Founder of local conservation group Green Semporna.
A Mabul Resort owner, who also wishes to remain anonymous, stated: “It is heart-breaking to see a large part of Paradise One destroyed so quickly. We fully understand the importance of building infrastructure on the island for security purposes, and we are grateful for this and for the tireless work of the security forces.”
They continued, “However, we had hoped that this would be done in an environmentally responsible manner. Mabul is a well-known tourism destination with tourists travelling thousands of miles to visit.
“There are many threats facing marine ecosystems today, but we are proud of the fact that many tourism operators on Mabul have worked together to alleviate these threats in the past.
“We want to build our island’s reputation for responsible tourism and maintain the health of our coral reefs – without which we would have no livelihoods.”
The collaborative work of the resorts and dive centres on Pulau Mabul in caring for their marine environment has been well noted in the past.
Dive operators often work together in beach and reef cleans, as well as addressing other threats to their marine environment.
One well documented example was the Crown-of-thorns seastar (COTS) outbreak on the island in 2018, where over 9,000 COTS were lifted from the reefs around the island of three weeks.
If left unchecked, the COTS would have decimated the coral colonies, destroying the reefs around the island. This collaborative effort involved all the operators on the island, representatives from Reef Check Malaysia, Sabah Tourism Board and had assistance from the Semporna District Office.
“Such care and attention for our reefs in the past makes this careless damage all the more devastating.” said the Resort Manager.
“It is dreadful to hear of the damage to Paradise One on Mabul. This particular reef was not only one of our annual survey sites, but it was notable as a training reef for RCM courses. Many of the key indicator species for Reef Check could be found along Paradise One – illustrating how diverse that particular reef was.
“It can take many years for reefs to re-generate properly, especially with additional stresses such as coral bleaching, which has been noted in the Semporna area recently. I sincerely hope this is not the case for this particular reef, and I urge care and caution for further work at that site,” said Julian Hyde, General Manager of Reef Check Malaysia.
The Mabul Resort Manager agrees: “I ask the authorities to ensure that this does not happen again.
“Resorts and NGOs in this area have been helping to promote Sabah as one of the leading eco-tourism destinations in the world and careless damage to such a famous dive site not only damages a beautiful yet fragile ecosystem, but it also damages Malaysia’s reputation from an international viewpoint. This is really heartbreaking.”