by Tim Willmott : Be the first to leave a comment
The Semporna Islands Project (SIP) began in 1998 and is a collaborative venture between the Marine Conservation Society (MCS), Sabah Parks, WWF Malaysia and Nature Link. The objective is to produce a plan for conservation of biodiversity and sustainable use of the Semporna islands and reefs, an area covering approximately 350 sq km. These beautiful islands and reefs support exceptional biodiversity and many species of high conservation value, with the park considered one of the prime coral reef sites in Malaysia.
Over 2,000 Suluk, Bajau, and Bajau Laut live in the park, and this unique mix of people adds a further dimension to the area through their cultures, lifestyles, legends and skills. The main activities are fishing, gardening and seaweed cultivation, while fish, shellfish, medicinal plants, fruits and timber are all harvested. Recreational use is currently almost non-existent, but there is enormous potential for tourism, provided development is carefully managed.
Use of marine resources over many years has led to a serious decline in the population of fish and other edible species, causing hardship to fishermen and threatening biodiversity. Dynamite fishing methods and extractive use of land resources have added to the problem, while some wild animals have been hunted to local extinction. The park includes plans for conservation of biodiversity, sustainable use of resources, tourism development and low-impact mariculture. The management goal is to ensure a healthy future for the area by safeguarding livelihoods and the environment, promoting sustainable use of natural resources and encouraging environmentally-sensitive development.
Action was taken to reduce fishing pressure so that populations could recover and fishing methods were controlled in order to reduce habitat damage and over-exploitation. An environmental awareness and education programme underpinned the implementation of the management plan and a committee comprising local representatives, land inheritors and relevant government agencies was set up to discuss land claims and regulations. As the project progressed, the attitude towards the plan for conservation and management became increasingly positive as people began to recognise that the proposed Park could bring economic, social and environmental benefits.