WWF-Malaysia is disheartened by the recent incident that happened in Paradise I and II, Mabul Island, an island located in Sabah. A barge heavily loaded with construction materials has brought devastating damages to years of marine conservation work that have been done together with local communities and its partner organisations. The coral reefs that took decades to thrive were destroyed within seconds.
Paradise I and II in Mabul Island are world-famous dive sites – blessed with pristine beaches and water full of biodiversity. Its beauty is not only the pride of the local communities, visitors and divers from all around the world have also travelled miles to experience it. Hence, the coral reefs are important sources of livelihood for the local communities and the tourism sector. The currently-under-investigation incident has no doubt brought serious damage to not only the ecosystem, but also to the communities’ future livelihood.
Mabul Island is undeniably an important place for the world’s biodiversity, for it is part of the Coral Triangle Region – a marine region that spans those parts of Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, the Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste. This place with abundant biodiversity contains at least 500 species of reef-building corals, of which 76 percent (605) of the world’s coral species (798) are found in the Coral Triangle, the highest coral diversity in the world. Many people, especially the coastal communities rely on coral reef ecosystems for their food and livelihood through fisheries.
Since 2009, WWF-Malaysia has worked closely together with dive operators and local coastal communities to raise awareness on the importance of marine resources. Through its Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment, Mabul Island has been identified as one of the most vulnerable islands in Semporna.
“Losing essential parts of the marine environment such as coral reefs will generate ripple effects that cause much broader depletion to fisheries, tourism, and social economy/livelihood. Coral reefs protect coastlines from storms and erosion, provide jobs for local communities, and offer opportunities for marine tourism,” said Monique Sumampouw, Head of Marine, WWF-Malaysia.
Through a series of community engagement activities carried out by WWF-Malaysia and its partner organisations, the local communities have gained significant awareness on the importance of their natural inheritance, and have since developed an irreplaceable connection with the coral reefs. The local communities on Mabul Island have also identified coral reefs as important resources to mitigate the impact of climate change. Currently, a youth organisation on Mabul Island – IKLIM, is actively involved in coral restoration projects.
“As a resident on Mabul Island, I am disappointed to witness the damaged corals. I would like to urge the relevant authorities to take action to prevent similar incidents in the future, and to protect our coral reefs,” lamented a representative of youth climate leaders (IKLIM) from Mabul.
WWF-Malaysia would like to emphasise the utmost importance in transparency throughout the process of approving development projects. In an extremely vulnerable and valuable area such as Mabul Island, an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) should be carried out to ensure a proper mitigation plan is in place and to avoid destruction due to negligence in sensitive areas. An EIA also allows and promotes consultation from stakeholders, such as local communities and governmental departments. This will ensure a holistic approach in delivering development projects.
WWF-Malaysia urges for thorough investigation to ensure accountability in this deeply unfortunate event. It also supports relevant government agencies and the District Officer of Semporna in taking the steps to avoid such devastating cases from happening again in our nation’s paradises.