By Olivia Miwil
KUDAT, Malaysia — Following an expedition and survey, a team of scientists has approved the idea of gazetting a 1.02 million hectare marine park, which covers the waters here to Pulau Banggi.
The 19-day expedition at Tun Mustapha Park last month yielded positive results.
They will propose that the Sabah government gazette the park by 2016, to ensure the conservation of marine life. The park also has the potential to become the largest marine park in Southeast Asia.
A survey on the park's marine species was conducted by experts from the Naturalis Biodiversity Centere of Netherlands, University of Queensland, Australia, World Wide Fund (WWF)-Malaysia, Universiti Malaysia Sabah, Universiti Malaya and Sabah Parks.
WWF-Malaysia Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion (SSME) programme manager Robecca Jumin said: "Preliminary results show that the presence of species, such as butterfly fish, giant clams sea cucumber and sea urchins indicates the coral reefs are in good condition. However, fish species are low."
She said rampant fishing activities by local communities from the surrounding areas had contributed to the small number.
The area consists of 50 islands and islets, and is a source of livelihood for the 80,000 people living along the coast, who still practise barter trade with traditional farmers from the interior.
The team also discovered the remains of a shipwreck during the survey.
"It will attract adventurous divers and provide an alternative livelihood to the local communities."
The expedition was jointly funded by Malaysian-CTI (Mosti through the National Oceanography Directorate), United States Agency for International Development's Coral Triangle Support Partnership and WWF-Malaysia.