Dive marshals to protect Sipadan reefs

SEMPORNA - Four dive marshals of world-renowned diving haven of Pulau Sipadan have become Malaysia's first underwater enfor­cers.

The four, who are from Sabah Parks, have been tasked to ensure divers do not destroy or damage the rich coral at the mushroom-shaped Sipadan, the country's only oceanic island.

Tourism, Culture and Environ­ment permanent secretary Datuk Giunun Yangus, who announced this, said the presence of dive marshals would enhance the protection of the natural undersea environment.

"They will be like undersea policemen who will act against divers trampling or destroying coral. It is a major step forward. In due time there will be more dive marshals," he said at the official launch of the gazetting of Sipadan waters as a Sabah Parks conservation area here yesterday.

"Dive masters from various tour operators should also assist in ensuring tourists do not disturb or destroy coral."

He said the general health of the coral in and around Sipadan was good, although certain areas preferred by divers might be slightly stressed.

"We have 12 diving points around Sipadan, but most people prefer going to Baracudda Point, Drop Off Point and South Point," he said, urging visitors to look at other sites in the diving haven instead.

Guinu, who launched the official gazetting of about 1km radius of the sea area around the island as a park, said with that they could now act against those who destroyed coral in the area.

A total of 16,846.5ha of coral reefs and sea area around Sipadan are now officially a park area. Previously, only the 13.5ha island was gazetted and Sabah Parks was not able to enforce conservation laws.

Sipadan is also gazetted a "Restricted Area" by the National Security Council (NSC).

As of now, 120 divers are given permits daily by the NSC at a fee of RM40 (S$13.50) each.

Guinu said Sabah Parks was now looking at the possibility of char­ging fees for visitors to the island.

He also said there were no plans for any further development or installing structures on Sipadan to help protect and preserve one the world's top diving spots.

Operators call for more awareness to save coral

PETALING JAYA - Dive operators believe that greater awareness among diving enthusiasts is needed to help coral withstand the global stress of El Nino and climate change.

Universal Diver dive operator Vincent Chong, who operates in Pulau Perhentian, said ignorant snorkelers were usually the ones making harmful physical contact with the coral.

"Even touching the coral is harmful because you are rubbing away the protective layer of mucus, lea­ving them vulnerable to viruses and bacteria," he said yesterday.

But, he added that stepping on coral heads was more frequent among snorkelers as most could not swim and depend on life jackets. These snorkelers would stand on coral heads when their arms are tired.