KOTA KINABALU: Local divers have reported hearing blasts underwater around Mantanani Island in Kota Belud district, which they believe to be from fish bombs.
"We heard several loud fish bombs going off while we were still underwater. That was a terrifying experience as we know that the fish bombs could have killed us if we were closer to the blast," said Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) Marine Science student Shamil Arif.
He added that this was his first dive since the relaxation of the movement control order (MCO), saying that this was the first time in several months that he was able to go underwater.
Additionally, scuba diving instructor Aaron Gavin shared reports of alleged fish bomb explosions via a WhatsApp group called "Sabah Fish Bombing".
"We've reported this matter and I am sure that people from the authorities who are also in the group are currently investigating," he said.
On June 15, a social media user shared information about fishermen believed to be from Vietnam who were allegedly conducting illegal fish bombing at an area close to an oil rig some 50km from Mantanani island.
Another diver - Michelle Wong from Mantanani Divers - explained that in addition to the fish bombs, divers have also seen ghost nets in several dive sites.
"Earlier this month, we organised an underwater clean-up in Mantanani in conjunction with World Oceans Day to raise awareness among divers," she said.
She said they discovered ghost nets caught on coral reefs throughout the duration of their dive activities this month.
"Our divers were extremely disturbed to see two sea turtle carcasses, believed to be of the critically endangered Hawksbill turtle caught on one of the nets," Wong said.
Hawksbill turtles are fully protected under the Wildlife Conservation Enactment and according to a study conducted by the Marine Research Foundation, Mantanani Island is an important nursery for turtles in Malaysia.
When turtles reach a certain size in the open ocean, some will settle in waters off Mantanani Island before they grow up and enter the next stage of their life cycle.
Meanwhile, Mantanani Divers founder Robert Thien said that it is essential for action to be taken to ensure that local tourism is managed and operated properly.
"It is true that we have forgotten the welfare of our local tourists due to the crowd of tourists from abroad. How can we attract local visitors to enjoy diving activities in our own country if we cannot ensure the beauty and safety of our oceans," he said.
Mantanani Island is well known for its crystal-clear sea water and extensive marine life
diversity, including its beautiful coral reefs, while fish bombing has been reported as a widely and rampantly used illegal way of fishing in Sabah.
Costing as low as RM15 per bottle, a bomb made from kerosene, nitrate fertilizers, and handmade fuses can destroy the coral reef in a radius of up to 15 metres.