KOTA KINABALU: For local divers, it was a bittersweet reopening of the diving industry following a relaxation in the movement control order (MCO) as they had a near-death experience underwater.
Divers claimed to have heard blasts believed to be from fish bombs in the waters of Mantanani Island off Kota Belud district.
Shamil Arif, a Marine Science student from Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) said for the first time in several months they finally got the chance to go scuba diving.
“Our first dive at 11am started off with an amazing view of the vibrant coral reefs. The visibility was excellent, there were lots of corals and I could see small fish hiding and feeding among the crevices. It was without a doubt the best dive I have ever experienced, ” he said.
“However, soon after, we heard several fish bombs going off while we were still underwater. That was a terrifying experience as we know that we could have died or gotten seriously injured had we been closer to the blasts, ” he added.
On June 15, a social media user posted about fishermen believed to be from Vietnam, who were in Sabah waters and said to have been conducting illegal fish bombing at an area close to an oil rig some 50km from Mantanani island.
Aaron Gavin, a scuba diving instructor also shared reports of alleged fish bombing via a WhatsApp group called “Sabah Fish Bombing”.“We’ve reported this matter and I am sure that the authorities who are also in the group are currently investigating, ” he said.
Michelle Wong from Mantanani Divers said in addition to the frequency of the fish bomb explosions, divers had also seen ghost nets, abandoned or lost fishing nets, in several dive sites.
An underwater dive clean up in Mantanani in conjunction with World Oceans Day earlier this month discovered tonnes of ghost nets caught on coral reefs.
“Our divers were extremely terrified and disturbed to see two sea turtle carcasses, believed to be the critically endangered Hawksbill sea turtle, caught in one of the nets, ” Wong said.
Hawksbill sea 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.
Robert Thien, the founder of Mantanani Divers feels that as a tour operator, it is essential to take action to ensure that local tourism is managed and operated properly.
He hopes that during this recovery MCO period, effort is focused on recovery, not only from the pandemic but through actions that really strengthen the resilience and sustainability of the ocean.