KOTA KINABALU: Coastal villagers in Semporna district got the chance to learn about eco-diving and marine conservation during a four-day training session recently.
The participants comprised 15 people aged 18 to 34, and underwent the May 6-9 programme at Larapan Island.
Trainer Nazirul Amin, a programme manager with Reef Check Malaysia (RCM), said the session focussed on monitoring coral reef health following findings of its reef check survey.
He said participants were trained to assess the quality of a reef based on certain indicators, and determine what action needed to be taken after their assessment.
Nazirul said the villagers and other locals were committed to take part and learn, even if they did not have an academic background in reef conservation.
“Hopefully in the future, they will be able to contribute to marine conservation,” he said.
“Larapan Island, although not as well-known as other tourist islands around Semporna, is equally if not more threatened due to fish bombing and sea pollution,” he said after detecting a huge amount of trash in the waters of Semporna.
Nazirul said such sights are not only unpleasant to look at but also harmful to the environment.
His programme colleague Adzmin Fatta said more than half of the reefs observed in Larapan Island were in good condition.
“(The area) has more than 50% of live coral cover compared to some other places and this gives more reason to empower the villagers to protect their island and their reefs,” he said.
The programme organised by RCM in partnership with CIMB Foundation aimed to equip youths and local communities with the capacity to make a difference in environmental issues, especially concerning marine environments.
The RCM team in Semporna has been engaging with the community through a series of environment-themed programmes, including waste management, to stress the importance of sustainable living.
Nazirul said he hoped such programmes would help heighten awareness of the threats to Sabah’s marine ecosystem, especially its coral reefs.
“They are not only threatened by immediate human-induced factors but also by climate change and global warming,” he said, adding that the latter could result in coral bleaching.
Nazirul said although this scenario has not been sighted widely in Semporna, it has been reported widely in the peninsula's waters.
"It is only a matter of time (before it) happens in Semporna and the whole of Sabah too,” he said.
He explained that bleaching occurs when the photosynthetic algae leave the body of the coral due to heat stress and it can be fatal to the coral.
He added that because of this danger, future programmes would focus on monitoring of such bleaching and coral restoration.