Divers remove 100kg of ghost nets stuck on coral reefs off Sabah's Mantanani Island

KOTA KINABALU: A group of conservationists who were diving to check on the health of coral reefs were instead greeted by ghost nets stuck on the corals at Mantanani Island, off Kota Belud, some 100km from here.

The annual Reef Check Malaysia survey on the health status and trends of coral reefs for Sabah had only started last week at the island.

On the second day of the survey, the Reef Check Malaysia Sabah team and volunteers conducting the survey stumbled across the ghost nets.

“Ghost nets are part of the impact left by humans that could endanger the reef and its inhabitants,” said Reef Check Malaysia programme manager Nadhirah Rifai in a statement on Monday (May 15).

“The nets were originally used for catching fish but were abandoned or thrown away in the sea and now continuously trap fish, turtles and in some cases, large marine life such as sharks and dolphins.

“If left unattended without a quick response by divers, marine life will be stuck there for a very long time until they eventually die,” she added.

It is understood the divers managed to remove some 100kg of ghost nets that were caught on the reef.

Bird Thien, a dive operator at Mantanani Island involved in the net removal with the survey team, said all who loved the sea and life in it should work together for its preservation.

“While seven of us were removing the 20 to 30m-long net causing a threat to marine life and their home, it reminded me that all of us are responsible when it comes to taking care of this underwater world,” he said.

According to Reef Check Malaysia, in Tioman alone, 145 nets with an estimated weight of 21 tonnes were collected from 2016 to 2022, suggesting that the danger was more apparent in the area compared to Mantanani.

Mantanani Island is located some 45 minutes’ boat ride from Rampayan jetty in Kota Belud and is one of the well-known island destinations in the west coast of Sabah.

Post-pandemic tourism activities have witnessed an increase in visitors to the island, which is not only famous for its white sandy beaches and beautiful sunsets, but also the diversity of marine life that has mesmerised sea-goers.

Only recently, a manta ray was spotted by divers at the island.

Nadhirah said proper management and collaboration with various agencies to protect this island was vital not only to tackle the issues of human-induced factors that threatened the reefs.

She said these issues go further than ghost nets, as there has been a global increase in the temperature of seawater today.

“Our surveys are halfway done. So far, there have been small patches of coral bleaching in most of the sites we have surveyed,” she said.

Nadhirah added that coral bleaching is due to the warming of seawater.

“It is important that this is monitored to see if it (the bleaching) becomes worse,” she said, urging divers to report any observation on coral bleaching wherever they dive around Malaysia to Reef Check Malaysia.

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