Youths dive in to save Semporna Island’s coral reefs

KOTA KINABALU: An island in Sabah’s east coast Semporna district that has lost most of its corals to destructive fishing methods over the decade received a much-needed boost with a restoration initiative by a group of young people.

Spearheaded by Reef Check Malaysia, the four-day initiative that began on Sept 29 at Kulapuan Island saw over 20 participants aged between 15 and 30 from the island gain skills and knowledge in nurturing a deeper connection to their coastal ecosystem.

The initiative was part of a long-term project funded by the IKI Small Grants Programme, which aims to restore damaged coral reefs and promote environmental awareness among the local population.

The highlight of the training was the deployment of 30 metal frames, involving 450 coral fragments, to rejuvenate the deteriorating reefs surrounding Kulapuan Island.One participant, Siti Rugaiyah, affectionately known as YenYen, said she was grateful for the experience.

“Although we live on the island, we never had the opportunity to dive or even plant a coral. It was through this programme that several of us were trained as divers, learnt about coral monitoring and are now actively involved in coral restoration.

Rejuvenation in progress: A diver fixing coral frames on the seabed. — Reef Check MalaysiaRejuvenation in progress: A diver fixing coral frames on the seabed. — Reef Check Malaysia

“I am now more committed than ever to protecting what we have here in our Kulapuan waters,” she said in a statement yesterday.Reef Check Malaysia programme manager Adzmin Fatta said when he first visited Kulapuan Island some 10 years ago, the coral reefs were some of the most vibrant he had ever seen.

“However, in recent years, I was saddened to see that most of those reefs have disappeared, mainly due to destructive fishing methods, which are one of the major threats to reefs in Semporna.“Fortunately, there is still hope. The youth group here is dedicated and through Reef Check Malaysia, I hope I can enable them to bring back the beautiful reefs that they once had,” he said.

The training not only equipped the youths with essential skills for coral restoration but also instilled a sense of responsibility and pride in preserving the marine ecosystem of Semporna, he added.

“With passionate individuals like YenYen and her peers leading the way, the future of the coral reefs around Kulapuan Island appears promising,” Adzmin said.

Reef Check Malaysia, he said, also conducted a series of community engagement and educational programmes, including marine awareness talks with local islanders, with a special focus on the younger generation.

More than 90 villagers took part in these informative sessions, he added.

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