KOTA KINABALU: Results of an updated study to assess the current economic value of the shark-diving industry in Semporna will be made known at an international Sabah Sharks and Rays Forum to be held in June at Kota Kinabalu.
A 2012 Shark Tourism Economic Valuation Study had revealed that shark-diving had brought direct revenues of over USD9.8 million (RM37.9 million) to Semporna, Malaysia’s most popular diving destination, generating over USD2 million (RM7.7 million) in direct taxes to the government and USD1.4 million (RM5.4 million) in salaries to the local community.
While the six-year-old findings illustrate the importance of shark-diving to the district’s economy, stories on shark finning and ray hunting continue to emerge, the latest being the slaughter of oceanic manta rays, devil rays and a shark in Pulau Mabul two months ago.
The Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) which led the 2012 study completed data collection of the updated research in the first quarter of this year and is currently in the process of evaluating its findings with the assistance of its local partners, including Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP), WWF-Malaysia, Sabah Shark Protection Association (SSPA) and Scuba Junkie SEAS.
The research team carried out over 400 interviews on divers, tourism operators and diving industry workers, covering topics that ranged from their perception of diving, in particular shark-diving to income levels of workers.
WWF-Malaysia Marine Programme Head, Dr Robecca Jumin, said that the results of the economic value study are crucial; as both State authorities and conservation groups continue to face challenges due to the absence of a ban on the hunting of some shark and ray species, under the Federal Fisheries Act 1985.
The Sabah Fisheries Department had proposed to the Federal Government to protect six new species – great hammerhead shark, smooth hammerhead shark, winghead shark, oceanic whitetip shark and the oceanic and reef manta rays – but there has been no word yet if these species have been gazetted under the Act’s Fisheries (Control of Endangered Species of Fish) Regulations 1999.
“We believe that the results will point at the economic benefits of keeping sharks alive and the spin-offs that cover tourism related areas such as accommodation, food and transport. The previous study had stated that about 23 per cent of divers in the Semporna region of six years ago were shark-divers or came especially to see sharks,” commented Dr Jumin.
“With facts and figures from this and other studies, we can work with the relevant government agencies to develop management plans and legislation that address the socio-economic aspects of fisheries, conservation and tourism needs of the state,” she added in a statement.
These issues will be discussed at the forum on “Exploring Synergies between Fisheries, Conservation and Tourism” jointly organised by LEAP, WWF-Malaysia and SSPA. It is supported by the Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Ministry, Sabah Fisheries Department and Kota Kinabalu City Hall.
The event features a host of speakers who will share their experiences, including Masidi Manjun, Godfrey Kissey, the Deputy Director of the Sabah Fisheries Department, Aderick Chong, SSPA Chair, Dr Amran Hamzah, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia Professor in Tourism Planning and Dr Mabel Manjaji Matsumoto, Universiti Malaysia Sabah lecturer.
Dr Jumin stressed that the forum is an opportune time for all stakeholders to move forward in a collaborative manner and to see concrete action taken to accord protection to shark and rays as well as their habitats, while ensuring that the livelihood needs of those who hunt for sharks and rays are met.
NOTE: To learn about the Sabah Sharks and Rays Forum, visit https://www.leapspiral.org/ssrc2018