Fish Bombs, Ghost Nets And Dead Turtles Shock Divers

A hawksbill turtle caught in one the ghost nets. – Photos courtesy of Reef Check Malaysia

KOTA KINABALU: A group of local divers had a close call when fish bombs exploded in the waters when they went diving at the popular Mantanani Island off Kota Belud recently.

And dive operators and volunteers who undertook a clean-up in the island’s waters also discovered turtle carcasses and ghost nets on the coral reefs to snare the endangered creatures.

The shocking find comes after the government relaxed lockdown measures that were in place for three months in the effort to stem the spread of the Covid-19 virus.

“Our first dive started off with an amazing view of the vibrant coral reefs,” said Shamil Arif, who studies marine science at Universiti Malaysia Sabah.

“The visibility was excellent, there were lots of corals and I could see small fishes hiding and feeding among the crevices. Without a doubt, this was the best 50 minutes’ dive I have ever experienced.

“However, soon after, we heard several loud fish bombs going off while we were still underwater,” he said, in a statement issued by Reef Check Malaysia (RCM) today.

Coral reefs destroyed by fish bombing activities.

“This was a very terrifying experience as we know that the fish bombs could take our lives if were close to the blast.”

As with other tourism spots, the island had been shut due to the Movement Control Order (MCO) following the Covid-19 pandemic but re-opened its doors early this month.

One of the tourism operators, Mantanani Divers, has since been receiving local guests for scuba diving activities besides conducting underwater clean-ups at the same time.

Michelle Wong from Mantanani Divers explained that in addition to the frequency of the explosions at the island, divers have also seen numerous ghost nets in several dive sites.

She said they had organised an underwater dive clean-up at the island earlier this month, adding the activity was conducted in conjunction with World Oceans Day.

“Sadly, we discovered tonnes of ghost nets caught on coral reefs throughout the duration of our dive activities this month.

“Our divers were extremely terrified and disturbed to see two sea turtle carcasses caught on one of the nets.”

Towards this end, Mantanani Divers founder Robert Thien stressed that immediate action should be taken to ensure local tourism is managed properly.

“It is true that we have forgotten the welfare of our local tourists due to the crowd of tourists from abroad.

“How can we attract local tourists to enjoy diving activities in our own country if we cannot ensure the beauty and safety of our oceans?.

Healthy coral reefs at Mantanani Island.

“I really hope that during this Recovery MCO, effort is really focused on recovery, not only from the pandemic, but through actions that really strengthen the resilience and sustainability of the ocean.

“Even if another outbreak strikes, at least we know that our local tourists would be confident about local tourism,” Thien said.

According to RCM, healthy coral reefs can boost the tourism sector especially through diving and snorkelling.

It added that earlier last year, the Sabah government announced the future gazettement of Mantanani and Darvel Bay in Lahad Datu waters as a Marine Protected Area before 2023.

This effort is also part of the state government’s commitment in achieving the 10 per cent target of protected waters around Sabah.

“The communities of Mantanani island would like to participate in the management of the waters around their island, so they need to be given this opportunity and necessary support to achieve this for everyone’s benefit,” said RCM general manager Julian Hyde.