Sipadan Island, Malaysia – one of the main dive spots in the world, seems to be a paradise for divers. But only half an hour by boat to the island of Mabul is quite different picture: the sea is red because of shark’s blood, their mutilated bodies, fishing boats loaded on the side.
Shark fishing is growing every years, and the sharp contrast between Sipadanom and Mabulom has caused uproar in the international community of divers – divers even threatened to boycott the whole Sabah (state in East Malaysia). After all, why should tourists support the development of a place which treats its own resource in so barbaric way?
The fact is that sharks are not just killed: their fins are cut off, and, while still alive, thrown back into the sea. It is called finning.
The Minister of Fisheries said “catching sharks in Sabah is legal, and getting a fishing license entitles you to fish in designated areas. For sharks this license is also applicable. The only species of shark forbidden for fishing is the whale shark. Sometimes local and foreign fishermen fishing in the territorial waters of Indonesia and the Philippines, in which they are outside of the jurisdiction of the Ministry. ” Fishing in the waters around Sipadan is prohibited and we will work with all responsible law enforcement agencies to ensure that no fishing will be in these waters”.
But Mr. Datuk Masidi Manzhun, who heads the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Environment, commented on the situation : “My ministry is concerned about the actions of Ministry of Fisheries. We should heed the opinion of the public to protect tourism. Even the smallest mistake or omission could have serious consequences for the economy. Lovers of nature and the world community of environmental protection are becoming increasingly formidable force that could damage the public sphere of tourism, if they decide to boycott Sabah, to protest against such actions”.
In fact, fishermen are probably set their country up, as the island of Sipadan is one of the candidates for the title of one of the Seven wonders of nature, alongside the Great Barrier Reef, Niagara Falls, Maldives, Grand Canyon and Mount Everest.
If Sipadan wins then the tourists flow will increase tremendously, but a scandal with sharks can seriously damage the image of the island. What’s more important for Malaysia – fishing industry or tourism – is still to be seen.