Sabah: Pulau Banggi’s coral reefs

By mnsmarine

“The marine environment around Pulau Banggi is important as it is lies within a marine biodiversity hotspot. It is connected to the coral reefs of the Philippines and Indonesia in the Sulu-Sulawesi area, considered by World Wildlife Fund as an ecoregion. With this interconnectivity, the marine environment around Pulau Banggi can be regarded as one of the richest in the world.” 

– L. L. Koh. L. M. Chou and K. P. P. Tun, authors of “The status of coral reefs of Pulau Banggi and its vicinity, Sabah, based on surveys in June 2002”

banggi_mapLaunched in 2002, the “Beyond Lands End I” expedition documented the diversity of the marine environment around Pulau Banggi and its surrounding islands, particularly the condition of coral reefs and the status of commercial reef fish populations.

Organised by the Department of Biological Sciences (National University of Singapore) and hosted by the Borneo Marine Research Institute, Universiti Malaysia Sabah, the 21-day expedition was partially funded by the Singapore International Foundation.

Headed by L. M. Chou, the expedition (10 – 28 June 2002) was led by five marine biologists from the National University of Singapore and involved  28 youth volunteers trained in reef surveys. The team was based on Pulau Molleangean Besar, south-west of Pulau Banggi.

The following is the expedition’s findings (Koh, Chou and Tun, 2002) and is published with permission: 

Over 75% of Malaysian reefs is found in Sabah where more than 350 coral species have been recorded (Burke et al., 2000). Reefs at different parts of Malaysia experience different forms of threats. Reefs in Sabah are reportedly threatened by both natural and anthropogenic effects such as blast and cyanide fishing, sedimentation from rivers, tropical storms and extreme low tides (Pilcher and Cabanban, 2000). However, the damage caused by anthropogenic effects are much more severe than those occurring naturally.

Coral reef fisheries contribute greatly to the local economy, contributing about RM9.9 million in 1985 (Cabanban and Biusing, in press). Fishing techniques have changed over the years from non-destructive methods such as hook and line to cyanide and bombs today. This has resulted in the loss of abundance and diversity of reef fishes as shown from the surveys. Coral cover on many reefs has also been greatly reduced. Not only were fishes targetted for trade and coral cover adversely affected in the process, invertebrates were also the targets for collection. Edible sea cucumbers and Giant clams were harvested for food. Tritons and cowries were collected for the curio trade. Attractive organisms such as Banded coral shrimps were also not spared from the aquarium trade.

If this non-selective and rampant fishing by destructive methods continue, the reefs will be harvested beyond sustainability. Corals will also be destroyed beyond chances of recovery. This will eventually lead to a loss in economy as well as livelihood of the locals.

Information presented in this report showed that there are a few reefs around Pulau Banggi which are still pristine and relatively unaffected by blast fishing. These reefs should be targetted for future protection. Examples of such reefs are:

  • Carrington Reefs 1
  • Pulau Linggisan
  • Pulau Pandanan 2
  • Pulau Balambangan 1 and 2

A long-term reef monitoring programme should be established to cover a wide extent of reefs around Pulau Banggi. With consistent monitoring, any deterioration of the reef can be detected and the problem rectified as early as possible.

The local community depend heavily on fishing for their livelihood. Alternative sources of income should be provided in order for the fishermen to change their fishing practices. Alternative livelihood can include seaweed farming, oyster farming and culturing of commercial food fish.

The destruction of reefs is often due to the lack of understanding for the marine environment. A local-based education programme to explain the importance of coral reefs, the importance of a balanced ecosystem and the long-term benefits of sustainable harvesting should be targeted at the local community. Schools should include environmental education in their teaching syllabus.

Laws to prevent destructive fishing methods should be implemented. The frequency of patrols around the waters should be increased to control fishing activities. Fish spawning sites should be recognized. These areas can be designated as protected areas and fishing or harvesting should not be allowed.

For the complete 49-page report, please click on ReefBase.

Source: L. L. Koh. L. M. Chou and K. P. P. Tun (2002). The status of coral reefs of Pulau Banggi and its vicinity, Sabah, based on surveys in June 2002”. In: ReefBase: A Global Information System on Coral Reefs. (Eds.: Oliver, J. and M. Noordeloos). World Wide Web electronic publication., 13 March, 2003.