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Reef Guardian of the Spectacular Lankayan Waters

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Reef Guardian Protects the idyllic Waters of the Sugud Islands Marine Conservation Area

Reef Guardian of the Spectacular Lankayan Waters
Lankayan Island

In the island of Borneo within the Southeast Asia’s Malay Archipelago, lies a small tropical island situated at the northeast of Sabah, Malaysia, which is known as – “Lankayan Island”. Located within Malaysian Sulu Sea, this hidden gem is surrounded by lush green island vegetations, white sandy beaches, magnificent turquoise and blue waters, and healthy coral reefs and seagrass beds supporting abundant and diverse marine animals, like fishes, sea turtles, crustaceans, and sometimes mammals.

Reef Guardian of the Spectacular Lankayan Waters
Interpretative enforcement training, where Reef Guardian enforcement personnel brief on SIMCA rules and regulations to fishermen intercepted in adjacent to in or within SIMCA.

One may wonder how this island maintains its natural surroundings, especially with human activities, such as fisheries, developments, and pollution which are growing at large nowadays. Fortunately, the island is located within a marine protected area, or formally known as the Sugud Islands Marine Conservation Area (in short, SIMCA). SIMCA was gazetted in 2001 and it is being run by Reef Guardian Sdn. Bhd., a non-profit organisation that is appointed by the Sabah State Government to undertake conservation activities within the area. It is the first privately-managed marine protected area in Malaysia.

Reef Guardian of the Spectacular Lankayan Waters
Mooring buoys are available at dive sites near Lankayan Island.

Reef Guardian enforce SIMCA rules and regulations through its enforcement team that consists of trained Honorary Wildlife wardens and park rangers, with the aid of patrol boats and radar tracking system. By enforcing SIMCA as a no-take zone and the protection of its natural habitats, the area, which was once a spot for fishing activities, e.g. hook and line, trawling, pots and trapping, fish bombing, and cyanide poisoning, has become a safe haven for marine animals.

Reef Guardian of the Spectacular Lankayan Waters
Underwater scenery at the natural reef of Lankayan

This is evident from the decline of both fishing activities and presence of fishing vessels within SIMCA over the years, following a committed and consistent interpretative enforcement practice by the team since it was formed. The highlights of achievements by the Reef Guardian enforcement team includes the arrests and/or prosecutions of perpetrators who were intercepted for conducting fish bombing activities, cyanide poisoning, possession of sea turtles on board, and encroachment within SIMCA.

Underwater scenery at the natural reef of Lankayan
As someone puts it – Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but bubbles, kill nothing but time

The previously destroyed reefs from destructive fishing have gradually recovered to its original state, providing favourable settings for marine inhabitants to live and thrive. The current, more vibrant reefs have become attractions to divers from across the globe, which have benefited the Lankayan Island Dive Resort – the sole resort at the marine protected area, in its tourism business.

Reef Guardian of the Spectacular Lankayan Waters
The sinking of Vietnamese boat on November 2011, in close proximity to Lankayan Island

To maintain its pristine and captivating natural surroundings, the resort practices environmentally-conscious approach in its tourism operation, limiting anthropogenic impact through restricted human activities, planned developments and systematic waste management. In diving activities, for example, the use of mooring buoys at the reef sites is exercised instead of boat anchoring to avoid destruction of corals. Harassing of marine animals and damaging marine habitats are also strictly prohibited.

Reef Guardian of the Spectacular Lankayan Waters
The endangered leopard shark can be seen roaming around the shipwreck

The Reef Guardian team, in recent times, have collaborated with Sabah Fisheries Department to convert two foreign fishing vessels into artificial reefs. These foreign vessels were confiscated by the Malaysian authorities following cases involving foreign fishermen intruding into Malaysian waters to illegally conduct fishing activities. These vessels were internally cleared and cleaned thoroughly before they were sunken within SIMCA waters, with the first one sunk in November 2019, and the other one on August 2020.

Reef Guardian of the Spectacular Lankayan Waters
A large school of silvesides and fusiliers with the groups predatory fishes – jacks and snappers. Freeding frenzy bound to occur, sooner or later

The sunken boats have attracted fishes as settlements and refuges, which ultimately draw large predatory fishes, such as jacks, snappers, groupers, sharks and rays. Not only does these artificial reefs develop ecosystems of their own that would help fish populations to recover from fishing pressures, they also harbour vast and rich fish communities that serve as interesting sites for recreational scuba diving activities. At present, there are 11 shipwrecks that were either sunk or found within the SIMCA and close to Lankayan Island. All of these wrecks are being colonised by a wide variety of fishes, invertebrates, and even some corals!

Reef Guardian of the Spectacular Lankayan Waters
Recreational diving at a wreck named Cement Wreck

For more info about SIMCA and Reef Guardian Reef Guardian, check out their website at www.reefguardian.com.my.

For more info on Lankayan Island Dive Resort, visit www.dive-malaysia.com.

Article written by Davies Austin Spiji

Photo credit: Dr. Achier Chung

For more information about what Sabah has to offer visit Sabah Tourism

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Adrian Stacey
Scuba Diver ANZ Editor, Adrian Stacey, first learned to dive on the Great Barrier Reef over 24 years ago. Since then he has worked as a dive instructor and underwater photographer in various locations around the world including, Egypt, Costa Rica, Indonesia, Thailand, Mexico and Saba. He has now settled in Australia, back to where his love of diving first began.

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