This June, Malaysia will officially establish the biggest Marine Protected Area (MPA) in the country. The Tun Mustapha Park (TMP) will occupy a whopping 1.6 million hectares of seascape of the northern tip of Sabah province, Malaysian Borneo. This region contains the second largest concentration of coral reefs in Malaysia. It is also home to thousands of people who depend on its resources - in many ways it is a microcosm of the entire Coral Triangle bioregion, where environmental protection must be balanced with the needs of growing coastal populations.
Malaysia's Minister for Tourism, Culture & Environment Datuk Seri Masidi made the announcement last week, also declaring that Tun Mustapha and Malaysia's two other major MPAs, Tun Sakaran and Tunku Abdul Rahman would also become shark sanctuaries. According to Masidi, sharks are a crucial aspect of Sabah's nature based tourism industry. "Shark species are vital to the diving business, as it generates about RM380 million (US$9.4 million) per year. We will lose the shark population in 10 years time if stakeholders continue serving shark fin soup," he claimed.
Managing such an enormous area will require a lot of teamwork and policy makers, local communities, NGOs, businesses and scientists are all coming together to help ensure that the new MPA works. Since TMP will be a multi-use Park based on a zoning system, it has taken years of dedication from stakeholders to develop an action plan that balances local and commercial interests with ecological sustainability.
Detailed data on species will also impact on zoning – deciding which areas should be no take zones and which should be limited use. Working in tandem with policy makers, local communities and businesses, science is helping ensure the best approach to managing the Tun Mustapha Marine Park. The area has huge as yet largely untapped potential for nature based tourism development. Besides the potential for dive based tourism, the area is replete with beautiful white sand beaches, pretty islands and stunning seascapes. There are a number of key turtle nesting areas, offering opportunities for voluntourism through a local charity.