KOTA KINABALU: Foreign tourists frustrated at not being able to catch a glimpse of manta rays while diving off Mabul Island in Semporna, Sabah, were in for a shock when they returned to shore to find the species butchered in plain sight today, an NGO official said.
Photos have emerged showing two manta rays, 13 devil rays and one shark being slaughtered in shallow waters in what appeared to be a sea village on the island well-known as a popular diving destination off Sabah’s east coast.
According to captions accompanying the photos, six fishermen were involved in cutting up the sea creatures, a scene a shark protection association official called a “horror show” for the Western and Chinese divers.
Sabah Shark Protection Association head, Aderick Chong said divers paid up to RM4,000 for a trip to see creatures such as the manta rays but today, they paid the money for a “horror show” instead.
“The tourists, after failing to see the manta rays during their diving trip today, have expressed shock at seeing the manta rays being caught and slaughtered instead,” Chong told FMT.
“The tourists forwarded these images to the tour operators, who were speechless. They simply had no answer for that.
“While the manta ray may not yet be a protected species in Sabah, I think this development shows a bad image of the nation to foreign visitors.
“Basically, it’s a horror show for them.”
Chong said fishing provides a livelihood for the fishermen but the tourists cannot accept such an excuse because there are so many other species to catch.
“A dead manta ray can fetch some hundreds of ringgit but a live manta ray can make us much more, not just in terms of money but also marine biodiversity,” he said.
Chong also asked the government to update the people about a proposed law to protect certain shark and ray species.
“There was a proposal last year to make it unlawful to hunt four shark and two ray species. What has come of this?” queried Chong.
“According to the news reports, the new law is supposed to have been passed by the end of last year.”
The state government, through its Fisheries Department, had proposed last year that the great hammerhead shark, smooth hammerhead shark, winghead shark, oceanic whitetip shark, oceanic manta ray and reef manta be protected as endangered species.
“Today’s butchered manta rays, measuring up to three metres in length, were of the oceanic species,” said Chong.
“The creatures today were cut up at the same location as last year’s infamous case where sharks were harvested for their fins.
“It’s time the government sped up this matter.”