KOTA KINABALU: The “horror show” of manta rays being cut up in the presence of foreign tourists on Mabul Island today is a “slap to the tourism industry”, said Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Masidi Manjun.
Photos have emerged showing two manta rays, 13 devil rays and one shark being slaughtered in shallow waters in a sea village on the island, well-known as a popular diving destination off Sabah’s east coast.
Six fishermen were said to be 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 had told FMT that divers pay up to RM4,000 for a trip to see creatures such as the semi-protected manta rays underwater but today they saw the rays being cut up on shore instead.
“I agree that it’s a horror show for the foreign divers to have witnessed the manta rays being slaughtered,” Masidi told FMT.
“Currently, the manta rays are only prohibited from being exported without a licence, but they can be caught and consumed domestically.
“Foreign tourists pay good money to see these creatures alive and swimming during their diving trips but to see them being chopped up is something else.
“I’d like to urge the relevant authorities — the Fisheries Department and the district tourism action council — to ensure that tourists don’t get to see such activities.
“Such a thing is a slap to our tourism industry and portrays a bad image of us to the world.”
Masidi declined to comment on the proposed amendment to the relevant enactment that would fully protect manta rays.
He said the authorities concerned should issue a statement on the matter.
Earlier, 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 could 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, but what has come of this?” queried Chong.
“According to news reports, the new law was supposed to have been passed by the end of last year.”
The state government, through its Fisheries Department, 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 two manta rays butchered were of the oceanic species,” said Chong.