Conservation group checking on fish bombing reports off Sabah island

A freshly discovered crater, believed to be the result of fish blasting off Mantanani Island. (Reef Check Malaysia pic)

KOTA KINABALU: A coral reef conservation group is looking into whether there were incidents of fish bombing during the lockdown period at a popular diving spot in the state following reports of blasts at Mantanani Island off Kota Belud.

Adzmin Fatta from Reef Check Malaysia said the group had two blast detectors at the island which had been collecting data since 2014.

“The time to collect the new data will be soon, probably in September,” he told FMT.

Based on the data obtained so far, he said 2,546 blasts had occurred between June 2014 and July last year.

He said it was too soon to say if the number of fish bombing incidents had increased during the MCO period.

“But if there was an increase in blasts, there is a big possibility that local communities are falling back on destructive fishing due to the MCO or closure of the tourism industry.”

Another freshly discovered crater off Mantanani Island. (Reef Check Malaysia pic)

Adzmin, who runs the Cintai Mantanani conservation programme on the island, said last weekend alone, divers had found three fresh craters at a single dive site.

“There were heaps of coral debris,” he added. “Other craters were also found everywhere on the seabed. We suspect these were made in the previous weeks.”

Fish bombings at Mantanani Island have gone down over the years due to a combination of awareness programmes, enforcement efforts, and the shift of locals to jobs in the tourism sector.

However, incidents still occur, with Adzmin saying explosions could be heard “almost every week”.

He said there had been a significant reduction in fish blasting since August 2015. However, the group’s blast detectors recorded an increase in February and March last year.

He said more locals had returned to fishing in order to support their families during the MCO period which saw tourism shut down in efforts to curb the spread of Covid-19.

A Reef Check Malaysia diver checks on healthier reefs at Mantanani Island. (Reef Check Malaysia pic)

A village elder who asked to remain anonymous said the fish bombings were being done by fishermen from the mainland and outside Kota Belud.

“We believe they come from Kota Kinabalu,” he said. “We know this because of the boats they were using. They used small boats but fitted with big engines.”

According to him, such fishermen usually operate behind Mantanani Kecil, an unpopulated island adjacent to Mantanani which is essentially a bird sanctuary.

Adzmin said Reef Check Malaysia had been monitoring fish blasting off the island for many years now.

He said Mantanani Island had one of the best reef complexes along the west coast of Sabah which warranted serious protection.

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