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Explore With a Purpose in Borneo: Supporting Marine Protected Areas

7 September 2023

Located off the coast of Kota Kinabalu, the small capital city of Sabah in Borneo, the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park is a group of five islands known for their vibrant coral reefs and diverse marine life.

The park was established as a “Marine Protected Area” (MPA) in 1974 as the first in Malaysia. Today it is a popular destination for tourists and locals alike.

But the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park is more than just a beautiful tourist attraction. It is also an important area for conservation efforts. The park is home to a wide variety of marine species, including sea turtles, rays, and hundreds of species of fish. These species rely on the park’s healthy coral reefs, mangroves and seagrass beds for their survival.

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The importance of MPAs cannot be overstated. Our oceans are facing unprecedented threats, including overfishing, pollution and climate change. It’s estimated that as much as 90% of large ocean fish have been wiped out in the past 70 years. According to recent studies, over 25% of shark and ray species are currently threatened with extinction, which is particularly worrying as sharks and rays play a key role in maintaining balance.

MPAs help mitigate these threats by creating safe havens for marine life and habitats, where they can thrive and reproduce without harmful interference from human activity. By protecting these areas, we are also helping to preserve the health of the entire ocean ecosystem, including the food webs that support sustainable fishing. By supporting companies that operate within marine protected areas, tourists can explore and holiday with a purpose and help ensure that these areas remain protected for future generations to enjoy. Permit fees are charged to enter the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine protected area and these fees are paid to Sabah Parks, a government department of the Sabah Government.

Due to the increased investment and action from Sabah Parks, we are seeing positive signs of recovery. Over the years, Sabah Parks has implemented various conservation measures such as enforcing fishing regulations, control over fish bombing and commissioning us, Downbelow Marine & Wildlife Adventures S/B aka Adventures In Borneo, to sink a 103ft patrol ship, KM Kuraman as an artificial reef. These efforts have resulted in the regeneration of the marine ecosystem.

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Here in the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park over the past year in particular, there has been a noticeable increase in the population of black tip reef sharks, eagle rays, whale sharks and schools of fish. These species are important indicators of the health of the ecosystem, and their resurgence is a positive sign that conservation efforts are paying off.

Black tip reef sharks, for example, are apex predators that play a crucial role in maintaining the balance of the food chain. Their presence indicates a healthy reef ecosystem, and their increased numbers suggest that the park is providing a suitable habitat for them. Similarly, eagle rays and whale sharks are an important species that contribute to the diversity of the ecosystem, and their presence is a sign that the park is providing a safe haven for them to thrive.

Overall, the recovery of these species is a testament to the importance of marine protected areas and the efforts made by Sabah Parks to protect and preserve them. 

About Downbelow Marine and Wildlife Adventures S/B

Downbelow Marine and Wildlife Adventures S/B is the international brain-child of British ex-pats Richard, a Platinum PADI Course Director and Joanne Swann, a PADI Master Instructor. Downbelow began life as a PADI Dive Centre and Outbound Adventure Company based in the UK in the late 1990’s.

Quickly discovering that Sabah is not only a biological melting pot but a treasure trove for sports and beach lovers, the adventure enthusiasts were eager to replicate the success of their UK company to Sabah, Malaysian Borneo and introduce existing international clients and new visitors to this wonderfully diverse part of the world.

Downbelow Marine and Wildlife Adventures is based on Gaya Island in the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park and over the past 18 years we have been instrumental in raising awareness for marine conservation and protecting the marine environment.

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