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Horrified tourists stumble upon mass slaughter of giant rays in Semporna; conservationists outraged

KOTA KINABALU — Tourists who were eager to experience Sabah’s stunning marine life and ecosystem at an island off Semporna on Sunday (Feb 19) were shocked to witness a scene of mass slaughter of over a dozen endangered sea creatures.

Tourists who were eager to experience Sabah’s stunning marine life and ecosystem at an island off Semporna on Sunday (Feb 19) were shocked to witness a scene of mass slaughter of over a dozen endangered sea creatures. Photo: The New Straits Times

Tourists who were eager to experience Sabah’s stunning marine life and ecosystem at an island off Semporna on Sunday (Feb 19) were shocked to witness a scene of mass slaughter of over a dozen endangered sea creatures. Photo: The New Straits Times

KOTA KINABALU — Tourists who were eager to experience Sabah’s stunning marine life and ecosystem at an island off Semporna on Sunday (Feb 19) were shocked to witness a scene of mass slaughter of over a dozen endangered sea creatures.

Foreign visitors were stunned by the sight of 15 live giant rays – including a manta ray species listed as “vulnerable to extinction” on the Redlist of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) – being “finned” next to Big John Scuba's dive lodge on the renowned diving destination of Pulau Mabul.

The rays had apparently been transported to the island on boats by fisherman residents of a water village next to the lodge.

Horrified tourists, who were mostly divers, took pictures of the fishermen cutting off the rays’ pectoral fins and uploaded them to social media, where they went viral and earned the ire of netizens and marine conservationists alike.

Amidst the bloodied sea water, a shark appeared to be among the catch.

Sabah Shark Protection Association Chairman Aderick Chong told the NST that one of the manta rays slaughtered has been confirmed as an oceanic manta (Manta birostris), while others were Devil Rays. The oceanic manta is the world's largest species of ray and is on the verge of extinction. It is also protected under the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites).

"I was saddened to learn about this, especially after the recent landmark steps taken by the Fisheries Department to protect these animals.

"Many tourists come to Sabah each year for our unique wildlife, and we urge the complete protection of these animals in our waters. More protection will not only ensure the health of our oceans, it will also safeguard the future of our tourism industry," he said.

Mr Chong highlighted the plight of the rare marine giants, which many visitors who visit the Semporna region come specifically to see.

He said there is a need to come up with creative ways to provide alternative livelihoods among the fishing community in the Semporna region, and to make it understood that endangered marine animals are more valuable alive than dead.

"We need to ensure that some of the revenue brought to the area through tourism also reaches parts of the community (whose only livelihood is fishing for these creatures)," he added.

In Sabah, only whale sharks and sawfish are listed as “threatened” under the Fisheries (Control of Endangered Species of Fish) Regulations 1999, Fisheries Act 1985.

The Fisheries Department has been proposing that four shark and two ray species, which have been listed under Cites, be categorised as “threatened” under the Fisheries Act 1985.

The sharks are Sphyrna mokarran (great hammerhead shark), Sphyrna zygaena (smooth hammerhead shark), Eusphyra blochii (winghead shark) and the Carcharhinus longimanus (oceanic whitetip shark). The rays are Manta birostris (oceanic manta) and Manta alfredi (reef manta).

Until protection of these species is put in place, catching them in Malaysian waters is currently not against the law. THE NEW STRAITS TIMES

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