One of the key objectives for the TSMP is to reduce pressure on marine resources so that biodiversity is protected and populations of over-exploited species can recover. The policy of limiting fishing effort in the Park and establishing no-take areas will have an impact on the fishing community unless steps are taken to provide fishermen with alternative livelihoods. The Park will, in the long-term, bring numerous opportunities. Many new jobs will be created in sectors connected to the administration, development, and day-to-day operation of the park and its facilities. Other opportunities lie in tourism development, especially given Sabah ’s promotion of nature tourism.
The alternative livelihoods mentioned above will take some years to come ‘on stream’ and will also entail a significant amount of training to ensure that local people have the skills required for the wide range of different jobs that will become available. Currently, emphasis is being placed on the expansion of community-based, low-impact mariculture, because this activity suits people already familiar with working in the marine environment.
Seaweed culture in Semporna has a long history since its inception in the late 1970s. It was given priority by the Department of Fisheries Sabah as a supplementary income-generating activity among the fishing community with the establishment of a demonstration farm on the Sebangkat reef top in 1980. More people have gradually become involved in seaweed farming (Euchema cottonii) because it provides a comparable or higher income to fishing. Culture plots are found mostly on the extensive ‘reef top platform’ to the north of Sebangkat and Selakan, where they cover an area of approximately 2,150 ha.
Seaweed culture in TSMP © Elizabeth Wood
Seaweed drying © Elizabeth Wood
A new system of permits is being introduced now that the Park has been gazetted, and permits will be granted preferentially to traditional, small-scale community-run operations where the farmer sells to a local co-operative or direct to a trader. This may be large scale farming, but with individual small plots as the main entity. Carrying capacity for seaweed farming in TSMP is currently being investigated to determine if it is appropriate to expand beyond the areas currently in use. A balance has to be maintained, and conflicts with other existing or potential uses of the reef kept to a minimum.
Another target for seaweed farming in TSMP is that future operations will be conducted in an ecologically-sustainable way, so that the marketed product can be certified as meeting international ‘green standards’. This approach will not only have environmental benefits, but should also help to promote the commodity and upgrade its price. The local community welcomed and endorsed this idea and are working on Guidelines for Best Practice. They have also suggested that seaweed farming should be integrated with mariculture of invertebrates.
There is a strong tradition of use of marine invertebrates in the Semporna area, and as a result populations of sea-cucumbers, crustaceans, giant clams and other molluscs have declined. Low impact culture and sea ranching of some of these groups could bring employment and economic benefits for local people, and could also bring direct conservation benefits by re-stocking the reefs with cultured specimens.
A feasibility study was carried out using juvenile Tridacna squamosa and T. gigas from the Philippines, in order to introduce local communities to ranching techniques. Fishermen were taught how to construct, deploy and maintain the cages, and to monitor the health and growth of the clams. At the end of the first year survival of clams at all sites combined was 48% for Tridacna gigas and 40% for Tridacna squamosa. Some of the loss was due to theft from one of the sites, providing an illustration of the enforcement difficulties likely to be encountered.
Measuring giant clam © Irwan Mustapa
Clam growth was particularly high in Tridacna gigas. On average, specimens doubled in size in one year, from about 9cm to 20cm. Work began on design and construction of a hatchery in 2005 and the first small scale spawning trials on giant clams were carried out in 2007.