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Overview and objectives
Zoning Plan and Conservation of Biodiversity
Alternative livelihoods
Reef Monitoring
Socio-economic profile


Overview & Objectives for Semporna Islands Darwin Project 2005 -2008

Community Action for Sustainable Use and Conservation of Coral Reefs was a 3-year project (2005-2008) which was implemented in the Tun Sakaran Marine Park (TSMP) in Sabah, Malaysia. It was grant-aided by the Darwin Initiative through funding from the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and was managed by the Marine Conservation Society in collaboration with Sabah Parks. Others involved included the Sabah Fisheries Department, Universiti Malaysia Sabah and WWF-Malaysia.

The Darwin project took forward recommendations made in the draft Management Plan for the TSMP, produced during the EC funded ‘Semporna Islands Project (1998-2001). The short name - ‘Semporna Islands Darwin Project’ (SIDP) – acknowledged the close links with the Phase 1 work.

The TSMP presents a new challenge because it is the first marine protected area in Malaysia where local people live within the park boundaries, use the resources and own some of the land. This calls for a different and collaborative approach to management if the objectives for the site are to be achieved. The other main challenge is to tackle the legacy of many years of unregulated, and in some cases, destructive fishing and to encourage alternative livelihoods which take pressure off the reefs.

Bajau Laut settlement on Pulau Maiga © Elizabeth Wood
Bajau Laut settlement on Pulau Maiga © Elizabeth Wood

The Darwin Project ran for three years, but the aim was that its legacy would last for very much longer and would be of value in a wider context than the TSMP. The main purpose of the project was to protect coral reef biodiversity and establish a programme for sustainable use of reef resources within the Tun Sakaran Marine Park. The project slogan ‘Our Park, Our Responsibility’ reflected the community approach to management that is essential if the Park is to be a success. For further information go to Community Activities.

Specific objectives of SIDP were as follows:

  • To establish Biodiversity Conservation (no-take) Zones, with enforcement measures operating

Establishment of Biodiversity Conservation Zones (Sanctuary or No-take Zones) was recommended in the TSMP Management Plan as the most effective way of promoting recovery of exploited species and ensuring long-term conservation aims. In a survey conducted by MCS and Sabah Parks in 2004, over 90% of fishers who use the TSMP said that they agreed with the concept of no-take zones. The most difficult tasks remain – to agree where the BCZs should be located, the timescale for introducing the zones and the most effective ways of ensuring compliance with no-fishing regulations. For further information go to Zoning Plan and Conservation of Biodiversity.

  • To identify marine species and habitats ‘at risk’ and introduce protection measures

Marine biodiversity within the TSMP is exceptionally high, and of regional as well as local importance. Marine and coastal habitats include mangroves, seagrass beds, lagoons, fringing, patch and bank reefs and open water. The site supports a greater diversity of marine species than recorded elsewhere in Malaysia , with over 600 species of fish, 250 species of coral and 130 species of sponge. Some of the habitats and species are particularly vulnerable and/or significant and require special conservation measures so that their long-term survival can be assured. For further information go to Protected Species and Habitats.

Acropora elegans , a distinctive species with restricted distribution in TSMP © Elizabeth Wood
Acropora elegans , a distinctive species with restricted distribution in TSMP © Elizabeth Wood


  • To develop and introduce strategies for marine resource use under permit

Use of marine resources over many years has caused stocks of fish and other edible species on the reefs around Semporna to fall to very low levels, and has drastically reduced populations of mature individuals. Destructive fishing methods such as fish blasting have added to the problem. The Darwin project addressed these problems and produced a strategy designed to ensure sustainable use. For further information go to Resource Use.

  • To develop a fully operational Mariculture and Sea Ranching Programme

Establishment of a mariculture and sea ranching programme was recommended in the TSMP Management Plan as one way of addressing the problems of over-harvesting and lack of job opportunities. The aim of this part of the programme was to provide alternative livelihoods and reduce pressure on reef resources by training local people to grow and market species such as giant clams and abalone for food, as ‘seed’ stock and/or to replenish the reefs. For further information go to Alternative Livelihoods.

  • To establish a Reef Biodiversity Monitoring Programme

The aim of establishing a monitoring programme was to track the condition of the reef and the abundance, distribution and health of reef flora and fauna. It is vital to collect this information, so that changes in reef condition can be detected, and the effectiveness of management strategies (such as the introduction of BCZs) can be judged. Data obtained from the monitoring programme will help to indicate whether the actions being taken to protect biodiversity are effective or need to be modified. For further information go to Reef Monitoring.

  • To establish a Socio-economic Monitoring Programme

One of the aims of the project was to promote job diversification and the opportunity for people to make a more secure living through alternative or supplementary livelihoods. The socio-economic monitoring programme collected detailed information about people’s incomes, life-styles, needs and aspirations. This baseline will be used in the future to help monitor success and guide future actions and developments. For further information go to Socio-economic Profile.

Collecting socio-economic data in TSMP 2006 © Elizabeth Wood
Collecting socio-economic data in TSMP 2006 © Elizabeth Wood

  • To develop and install an Interactive Environmental Management and Information Planning System (EMIPS) for the Park

EMIPS is a map-based computer database/management system that provides a logical and organised system in which biological, physical, socio-economic and other features of the area are stored and linked together. The system can be easily interrogated and updated and will help to inform and guide Sabah Parks on the management of the site. For further information go to Environmental Management Planning System.

  • To promote public awareness of, and involvement in, conservation and management issues

Environmental awareness and education activities played an essential role in all aspects of the project. The aim was to promote understanding of the natural features, resources and human interactions at the site, as well as the project aims and activities. Another objective was to ensure that all those who use or visit the TSMP are aware of regulations that are introduced and the reasons why they are necessary. For further information go to Community Activities.





Copyright ©2006 Semporna Islands Darwin Project 2005 - 2008

Designed and compiled by Elizabeth Wood & Andy Davies