Changing Planet

Saving Sharks and Coral Reefs in Malaysian Borneo

Pulau Gaya, Tun Sakaran Marine Park

Borneo. The name speaks of wildness, of dense rain forests, biodiversity, of elephants and orangutans. Eighteenth century naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, co-theorist of speciation, natural selection and evolution, traveled extensively throughout Malaysia and Indonesia describing terrestrial flora and fauna.

His work founded the field of biogeography, and Wallace’s Line describes the separation of species between the ecoregions of Asia and Australia. This geographical separation divides the Celebes Sea separating Borneo to the north from Sulawesi to the south, but Wallace also observed a separation of birds and other terrestrial fauna.

The biogeography of the region is defined by the last ice age where the islands, once connected to the contenent, became isolated by the rising sea, in turn isolating the animals and allowing speciation over time. The deep shelf south of the Semporna Islands also provides an abundance of pelagic species and makes Sipadan Island, perched on a 600 meter drop off  a world famous diving destination.

Sipadan is known for her sharks and other top predators, in addition to a highly diverse ecosystem of corals, fish and invertebrates. But the biodiversity of the Semporna region is at risk. Many of the large sharks and fish have been overfished and impacted coral reef is causing loss of critical marine habitat.

Whitetip Reef Shark. Photo David McGuire Shark Stewards

Yet hope exists.

This month Sabah Minister of Tourism, Culture and the Environment Datum Seri Masidi Manjun signed into law the largest marine protected area (MPA) in the country. The Tun Mustapha park (TMP) occupies 1m hectares (2.47m acres) off the northern tip of Borneo. This adds to two other large marine parks in Sabah including the Tun Sakaran Marine Park in Semporna. With the Sabah Shark Protection Association we are working with the government, led by Mr. Masidi, to increase shark protection in these marine protected areas, to keep Borneo marine life wild.

A marine biologist and adventurer, David McGuire writes, photographs and explores the natural world, documenting wildlife and works to protect threatened sharks and critical marine ecosystems though the non profit Shark Stewards.

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