Coral reef restoration Borneo

March 5 2017

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Shark Stewards is restoring coral reefs in Malaysian Borneo, assessing and protecting reefs and fish populations including sharks in the Semporna islands. An associated online film series Borneo From Below is promoting public and government support for marine protection in the region.

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March 5 2017

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Expedition Background

According to a report by the United Nation Food and Agricultural Association, Malaysia is the 9th largest shark fishing nation and has risen to become ranked 3rd globally for shark fin imports. This small nation is having a serious impact on global shark populations in the Coral Triangle, as well as overfishing as much as 90% of its own shark population. However, a strong local movement centered in Sabah Borneo Malaysia is speaking up for sharks and increasing protection.


Shark Stewards is supporting this work on the ground in Malaysia helping assess shark fishing, the shark fin trade and conduct a shark survey to determine impacts on sharks and rays. With the Sabah Shark Protection Association, we are striving for increased shark protection, stopping the flow of shark fins and creating marine protected areas for sharks and other species in Malaysian Borneo.

Our Shark Shepherd collaboration with marine artist Ben Von Wong working for a no shark and ray fishing policy in Malaysia and supporting dive ecotourism with support from the Ministry of Tourism. Sign the petition.

Shark fin soup is widely consumed in the major cities of Malaysia, and Sabah is the major destination for cheap and endangered seafood for Chinese tourists. Shark fins are sold on the streets and in the alleys and finned sharks are evident in all the large fish landings. The fins are sold first, although the meat is generally unpalatable and rendered into lower grade products like fish meal and fish balls.

Read an excerpt from our National Geographic Ocean Views blog.

Now in the fourth year, the project also is filming a series called Borneo From Below, an online “Funservation” program on marine life produced by the local media production company ScubaZoo. With host Aaron “Bertie” Gekoski the series is adventurous, humorous, and at times like this, dead serious. As part of the series, we are continuing a fish market survey we assisted with the Malaysian non profit Tropical Reef and Conservation Centre (TRACC) to determine how common sharks and rays are being caught here. We are also diving and filming sharks and following the shark from the reef to the plate. This episode is about coral catsharks, but we are finding it more challenging to find them alive than dead.

There is increasing concern that Malaysia is adding shark fins to the top of the list of the country's record of wildlife trafficking and trade of illegal wildlife parts like rhino horn, elephant tusk and bear and tiger products. However, media attention is supporting champions in the country and helping bolster Sabah's interest in protecting the environment and supporting dive tourism to save sharks.

Restoring and Protecting Reef Habitat

Protecting marine habitat is also critical to help save sharks and marine ecosystems here in the Coral Triangle. Dynamite fishing is one of the prevalent factors causing reef destruction. Our work with our partners at TRACC on Pom Pom island is restoring coral reefs, assessing fish populations and reintroducing ground shark species as a pilot conservation project. Students from the University of San Francisco and volunteer divers are helping rebuild reefs with artificial reef structures, and conducting fish surveys to determine efficacy.

Preliminary Results

During 2015 & early 2016, the local village community divers and the TRACC international volunteers have built a wide range of different reefs at a variety of different sites on Kalapuan island in the Semporna district. In 2016 367 bottle reefs were constructed and installed with approximately 3500 hard and soft corals. The bottle reef system is composed of reef friendly cement, sand reinforced with mild steel, and recycled bottles to provide a solid substrate for coral settlement, reef stabilization and coral planting. As part of the trial we also constructed 12 large turtle reefs; 2 igloos; 12 deep reefs planted with gorgonians and sea fans and over 1500 corals in the nursery. We also built several large bommie / tetris reef structures as a trial of techniques. Many of the bottle and turtle bommie reefs were built and positioned on the Kalapuan community reef site during the Kalapuan environmental and coral planting days.

Please support our work so we can help our partners fight for their vanishing sharks and coral reefs. Shark Stewards is a non profit project of the Earth Island Institute.

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