SEMPORNA, Malaysia -- The RM1.5 million tourism infrastructure boost for Sipadan Island has been given the thumbs-up, with industry players describing the decision as a step in the right direction to conserve one of the world's top diving spots.
Managing director of Sipadan-Mabul Resort, Robert Lo, welcomed the move because "most divers only need simple facilities as what matter to them are the attractions beneath the water".
"Divers usually take a break after spending one hour in the water before plunging back into the sea. So, what they need is a shade with bench and table on which they can put their dry clothing and camera while changing into their diving suits, as well as having some light meal like sandwiches," he said.
"They don't need concrete or nice flooring. The natural sand will do," added Lo, who is also a diver, when met by reporters at a resort on Mabul Island, near here.
Yesterday, Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman announced the state government's decision to provide basic facilities made of light and environmentally-friendly building materials for divers and tourists, which cost less than RM1.5 million, for Sipadan Island.
During his short visit to the diving haven, he also announced plans to construct toilets, showers, basic sewerage system, tourists' and divers' resting place as well as the staff quarters for Sabah Parks, the guardian of the island.
Previously, there were plans to build a club house with other facilities costing about RM5 million to be funded by the federal government.
But Musa had to order work at the site to stop after a contractor's barge carrying sand and other building materials shaved off a fraction of the corals in Sipadan waters, which sparked an outcry from divers who questioned whether there was a need for heavier, concrete-based structures on the island.
Lo said: "The shade is important also because sometimes divers bring along their family members who do not dive and they can rest there while waiting for the divers to finish their activities, and also as a shelter if the weather turns bad.
"Apart from the shade, divers also need showers and toilets."
On claims of damaged corals, Lo said: "I've checked it myself. Only a small area is slightly damaged, not very serious but the foreign press had exaggerated the whole situation in Sipadan."
A survey done by Sabah Parks to assess the damage found that the affected area was 372 sq metres or 0.1 per cent of the Sipadan coral reef area of 208 hectares.
"Actually, the condition of Sipadan is always very good because divers who have been diving there for so many years are constantly monitoring the situation. They are careful about the delicate nature of the environment as they are environmentally-conscious and they look after the island," Lo said.
Tourist Paul Potter from England said it was very important to protect Sipadan for future generations.
"When we dive there we can see many beautiful things that cannot be found in any other part of the world," he said.
Another tourist from England, Lindsay Dubery, said the island especially the corals should be protected because once they were damaged it would take a very long time for them to recover.
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