KOTA KINABALU, Malaysia -- Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Chong Kah Kiat said Wednesday the damage to corals at Sipadan Island caused by a barge on May 14 was "very minimum" but was blown out of proportion by the foreign media.
Speaking to reporters after briefing the cabinet on the Sipadan issue, here Wednesday, Chong who is also the State Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment said the damage was not substantial, where only 0.1 per cent of Sipadan's 208 hectares of ecosystem was affected by the incident.
"The damage to the corals has been blown out of proportion. Last weekend, Sabah Parks sent in a team of qualified officers and divers to do a survey headed by Dr Jamili Nais, Assistant Director of the Sabah Parks, who is himself a qualified diver.
"They came back yesterday. The findings of the survey were contrary to the report in the internet and by all the so-called concerned people.
"I just came back from Kuala Lumpur after briefing the Chief Secretary of the Government. News in Kuala Lumpur (said that the damage) is 2-3 kilometres of corals near an area known as Abdillah Point (drop-off). All this was blown out of proportion. Actually the area affected was just 3,984 square feet (372.2 square metres)," Chong said.
The whole Sipadan Island ecosystem or coral reef surrounding the island is about 208 hectares and the island (land area) itself is only about 13.5 hectares.
"We thank them (foreign media) for their concern. But stop the exaggeration. Be rational. Malaysians and Sabahans especially are as concerned as anybody (else) in the world when it comes to conservation and preservation of the environment.
According to Chong, what angered the government was that the contractor was not honest when using a large barge to transport their building materials to the island instead of using the "kompit" (small boat) which was stated in their application and approved by the authorities.
He said the contractor had of course been summoned by the Sabah Parks, and had apologised and admitted that they were in the wrong.
On immediate action to be taken, Chong said the contractor that had been awarded a RM5 million contract to build public facilities like sewerage, a clubhouse and toilets for tourists and divers, had been directed to carry out cleaning works on the affected corals. Chong said the basic facilities were important to avoid human waste being directly dumped into the sea, adding that all works on the island were being suspended as instructed by Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman.
In KUALA LUMPUR, the Director of Universiti Malaysia Sabah's (UMS) Bornoe Marine Research Institute (BMRI), Prof Dr Saleem Mustafa said coral reef destruction at Sipadan had become its top priority and a preliminary report on the incident was expected to be out in two weeks.
He said the institute would start a scientific research, to be led by two of its experts, as soon as possible to analyse the damage done and submit recommendations.
"We need to examine the whole issue, we cannot give a general opinion (on the case) right now.
"We hope scientific projects like what we will be doing will be taken into consideration to provide sustainable development in Sipadan," he told Bernama when contacted Wednesday.
According to Prof Saleem, the research would be a holistic one based on scientific data to look after long-term sustainable development of the island waters.
"There is an impact arising from tourism on the marine ecosystem.
"But what we are trying to look at is preserving the corals and at the same time, ecotourism can still continue. We can promote ecotourism as long as it does not disrupt the ecosystem there," he said.
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