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Report: Sipadan Reef 'Probably Lost Forever' After Construction Barge Grounding; All Construction Halted

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KOTA KINABALU, Malaysai -- Andrea Ferrari, who alerted the diving world to the damage to Sipadan’s corals, said he was taken aback but pleased by the effect his blog has had. But he is saddened that the reef may never recover.

Italians Andrea and Anthonella Ferrari, a renowned underwater photography and writing team who have published several books on the area, reported on their blog on a Singapore-based dive magazine’s website that a barge carrying tonnes of construction materials was beached on the island two weekends ago.

By last Monday, the steel hull had scraped clean part of the coral reef near the island's drop-off point, dismaying the international diving community and leading to an official enquiry.

What saddens Andrea though, is that he believes the reef may never recover.

"The damage is very serious. Small corals take about 30 years to grow back and reefs, much, much longer. That reef is probably lost forever," he said.

Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister and Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Chong Kah Kiat said the barge was carrying materials to build a tourist facility.

Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman denied approving the project and ordered a halt to all construction on the island. He has also ordered an official enquiry.

"We support the State Government’s decision to halt all construction on the island. And if anything is to be built in the future, then let it be small, simple structures of environment-friendly materials like wood," Ferrari said.

However, he said, closing the island to divers might not be in the island’s best interests.

"Dive operators and avid divers can be Sipadan’s best partners in safeguarding its reef.

"We can work with the Government to protect the island’s environment," he said.

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