A huge shoal of hundreds of bigeye trevally on the move, cutting through the water as one. They are seeking safety in numbers as they form a towering vortex in the waters off the Marine Protected Area of Sipadan island, Malaysia.
Sipadan’s incredible underwater sites and marine life were raved about by the legendary Jacques Cousteau 25 years ago. Since then the tiny island has attained international acclaim as a world-class dive destination. And rightly so.
On a good day, when the current is pumping, Sipadan is breath-taking. Reef sharks cruising in all directions, eagle rays zipping along in the distance, turtles chomping their breakfast on the reef. Huge tornado-like whorls of barracuda and big-eye trevally. And reef fish of all shapes and colours everywhere you look; sometimes forming such dense clouds of life that they temporarily obscure your dive buddy from view. The privilege of diving there is something I will never forget.
The Malaysian government is well aware of the huge dive tourism revenue that Sipadan generates, so it is in their economic best interests to preserve and protect it. Considerable and ongoing efforts have been made to mitigate the effects of illegal fishing, heavy diver traffic on the iconic dive sites, and water pollution. But the system isn’t flawless, and there are still improvements to be made. Having said that, Sipadan comes off very well when compared to other Malaysian, Indonesian and Philippines dive sites washed by the Celebes sea which haven’t been lucky enough to be afforded Marine Protected Area status.
Unregulated, unsustainable fishing practice and shark finning mean that there are less and less places in the world where this kind of spectacle can be seen. I think people are slowly waking up to their responsibility in making more ethical and sustainable food choices. And where consumers lead, government and industry follow. That is the supply and demand nature of capitalist society. I only hope it is not too late. It is a tragedy to think that our grandchildren may never get the chance to swim in seas filled with shoals of fish on the move around them.