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A general view of Pulau Mataking beach in Semporna. -NSTP/Courtesy of SPDA.

SEMPORNA: Members of Semporna Professional Divers Association (SPDA) stumbled upon two abandoned plastic bags containing sea stars (starfish) and sea cucumbers on a popular tourist island off Semporna, yesterday.

The discovery on Pulau Mataking stunned the local professional diving fraternity, which expressed concern that these marine species might have been taken out from the island by irresponsible individuals.

SPDA chairman Abdul Razak Ismail, when contacted, said such an act was unacceptable and showed lack of awareness towards marine life protection.

A plastic bag filled with sea cucumber believed taken out from Pulau Mataking underwater. -NSTP/Courtesy of SPDA.

"It is very disappointing to see there are individuals who take marine conservation efforts for granted or have zero awareness on the importance of protecting our marine species especially in areas frequented by tourists and divers.

"Taking them out from their habitat is harmful to the marine species. Everyone needs to practice safe and responsible marine life viewing. Tour operators and guides need to have high awareness on this matter and inform their guests on the dos and don'ts," he said.

SPDA shared the discovery on its Facebook account yesterday, stating the members found the plastic bags loaded with starfish and sea cucumbers at 12pm.

They however could not identify the culprit(s) who picked the species and brought them up to the island.

Abdul Razak noted there were tour operators hiring individuals, who have no knowledge about marine conservation, to help bring guests around.

A plastic bag of starfish believed taken out from Pulau Mataking underwater. NSTP/Courtesy of SPDA.

He said these individuals were usually paid between RM20 to RM30 per tour.

He suggested the relevant authorities to provide a special course for tour guides, snorkelling and dive guides as well as boatmen on how to handle tourists and create awareness on marine conservation.

He also suggested licenses be given to course participants, adding only those with such licenses be allowed to handle tourists.

Recently, the diving fraternity and the concerned public were upset after live corals were brought out from Semporna island to the Semporna jetty on Oct 3, believed to have been for export purposes.

Certain quarters claimed that the perpetrators had abused marine export and coral cultivating licences as the corals were not taken from cultivation areas.

Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Christina Liew, who is also the minister of state Tourism, Culture and Environment, said coral extraction could tarnish the image and reputation of Sabah.

Meanwhile, Sabah Agriculture and Food Industry Minister Datuk Junz Wong had said his ministry is mulling the possibility of revoking all licences related to extracting and exporting of wild corals in the state.

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