Orca Sighting Emphasises Importance of Marine Spatial Planning | WWF Malaysia

Orca Sighting Emphasises Importance of Marine Spatial Planning

Posted on 02 February 2017
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Kota Kinabalu: The recent orcas sighting off Semporna has been circulating on social media showing that people in Sabah are passionate about their marine life. Likewise, WWF-Malaysia echo’s this sentiment and notes that this is a positive sign for marine mammals like orcas, which have been visiting Sabah as part of their migratory route for generations.

“Perhaps before, there was a lack of pictures or proof as we were not as fortunate to have such modern technology to capture evidence of these magnificent creatures in our midst. Now, more people are coming together with reports of having caught sight of the large marine mammals using our waters,” said Dr Robecca Jumin, head of WWF-Malaysia’s marine programme.
Many individuals from the diving industry in Sabah have also shared similar experiences, especially from the early 1990s. Former divemaster with Borneo Divers Sdn Bhd, Yien Yien Pua, shared that she spotted three orcas from the old jetty in Sipadan, while Clement Lee, Tourism Malaysia’s advisor for diving, was fortunate to spot orcas heading towards the open sea from Barracuda Point of the same island.
Even more recently, Mr Abdul Hamid, head of the Bajau Laut community says that he spotted 10 to 50 orcas between the Semporna-Indonesia seas. He has also seen the same species in the Semporna-Philippines seas.
WWF-Malaysia believes that the orcas are using the seas off Sabah as part of their migratory route – something that is immensely important to understand and protect as these passageways are vital to all migratory species.
It is highly likely that the orcas are travelling through the waters around Semporna to feed and move to warmer waters. WWF-Malaysia firmly believes in the need to identify and protect the migratory routes of marine animals, especially in Sabah, and even more so now where there is evidence of charismatic marine mammals making use of our seas.
Supporting this is Dr Lindsay Porter, a Senior Research Scientist at SMRU Asia Pacific, The University of St. Andrews, who explains that there is a correlation between transient orca groups and the importance of protecting sea migratory routes.
“There are seven different killer whale ecotypes (a genetically distinct geographic group). Of these seven types, our understanding of the transient killer whales which roam tropical oceans is very limited. Fast and powerful, these killer whales are capable of travelling across oceans and their ‘home range’ can encompass thousands of nautical miles. Some of the routes between the productive hotspots of the Philippine-Indo-Malay archipelago seem to be important sea passages for this and other highly mobile marine species. Orcas have been recorded several times now near Sipadan. This area connects the Sulu and Sulawesi Seas and is Sabah's most important marine species migratory corridor,” Dr Porter said. 
Migratory routes are in dire need to be protected from pollution, shipping activities, development and coral damage. WWF-Malaysia is strongly advocating for Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) a process for stakeholders and multiple users of a marine area, including industry, government, local communities and fishermen, conservation and recreation, to make informed and coordinated decisions about how to use marine resources sustainably for the future of our sea.
“The recent orca encounters off the coast of Sipadan further highlight the importance of the Semporna region as a biodiversity hotspot. It truly is one of the most incredibly diverse places on our planet, attracting thousands of divers and tourism dollars to the region annually. It is also an extremely fragile habitat facing a myriad of threats, many of which could be addressed through a proper Semporna Marine Spatial Planning exercise,” said David McCann, Scuba Junkie marine biologist.
The Semporna Marine Spatial Plan (SMSP) was launched in June 2015 and has thus far been a finalist in the category of International Award for Planning Excellence Award for the Royal Town Planning Institute’s (RTPI) Awards for Planning Excellence 2016. It has also gone through its public consultation process to the communities and local institution agencies in Semporna.
Committed to the SMSP, Dr Chacho bin Haji Bulah, Semporna’s District Officer states, “Semporna water is diverse in its marine biodiversity and is one of the best destinations for marine tourism. Therefore, sustainable marine tourism is utmost important and needs continuous effort and everyone’s involvement to enhance and sustain the richness of the marine ecosystem. The formation of SMSP is an effective tool in managing Semporna’s water wisely”.
Sipadan has the highest concentration of marine biodiversity. Hence, WWF-Malaysia reiterates the urgency in protecting the seas in Semporna.

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For more information, please contact: 
Kimberly Chung
Senior Communications and Campaigns Officer, Marine Programme, WWF-Malaysia (Sabah office)
Tel: +60 88 262 420 (Ext.37)
Email:  kchung@wwf.org.my
Rumaizah Mohammad Abu Bakar
Head of Communications, WWF-Malaysia 
Tel: +603-7450 3773
Email: RBakar@wwf.org.my
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