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By Julia Chan
Sipadan conjures up an image of a serene, protected underwater world -- one of the world's top dive spots.
But just a half-hour boat ride away off Pulau Mabul, the blood of magnificent sharks, crudely finned and gutted by the boatload stains the sea red. Shark finning has been going on here for several years, and the stark contrast between Sipadan and Mabul has caused an uproar in the international diving community, with some threatening to boycott Sabah entirely.Finning is the inhumane practice of hacking off the shark's fins and throwing its still living body back into the sea.A diver said: "Why should we contribute to the decline of a beautiful area by supporting a place which does not protect its own resources?
"We strongly urge the resorts to lobby Sabah Parks to prohibit shark finning in the Ligitan island group area. "If the area is not protected, we will choose to dive in other areas of Southeast Asia where the marine life is protected with the money collected," the diver said. Fisheries Department director Rayner Stuel Galid said shark finning was not illegal in Sabah. He said those with a valid fishing licence had the right to fish in the area, provided they didn't encroach on protected areas."This includes fishing for sharks," said Galid, adding that the only protected species of shark under current law was the whale shark.He said local and foreign fishermen were fishing in the territorial waters of Indonesia and the Philippines so they were out of the jurisdiction of the department."Sipadan and the waters around Sipadan are off limits to fishermen, and we will work with all enforcement agencies responsible to ensure no fishing is done in these waters," said Galid. Asked to comment, Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun said: "My ministry will relay our concern to the Fisheries Department and the Semporna district officer."We need to be sensitive to global views to protect our tourism. "A small mistake or inaction could have major repercussions for the industry."Nature lovers and the global conservation community are fast becoming an influential lobbying group who could hurt the state tourism industry if they decide to boycott Sabah in protest against such activities."