Semporna Shark Sanctuary


Semporna Shark Sanctuary also known as SSS is located at the east of Sabah, Malaysia Borneo, SSS shares it sea with the globally important area called Sulu Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion of which are within the Coral Triangle Semporna are blessed with eco tourism development and are the Mecca for diving enthusiast, as the world famous Sipadan Island is located within the sanctuary.

The proposed Semporna Shark Sanctuary (SSS) would specifically protect sharks, mantas, mobulas, turtles and humphead wrasses and address other environmental protection issues (ecosystem approach).  It also includes a plan to address alternative livelihoods for fishermen, a comprehensive framework for management and enforcement of the sanctuary and the funding mechanism to finance these operations.

Among the key growing threats identified within Semporna includes:

  • Habitats that are important to endangered marine turtles, are being cleared for development. Coastal erosion/pollution caused by development is also a major threat to these habitats.
  • Mangrove forests are being cleared for development of infrastructure and aquaculture.
  • Coral reefs are damaged due to blast-fishing, cyanide-poisoning and to some extent by incidental damage due to tourist activities.
  • Seagrass beds are threatened by land based pollution and development.
  • Over-fishing for the live-reef fish trade, causing major trans-boundary Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing. Over-fishing caused by purse-seiners using highly-efficient gear and accessories, for domestic and export food consumption. Over-fishing to produce fish-meal to feed live reef fishes in cages.
  • Humphead wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus), listed in Appendix 2 of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES), is being harvested unsustainably even though there is a ban of export on this species.
  • Several species of groupers (Family Serranidae), are also being unsustainably harvested for the lucrative Live Reef Fish Trade.
  • Species of sharks and rays, several are listed in CITES, are being exploited, with little enforcement of the National Plan of Action on Sharks and Rays, for the shark-fin trade. These sharks and rays are fished for consumption being one of the main source of protein amongst the lower-income groups.
  • Corals are being harvested unsustainably.
  • Pollution by sedimentation, solid waste, and organic waste from land-based activities are threatening this already fragile ecosystem.
  • The environmental problems are worsened by the socio-political issues of the resource users of this area. These resource users are dependent on marine resources for food, and livelihood due to legal lack to access to employment.


The reasons given above are also happening throughout the rest of the east coast of Sabah, however the driving factor for “Why Semporna?” is the presence of certain important enabling factors – a large and established the tourism industry.



The Sabah State Government and other NGOs have stated that the shark hunting and fining ban has to be in place. The law dealing with this is a Federal Law, and this takes time to amend the law. The Shark Sanctuary will give a more immediate protection and educational awareness for the species, more importantly the Shark Sanctuary will be using a ecosystem approach in dealing with the issue. To increase the fish stock, this indirectly will protect the interest of communities that rely on marine resources for their livelihood.

Placing brand and marketing strategy for this marine conservation area will ensure stakeholder participation, particularly those from tourism industry.

Stakeholders in the Semporna tourism industry have expressed that the time is now and any delay will be too late to reverse the tide of decline of this globally-important area within the Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion. It is urgent to address these environmental issues and the socio-political issue to halt the reduction of natural capital for marine adventure tourism and maritime industry (coral reef fisheries, purse-seine fisheries)

Based on research, Dr James Alin of the School of Business and Economics at University Malaysia Sabah said sharks brought in RM192.5 million a year to Sabah against RM5 million from the import and export of sharks.

It is urgent to address these environmental issues and the socio-political issue to halt the reduction of natural capital for marine adventure tourism and maritime industry (coral reef fisheries, purse-seine fisheries). This unfortunate downward spiral is happening and a holistic action is needed to ensure co-existence between industries and marine life.


** Borneo Conservancy has in the past, publicly express our support for the proposed “ban” campaign to amend the Federal Fisheries Act to allow for protection of sharks not just in all Sabah state waters, but also in surrounding Federal waters.

The two initiatives are complementary and NOT competitive.  Having a statewide ban to prevent fishing of sharks throughout the whole State and the trade ban to remove a large part of the incentive for poaching would be helpful to the SSS.  And implementing the comprehensive management framework proposed for the SSS creates the model for making legal protections actually work to benefit the environment, the most vulnerable species in it and local communities.