The reef balls being offloaded into the sea. Photo: Ramidi Subari

KUCHING: The marine conservation effort in Sarawak is further intensified with the deployment of 1,200 more artificial reef balls at Muara Tebas-Sebuyau coastal waters near here.

Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg said as part of the Sarawak Reef Ball Project (SRBP) for marine conservation and protection which started in 2018, the Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC) had deployed 600 reef balls in Balawai-Paloh coastal waters in 2018, 600 and 1,200 in Lawas, Igan and Mukah coastal waters last year, while 1,200 others were placed in Muara Tebas-Sebuyau coastal waters.

Abang Johari

“As you know the Sarawak government has allocated RM70 million to deploy 17,200 reef balls along the state’s coastline from 2018 to 2021.

“What we want to do is preserve and protect our coastal areas, the environment and marine ecosystem,” he said in a press conference after launching the SRBP at the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) complex in Muara Tebas today (June 29).

He said in the near future, a new eco-tourism would also be created to make room for diving spots and sports fishing for locals and tourists.

“As announced, the Sarawak government will help the enforcement agencies by setting up our own coast guard unit to complement the activities of other enforcement agencies, particularly the inland fisheries as well as the coastal fisheries.

“This is what we want to focus on and the state government is putting in efforts as well as extra budget to do this, and this is why we have approved such allocation which is quite substantial for us to protect our fishermen and the community along the coast,” he said.

Abang Johari, who is also the SFC chairman, added that the placement of the reef balls would have direct impact on local fishermen while at the same time protect marine life and the ecosystem.

“The moment you have these reef balls, they will also keep Sarawak’s coastal waters safe from illegal trawling, thus protecting marine species including the livelihood of fisherman along the coast,” he said.

He also mentioned that the reef balls in the waters of Sematan and Belawai had shown a positive impact whereby more marine species had reproduced, thus giving fisherman more catch and income.

“I was also made to understand that after the reef balls were placed, the marine species such as green turtles had returned to Similajau National Park in Bintulu after an absence of seven years since 2015,” he said.

He added that the natural corals in the area have grown in size by 10cm to 12cm in two years, 18cm to 20cm in three years and 30cm to 40cm in three and a half years.

“More reef balls will also be placed in Daro sometime this year,” said Abang Johari.

Among those present were Entrepreneur Development and Cooperative Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, Tourism, Arts, Culture, Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah, Assistant Minister of Urban Development and Resources Datuk Len Talif Salleh and SFC chief executive officer Zolkipli Mohamad Aton.

Abang Johari (centre) with from left Len Talif, MMEA Sarawak director First Admiral Robert Teh Geok Chuan, Zolkipli, Abdul Karim, Adun for Demak Laut Dr Hazland Abang Hipni and Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar wave as they watched the lowering of the reef balls into the sea. Photo: Ramidi Subari