Fish bombing through the eyes of a teen
Published on: Wednesday, March 23, 2011

FIFTEEN-year-old Ravyna Jassani from Selangor recently came to Sabah as part of the Special Pangaea Borneo Project led by famed world explorer, Mike Horn.The project is a learning expedition by Pangaea, an organisation created by Mike.

She said the trip was to learn about the marine biodiversity of Borneo as well as the environmental issues it is currently facing.

But she wasn't prepared for the realities and horror of fish bombing - she and her friends were almost hurt by the underwater explosive.

"We set sail to Semporna after doing some diving and snorkelling around one of the beautiful islands on eastern Sabah.

"And as we were passing by scenic views and a wonderful sunset, we saw a small fishing boat about 50m or 100m away.

"Most of the fishermen we passed by acted quite friendly.

They waved towards us and showed us what they had caught.

"But the fishermen we saw seemed quite dodgy.

It is as if they were hiding something," she said.

Ravyna said as they continued to monitor the fishermen, wondering what their motive was, one of the men, took something from the boat and casually threw it in the water.

"We all knew what would happen next. Our worst fears were coming true.

It was a fish bomb! We all couldn't believe what had just happened.

"A bomb had just gone off 50 or 100m away from our boat.

What if someone was diving or snorkelling out there?" she said.

Because the boat was a small non-registered vessel, she said it was impossible to lodge a report with the authorities.

Naturally, she said they were enraged, but all they could do was stare helplessly in despair as dead fish rose to the surface of the water.

It was a not a sight that anyone with a clear conscience on marine protection and conservation would want to see, she said.

The fishermen, she said, quickly fled the area after two of the crew members on board her boat, decided to give chase.

Ravyna said the project participants discovered that there were a lot of issues facing the coral reefs and marine life in Sabah or Borneo for that reason.

Earlier that day, she said they snorkelled around one of the islands and heard a loud 'boom!'

It was definitely a fish bomb being detonated underwater and not too far from where they were, she said.

Dynamite fishing not only affects the fish in the area, but the coral reefs as well, she said because these reefs play a very important part in the marine ecosystem.

"It is the habitat and food source for thousands of different species of marine life.

"The coral reefs also act as natural barriers against wave surges and erosion of land," she said.

Coral reefs, she said, provide medicinal benefits and act as nurseries for thousands of species and fish, providing food for people who depend on subsistence fishing.

Millions of people visit it every year to snorkel and dive around it, making it a very important and integral part of the marine eco-system for the fishing and tourism industries alike, she said.

Therefore, she said it is very important to conserve and protect the coral reefs because it takes a very long time to grow.

With uncontrolled fish bombing cum rising sea temperatures, she said many coral reef areas are already being negatively affected.

Apart from the coral reefs, larger marine animals such as sharks and dolphins despite their habitats being located kilometres away are also affected by fish bombing because sound travels much faster in water, she said.

These marine animals, she said, have a much more sensitive hearing compared to humans.

She said they depend a lot on their sense of hearing compared to their sense of sight and thus whenever a bomb goes off underwater, it can disorientate them causing some to die or relocate.

"It is for this reason that there is a massive decline in the number of dolphins and sharks in Borneo despite it having the highest marine biodiversity in the world," she said.

Ravyna suggested that one way to stop the fish bombing is via education and awareness.

"We have to teach future generations of fishermen about sustainable methods of fishing and also provide them with alternative sources of income such as seaweed, clam and pearl and coral farming," she said.

Unsustainable fishing methods such as dynamite fishing, trawling and cyanide fishing, among others seemed a faster harvesting method of marine resources but will affect the fishermen negatively in the long run.

"So, it has to stop now," she said.

Another major problem in Sabah is over fishing of sharks for their fins.

Ravyna said that during their dives around Mabul Island, one of the best dive spots in the world with a massive marine biodiversity, they didn't even get a chance to see a single shark in the water.

So, where did all the sharks go? In a local village in Mabul, there are dozens of shops in one row selling over 100 shark jaw skeletons (the type used for decorations).

"Mabul may be a protected marine area, but things like this are still happening. It was sad because we were not able to see a single shark except their remains on sale," she said.

The cruel atrocity on these magnificent sea predators will only stop when the demand for it stops, she said, adding that people have to realise that sharks are an endangered species, more so than the dolphins.

Contrary to common perception, she said sharks are not man-eating monsters!

As a matter of fact, she said they play a very important role in the marine ecosystem as the apex predator.

Apex predators (also known as alpha or super top-level predators or top predators) are predators that have no predators of their own, residing at the top of their food chain.

It has a crucial role in maintaining the health of their ecosystems.

Ravyna said more people get killed by toasters, vending machines and chairs compared to being killed by sharks.

And yet, millions of this beautiful creatures are being slaughtered every year for their fins (which are tasteless) that are used to make shark fin soup.

She said the team also conducted a coastal clean up on the tiny island of Bankawan.

From far, she said, it looked liked a pristine inhabited island, however as they approached it, they were shocked to see the amount of rubbish washed on the beach.

"We collected over 500 bottles, countless pieces of styrofoam, discarded clothes, shoes, three huge car tyres, plastic bags and other rubbish debrisÉall that in just one hour!" she exclaimed.

After making an inventory of the rubbish, they took it back to Semporna town to dispose it in a proper site, she said.

She said it is truly shocking to see what people throw into the seas and oceans.

People have to realise the environmental problems that will occur from ocean dumping, she said.

Plastic bags, she said, are non-biodegradable and that it sometimes gets stuck on the corals thus blocking it from receiving sunlight and eventually causes them to die.

It also harms marine animals such as turtles because turtles mistake transparent plastic bags in the water for jellyfish.

"When turtles consume plastic bags, it stays in their digestive track for a long time until they eventually die," she said.

Ravyna said they also visited Bohey Dulang, a non-active volcano where they dived and climbed up the volcano to watch the sunset, which she described as a magnificent sight.

While there, they also visited the turtle sanctuary.

According to her, 10 people from across the globe were selected to take part in the Special Pangaea Borneo Project with three from Malaysia, three from Singapore, one from South Africa, one from Poland, one from Australia and one from Japan.

The participants' ages ranged between 15 and 20.

Malaysians and Singaporeans were chosen for the project in the belief that they would be able to make a difference because Sabah is part of Malaysia as well as a close neighbour to Singapore.

"Our participation meant that we have a better chance of influencing our own people," said Ravyna.

Throughout the 10 days the team was in Sabah, she said they were accompanied by the creator of the programme, Mike Horn.

Indeed, she said, it was truly a great privilege to meet him.

"Just being in his presence makes you feel so motivated and that you can do just about anything," she said.

Also in the team, she said, were great white shark expert, Michael Scholl from Switzerland, Markus Ruf, marine biologist who specialises in molluscs from Germany who is now based in Kota Kinabalu and two dive instructors, Christian Miller and Andre Kiefer from Australia.

During the trip, she said they not only were given the opportunity to dive, snorkel, conduct coastal clean-ups, conduct reef checks and surveys but also learn how to sail.

Their "home" and mode of transport throughout the 10 days, she said, was the luxurious, environmentally-friendly boat known as the "Pangaea", which is powered by solar and wind energy that took them from Sandakan all the way to Mabul.

Borneo or Sabah for that matter was chosen because it has one of the highest marine biodiversities in the world, she said.

And the fact that there are so many environmental issues facing it as well as high endangerment rate to some of the fish and corals is extremely worrying and sad, she said.

She said that it is therefore important to educate the youth and future generation of fishermen, as they are the ones who can either change things for the better or continue doing things in an unsustainable way like what they have been doing.

It is also equally important to educate and create awareness among consumers so that they will realise how and where their food come from and that how eating delicacies such as shark fin soup is causing huge problems to the marine ecosystems.

This is because everything is interconnected, she said.

Mike Horn is acknowledged globally as one of the greatest modern day explorers.

He has crossed and swum the rivers, sailed the oceans solo, survived near-death environments, brutally extreme conditions and confronted nature at her most unforgiving state.

In two decades, he's probably seen more of the earth than any other human and yet every step he took has opened his eyes more to the alarming changes occurring in our environment, the ones that could affect our very existence.

Having accomplished his personal exploration goals and armed with a wealth of experience, Mike knew it was time to lend his unique knowledge and expertise to motivate solutions for the challenges the planet faces.

He realised that the future of planet earth lay solely in the hands of the youth, who if properly educated and informed, can save and sustain the world for generations.

Thus the Pangaea organisation was mooted.

Mike believes that caring for life source is now an absolute necessity for every human being.

But the problem is that humans are losing respect for nature, forgetting her beauty and most importantly, her overwhelming power.

However, Mike firmly believes that if they can tap the world's most powerful energy source, which is the younger generation, they might just be able to help them find solutions for their tomorrows.

Ravyna said it is important for the people of Malaysia, Asia and around the world to realise what is happening to the environment.

And also how important it is to manage and conserve it before it is too late, and that anyone can make a difference if they try.

Borneo Island is an amazing place but it is sad to see that it is being treated so badly, she said.

She hoped that her experience could help make everyone more aware and concerned about marine life and the oceans, and maybe even start to do something about it.

"I never would have thought that in just 10 days, I would have experienced so much, from sailing across the South China Sea, seeing a bomb explode right in front of me, to exploring a whole new underwater world!

It was truly an unforgettable experience," she said.


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