Given the dire state of the oceans these days, news reported over at The Guardian that Malaysia is creating its largest marine park should—rightly—be greeted with some optimism. Spanning 1 million hectares (2.47 million acres) the conservation zone is notable both for its size and the value of the habitats it covers. Located off the coast of the Sabah province in Borneo, the Tun Mustapha park covers some of the richest coral habitats in Malaysia, as well as mangroves and sea grass beds.
But it's also home to productive commercial fishing operations, as well as local populations who rely on fishing for a significant portion of their sustenance.
That's why it's significant that—unlike some marine protection zones—Tun Mustapha park was created with a view to managing, rather than banning, fishing operations outright. Both commercial fishing operators and local residents will be allowed to continue fishing in designated zones which were established in consultation with NGOs, the Malaysian park service, local communities and fishing operators themselves. In a press release, Director General of WWF International Marco Lambertini suggested that Tun Mustapha Park may serve as a model for new ways that conservation and economic development can be made to work hand-in-hand:“The establishment of Tun Mustapha Park will boost the conservation and biodiversity of this uniquely rich natural environment. This will also help ensure the sustainable management of the significant marine resources in the area that support jobs, livelihoods and food security. The park’s gazettement should act as a model and an inspiration for marine conservation in the Coral Triangle and worldwide.”
Given that marine scientists have previously identified significant problems with over fishing, exploitation and unsustainable practices such as blast fishing, this marine park could not come soon enough. Over 13 years in the making, let's hope that the extensive consultation conducted by WWF and others will mean that there's buy in from the fishing operators too. After all, maintaining marine ecosystem health ought to be in their best interests too.