Marine Park Eco Tourism In Malaysia
From a paper by Evelyn Kaur
Overview of tourism sector development
In Malaysia, the tourism sector ranks second as a generator of foreign exchange after oil and gas production. This industry has been growing rapidly in the country over the past few years. For example, Malaysia has shown a significant increase of tourist arrivals from countries in Asia government has announced that RM1 billion will be allocated to tourism infrastructure and development for 2006, which will be managed by the Small and Medium Enterprise Development Bank (SME).
This is to develop tourism that;
- Minimizes impact
Builds environmental awareness
Provides direct financial benefits for conservation
Provides financial benefits and empowerment for local people
Respects local culture
Ecotourism in marine parks, a definition
It is important first to clarify what the interpretation of ecotourism practice in marine parks is. Ecotourism in marine parks can be defined as marine ecotourism, which is 'ecotourism that takes place in coastal and marine settings' (Mike, 1999). This area of ecotourism is exceptionally important, as Malaysia is blessed with breathtaking islands along with white sandy beaches and clear waters, which generates significant revenue for the nation. Moreover, its growth has been assisted, to an extent, by the abundant and rich coral reefs and shallow tropical marine resources in this region.
Ecotourism in Malaysia
Ecotourism is becoming the fastest growing form of tourism in Malaysia, currently making up about 10 per cent of the country's tourism revenue , Many government and tourist agencies have adapted their organizations to offering services that are related to ecotourism activities. A high fiscal commitment is also contributed by the Ministry for its development. For instance, a total of RM1,009 billion was allocated for the development of the tourism industry during the Eighth Malaysia Plan [8 MP] (Eighth Malaysia Plan, 2001).
Malaysia has a wide range of natural assets that makes ecotourism a highly beneficial, sustainable and long-term form of tourism. This includes lakes, mangroves, limestone caves, mountains, waterfalls, islands, wildlife and many others. Despite this fact, there are enormous concerns for the future of ecotourism, as many of the famous ecotourism sites in Malaysia are now so over-used. Some of the examples are Wang Kelian in Perlis (limestone, caves and forests), Kenyir Catchments in Terengganu (lake, boating, trekking and fishing), Pulau Kukup in Johor (mangroves, wildlife, and seafood), Lower Kinabatangan River in Sabah (proboscis monkeys and wildlife), Pulau Redang in Terengganu (fish, coral reefs and an attractive marine environment), Pulau Sipadan in Sabah (fish, coral reefs and an attractive marine environment), and many others. One of the best ecotourism practices have been displayed in the Matang Mangroves Forest in Perak. However, there is still a lack of best ecotourism practices displayed in any of the marine parks in Malaysia.
The positive viewpoint of ecotourism
The United Nations and the World Trade Organization (WTO) have predicted that ecotourism will become the world's biggest industry in the future. Thus, if properly implemented, it can provide employment opportunities for locals in the long term. Tourism, being the world's largest employer, has already generated almost 200 million jobs or some 10 per cent of jobs globally (Halpenny and Elizabeth, 2002). In Malaysia, this sector provides jobs to many people employed in the hotel, resort and transportation industries, as well as those in restaurant and other tourist-related business (WWF Malaysia, 2005).
Moreover, it can also bring benefits to rural communities in terms of increased revenue, support for conservation and provide better environmental management. Ecotourism could become central to sustainable development, offering one realistic key solution to the apparent conflict between environmental protection and economic growth .. Besides being a powerful incentive for governments to conserve areas, the ecotourism industry provides an enhanced image for the nation and for the tourism sector as a whole.
The negative outlook of ecotourism
Ecotourism can have the same harmful effects as that of mass tourism if tour operators, resorts managers, marine parks officers and other stakeholders, as the main promoters, do not strictly adhere to the precepts of ecotourism . This is due to the fact that there are increased numbers' of visitors (ecotravelers) to almost all the marine park islands, as a result of increased promotion done by various parties in order to generate economic revenue. When demand rises, further development implemented in the areas that were previously untouched could cause extensive damage. Once destinations become popular, there is often no way to control development activities.
An enhanced tourism industry also involves many activities that can have adverse environmental effects . Many of these are linked with the construction of general infrastructure and tourism facilities, such as roads and airports, resorts, hotels, restaurants, shops, golf courses and marinas. The negative impact of tourism development can gradually destroy the environmental resources on which it actually depends.
MARINE PARKS IN MALAYSIA
The marine parks were primarily established to conserve and conduct research on the rich biodiversity contained in the marine park waters. However, time has changed over the years and now marine parks have to maintain an uneasy balance between conservation and tourism activities.
PROBLEMS AND CHALLENGES ASSOCIATED WITH MARINE PARKS
Issues facing the marine parks
The quality of the marine environment is essential to the ecotourism industry and unregulated tourism development can involve many activities that have adverse environmental effects. Negative impact from tourism occurs when the level of visitor use is greater than the environment's ability to cope with this use within the marine parks' limits of acceptable change or carrying capacity (Hardin, 1977). If not properly regulated, the tourism industry has three main impacts, which are: depletion of natural resources, pollution and harmful physical impact.
Some of the main factors contributing to environmental problems in our marine parks are listed below:
Overcrowding and lack of awareness among visitors:
The number of tourists visiting the marine park islands has been increasing over the years. Overcrowding of visitors into the marine parks has been the main culprit of the various accumulated impact on the marine parks' ecosystem. This is mainly due to the difficulty in briefing all the visitors on the dos and don'ts while visiting the marine parks. For example, much of the corals on Pulau Payar were damaged as a result of the overwhelming presence of tourists, as the travel operators allowed between 600 and 700 tourists on the island at one time. Diving operators thought only about profits and filling up their boats without worrying about the carrying capacity of the island. In the end, the beaches were overcrowded with snorkelers and divers who accidentally step onto the corals, indirectly causing the environment to degrade. All this has caused the island to become 'sick' due to neglect and lack of proper enforcement of the ecotourism guidelines. Its sorry state, including the pressure of 14 chalets on the island that have been abandoned since 2002, has prompted the State Government to conduct an immediate study on the health of the island's natural environment (New Straits Times, 15/9/2005).
Another good example of the effects of uncontrolled mass tourism is on Sipadan Island. The conservation of this island has not been maintained to the appropriate standard. On one hand, there is a push to bring in the tourist dollar (particularly foreigners who have more spending power) but on the other, little is done to protect the precious biodiversity which is its main attraction (Star, 23/2/2005). Many problems are caused mainly because of the low awareness of environmental issues among tourists, coastal communities and the other stakeholders (hotel/resort operators, dive operators, tour guides and boat operators). Indeed, the removal of all resorts from the island was a very positive move to allow the island to recover from the exhausting role of playing host to hundreds of visitors over the last 15 years. Nevertheless, without the basic amenities, divers are still landing on this island up to now, causing its environment to further degrade gradually.
The similar conditions apply to the turtles nesting on the islands in Terengganu and Sabah leading to its near extinction, mainly due to overcrowding of the beach areas with visitors and coastal development activities. Also, the fish feeding activity conducted in most of the marine parks may also disturb their normal feeding patterns and cause stress as the food introduced may not be part of the normal diet. This could alter fish behaviour and have an impact on the ecological balance of species on the reef, especially in Pulau Payar which is famous for its shark feeding attraction.
The negative impact of tourism development can gradually destroy the environmental resources on which it very much depends. On many of the marine park islands, amenities such as hotels and chalets have been developed and activities like scuba diving and snorkelling are introduced in the surrounding protected waters to promote ecotourism (Mohammed Mohd. Daud, 1999).
Thus, without proper environmental responsibility among visitors, resort/chalet operators and other stakeholder; a great deal of destruction is done to the environment. For instance, Table 3 shows a summary of the tourism stakeholders and the impact of unmanaged ecotourism practices in the marine parks.
An increasing tourist population also demands more freshwater. This can result in water shortages and degradation of water supplies, as well as generating a greater volume of waste water. This has been a contributing factor to the degradation of the corals in most of the islands. Additionally, the inefficient sewage treatment system on the islands has also contributed to 17 environmental degradation. Nutrient runoff has been a significant threat to reefs in the parks, particularly near large population centres. Tourist boat activities have also caused problems to the surroundings. Coral is damage by anchors, discarded refuse, divers and snorkellers and chemical factors from nutrient runoffs; while minimal at some of the sites, are likely to be significant within the parks and will increase with increased tourism.
Effect of land development on coral health:
Sedimentation is one of the main problems resulting from land development. As more development and land clearing activities have been taking place on the islands and on the mainland, so has sedimentation been on the rise. Many resorts/chalets are built on the islands to compensate for the ever raising number of visitors. Not only this, the construction of general tourism infrastructure and facilities such as roads and airports, golf courses and marinas, can also be linked to over-development activities on the marine parks. For example, development of marinas can cause changes in currents and coastlines; indirectly harming the coral reefs there. In development activities, various characteristics of the marine parks are not considered. Some of these islands are small, for example Perhentian Island which is only 15 sq km in size and yet is one of the major island ecotourism destinations in Malaysia with the most number of chalets/resorts.
Some islands have also experienced the mushrooming of small resorts from over the time, especially in Pasir Panjang and Teluk Dalam area in Redang Marine Park. The island development has led to sedimentation impact on the reefs. Sedimentation at high concentrations can kill the coral colonies, decrease water visibility and discourages snorkellers and divers over the long term.
Lack of coordination:
The other problematic issue with the marine park islands is the lack of coordination among the Federal and the State governments. Also there are often conflicting targets and mandates within State government and the managing body of the marine parks, formerly the Fisheries Department and presently under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (NRE). This kind of problem is highlighted by the case of Pulau Tioman and Pulau Payar development plans.
Despite opposition by various parties and NGOs, the marina project construction in Pulau Tioman and the chalet complex construction in Pulau Payar were still approved. The same goes for a similar dual style management in other parks in the Peninsular, where large-scale tour operations are represented by the SEDC (State Economic Development Corporation) and the small-scale tour operations, run mostly by foreigners leasing land from local inhabitants. In contrast, Sabah and Sarawak manage their own marine park areas and have the mandate to control activities both in the terrestrial and marine portions, thus providing integrated and effective site planning and management practices.
Lack of enforcement:
There are shortages of staff both in terms of numbers and professional levels to carry out enforcement in the marine parks. This is especially during peak visiting periods, such as school holidays or public holidays. As a result, there is also concern for the lack of continuous monitoring in the marine parks. Thus, it is difficult to regulate ecotourism guidelines in the marine parks, causing illegal encroachments in their waters. Moreover, there is also no definite role played by the National Advisory Council for Marine Parks and Marine Reserves (NAC) and in handling issues concerning marine parks.
The trend of increasing visitor numbers to Malaysia's Marine Parks is expected to continue, particularly with the successful promotion of nature tourism by the Malaysian Government and various other steps taken to attract tourists. However, it would not be recommended to further increase tourism development and other related activities in some of the major marine park islands.
Thus, the relevant stakeholders should start carrying out certain moves to address these gaps. This could be done by stricter enforcement of regulations, restricting the total number of visitors to the park, controlling the number of dive groups, restricting large groups of visitors to certain areas of the park, increasing the frequency of patrols around the marine park area, increasing the number of staff or officers on duty, putting up more boards sign on dos and don'ts, designing zones for various recreational activities and enforcement of stricter controls on development projects on the marine parks. Greater emphasis should be placed on the enforcement of regulations designed to protect marine resources, protection of marine biodiversity and in management of the shoreline development. Examples of best ecotourism practices from selected countries like Australia, Costa Rica and Cuba can also be applied in Malaysia.