MANTANANI native Mohd Faizul bin Madali is twiddling his thumbs waiting for the pandemic to end and tourists to return.
He is a divemaster and has been without work since lockdowns began in March 2020, relying instead on his family to support him.
“Previously, my life was diving, eating, sleeping,” says the 22-year-old. “Now, it’s eating, sleeping, eating, sleeping.”
He says virtually everyone in his village of 100 people has been dependent on tourism. The same is true of the other, larger village on Mantanani, the only inhabited island of a small group off Sabah’s northwest coast.
Back to fishing
With tourists still unable to visit, many islanders have returned to fishing as a way to make a living. As Faizul remarks, there are very few alternatives: “Where else are we going to get an income if not from the sea?”
When asked if they use fish bombs, he is quick to respond: “No, no, no! Not any more.” If fish-bombing is taking place around the islands, he is adamant the perpetrators are “outsiders, maybe from Kota Kinabalu [on the mainland]”.
Faizul has reported to the authorities the intrusion of non-local fishing boats during lockdown, incensed that they used nets in shallow waters, destroying the coral.
“I felt sad because the coral used to be alive, but they killed it. Thank goodness there are laws [to tackle this]… Tourism also depends on corals being beautiful and healthy. Who wants to look at dead corals? And Chinese tourists are very particular!”
A certified “eco-diver”, Faizul is also part of Reef Check Malaysia’s Mantanani Youth Club, a capacity-building conservation initiative, and takes an active part in the NGO’s reef surveys.
Unlike other islanders, however, he has not turned to fishing to make ends meet: “How would I know how to do that? What I can do is bring people diving and teach them how to dive.”