‘Blue holes’: Proper planning needed for Darvel Bay to be made tourist attraction

LAHAD DATU: There is a need to have proper planning and sustainable management of Darvel Bay should the area be commercialised in the future.

This follows a statement from Sabah Parks, which conducted a scientific expedition at the bay, and reported to media about Malaysia’s only known “blue holes” off Silam waters, here.

Blue Hole was discovered on the Tingkayu Reef by a scuba diving team at Darvel Bay. Scuba divers and researchers from Sabah Parks recorded a coral reef pattern of the Blue Hole at the Tingkayu Reef in Darvel Bay, Lahad Datu on Feb 14. BERNAMA

Local dive instructor Glen Hapirulla, 56, who is also owner of dive site Pirate Divers, had led his team to discover and map 60 sites to date including the blue holes in 2017 which they named the Blue Ring reefs.

“Since news of the discovery has been shared widely in social media, I have been receiving many inquiries to come and dive at the Blue Ring,” he said, adding that previously people had been sceptical about safety in Lahad Datu due to the history of piracy and the intrusion by armed men from the southern Philippines in 2013.

Pirate Divers, being the sole dive operator here, normally sets a limit of eight divers daily at Blue Ring, which is known as “Pakat Tenggiri” among locals as its near fishing grounds for them.

“Both holes of the Blue Ring are not connected and the depth is between 14m and 18m, depending on the tide. Hole One has less than 30 per cent that can be explored while Hole Two is more special as it has (what we named) ‘Journalist reef’, which has magnificent corals of different types,” he said, adding that the reef was so named to acknowledge the media’s contribution in promoting Lahad Datu dive sites and conservation efforts.

Glen, who is aware of the state government’s efforts to gazette Darvel Bay, said Lahad Datu’s untouched “gems” must not be subjected to “overcrowding” by tourists or it would become a “second Semporna”.

“There should not be resorts or (anything else) built mid sea off Lahad Datu waters as it would damage the natural state of underwater life, especially corals.

“Divers and visitors should also be screened through ‘one-door’ so that there would be proper monitoring and control of their activities,” he said, adding that the authorities must have strict enforcement of regulations, with systematic arrangement of visitors’ movements.

Glen added that any development should always prioritise locals in terms of employment and affordability in visiting the area.

“It would be sad, if in future, our locals can only see others diving here as they can no longer afford to pay exorbitant prices, just like what is happening in Sipadan island,” he said.

Meanwhile, Tungku assemblyman Assafal Alian said the scientific expedition by Sabah Parks was part of the efforts for gazettement.

“The whole of Darvel Bay is expected to be gazetted as a protected marine park. It is still in the process, but we hope it will be completed by year-end,” said Assafal, who is also assistant tourism, culture and environment minister.

Article appeared on NST Online.