A Glimpse of Ecotourism in Mabul Island
Updated: Jul 21
Are you a city dweller?
It’s that thought a person who was born and raised in the city would normally have, the thought of having a beach 15 minutes drive from home.
As a city person myself, I’ve always wanted to experience the beach and tropical life. When I had a chance to do so with my friends back in 2019, I thought of travelling to my hometown Malaysia.
Malaysia is quite well-known for its beach and exotic marine life, namely for those who enjoy scuba diving and snorkelling. For someone who had spent their entire life in a foreign land, a trip to explore a part of my country I had never been to was not a terrible idea.
I didn’t want to go anywhere too popular or typical so Semporna, Langkawi, Redang Island, and pretty much the majority of the bigger islands on the East coast of Malaysia were off the table. The destination I chose was Mabul Island, a small land off the Southeastern coast of Sabah.
A month later, I was back in my hometown and ready for my quick escape from modern life.
We took a 10-minute boat ride on our way to the island resort. One thing I remembered the most during the ride was that at one moment, I realised all I could see with my eyes was just the ocean. It hit me that we were already away from the city, away from the noise, away from the concrete. There was nothing but the sounds of nature.
(credit: Michelle Wang)
Everything was beyond beautiful when we arrived at the destination.
(credit: Michelle Wang)
The resort is extended from the main island. If you want to wander along the beach, you have to detour a little and go to another side of the resort. The picture above was taken while we were on our way to the beach after dinner.
The sounds of your footsteps walking on the wooden bridge, the sun glitter shining onto you at 2 in the afternoon, and the sounds of sea waves you hear from the window next to your bed are so serene, tranquil, cleansing, soothing, and peaceful.
I’ve stumbled upon endless articles and news on Malaysia’s marine pollution regarding marine debris and plastic waste getting washed up onto the beach. Frankly, I didn’t expect much from this island before arriving.
But the island was more than just pretty, it showed me a glimpse of ecotourism.
The resort used no electricity at all during the day during my stay. Even when the rooms can be a little dark in the afternoon, why do you need lights when you look out the window when the crystal ocean waters are just in front of you.
David McCann, a marine biologist living on Mabul island, has been working together with the resort’s diving business on ocean preservation, setting up the Sabah Shark Protection Association, working on turtle and coral reef conservation. In particular, David has been pouring his heart into tackling the issue of marine debris with regular recycling, up-cycling, reef cleans, and beach cleans.
While more traffic means more profit, it also implies more waste. It can be hard to find a balance for businesses. However, what this resort cares about isn’t purely monetisation but making an impact on the local community. The local community has its life solely dependent on this ocean.
They teach the local children how to love and protect the ocean because like what David has said, at the end of the day, tourists like us can easily find a new travel destination but the locals do not have the agency to find a new home. They don’t have a choice.
It was lovely seeing my country gifted with such nature and tourists coming all the way just to enjoy the sight of it, so how can we protect this place?
It is equally important for us to understand what ecotourism is and why it is so important. Mabul Island may be a good example for others to follow suit, yet it is not enough.
Based on World Wildlife Fund (WWF)’s report, Malaysia was ranked the highest for plastic consumption among six Southeast Asian countries and even China in 2016. With most of the waste going to the ocean, the battle with plastic waste is still ongoing. Initiating recycling for marine debris like what David and the resort have been doing for Mabul Island is not going to stop the situation until the consumption gets lessened.
The Ministry of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment, and Climate Change (MESTECC) has been implementing the roadmap towards “Zero Single-Use Plastics”.
WWF Malaysia has proposed an effective tool for sustainable packaging.
As bad as it sounds, we are step-by-step slowly moving towards a better future.
Written by Shannon Hsishan Ho