Sunday, September 15, 2013

Dive! Dive! Dive! As patriots go underwater

KUCHING: This Sept 16 marks the 50th anniversary of the formation of Malaysia. While citizens will be waving flags and singing patriotic tunes on dry land, more than a dozen environmentally conscious Malaysian scuba divers will be braving the South China Sea to take part in the Malaysia Day Dive 2013 (MDD).

MDD is a diving community-led effort to clean-up marine debris threatening the Hiyoshi Maru, a WWII Japanese shipwreck about 30km off the coast of Santubong, Kuching.

The wreck is a popular diving site for its natural beauty and the abundance of marine life found there, including corals, lobsters, jackfish, and giant groupers.

The main aims of the dive are to create greater public awareness and policy makers about the worldwide problem of ocean debris and its devastation on marine life, as well as to promote the dive site as a tourism destination, event organiser Ernest Teo told thesundaypost when met recently.

Under threat

Every year, tonnes of rubbish end up in the oceans, creating marine debris which kills thousands of marine animals and sea birds, endangering hundreds of miles of sensitive marine and coastal areas, as well as decimating ecosystems.

Teo, who is a professional scuba instructor, described the condition of the Hiyoshi Maru as “quite bad”.

He estimates that about 20 to 30 per cent of the ship is currently shrouded in a lethal web of abandoned fishing nets which is suffocating coral growth as well as ensnaring passing marine life.

The nets can be traced to fishing trawlers which spread their nets at surface to mid-level depths. If they fish close to the wreck which lies in relatively shallow depths, sooner or later, the nets will get caught.

Abandoned nets are just one form of marine debris threatening the site. Others include plastic wrappers and bottles, tin cans and just about any rubbish imaginable that you can find on land.

“The past generation did not take care of our ecosystem well enough. What we see today is from the previous generation.

“We always have to bear in mind that the world we are living in today is borrowed from the future. If we don’t do anything right now, there won’t be anything left,” said Teo, who also organises trips to the wreck site for small groups of divers and visitors.

He pointed out that while divers to the site normally try to collect debris during each trip, a higher number of divers was needed to make a more significant dent in the amount of debris trapped at the site, hence the need to organise MDD.

Living museum

The clean-up also aims to highlight and protect the historical significance of the wreck site.

According to Ernest, the Hiyoshi Maru was a WWII troop carrier, part of a massive effort by the Japanese troops to invade South-east Asia, including the island of Borneo, just days after the audacious attack on Pearl Harbour.

On Christmas eve of 1941, the ship was on its way to Kuching together with a number of other vessels when it was intercepted by Dutch forces just off the coast of Santubong.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Dive! Dive! Dive! As patriots go underwater