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Facilitating a multi-stakeholder initiative to conserve Sabah's sharks and rays

Overview | Partners


Over 2017-2018, LEAP facilitated a multi-stakeholder initiative to strengthen the conservation of sharks and rays in Sabah - Malaysia’s most important state for these species - by improving legal and regulatory frameworks, conducting research and engaging in outreach. Partners included the Sabah Shark Protection Association, WWF-Malaysia, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, Shark Stewards, Scuba Junkie, Scubazoo, Green Semporna, Forever Sabah and the Australian Institute for Marine Science. The Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Environment, the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Industries and Fisheries Department Sabah supported the work. The Shark Conservation Fund supported the work financially. 

Law & policy

Among other areas of progress, in mid-2017 the Department of Fisheries announced that it would act upon the Southeast Asia Fisheries Development Centre’s advice to list the following species under the Fisheries (Control of Endangered Species of Fish) Regulations (1999): 1) Great Hammerhead Shark (Sphyrna mokarran), 2) Smooth Hammerhead Shark (Sphyrna zygaena), 3) Winghead shark (Eusphyra blonchii), 4) Oceanic Whitetip Shark (Carcharinus longimanus), 5) Oceanic Manta (Manta birostris), and 6) Reef manta (Manta alfredi).


Shark Stewards produced a report that captures all existing data (including from the grey literature). This report now constitutes the most comprehensive single document on sharks and rays conservation, capture and trade in Sabah. Universiti Teknologi Malaysia produced a report about the local socio-economic dynamics of shark and ray fishing and trade. The team focused their work in Kota Kinabalu, Kudat, Sandakan and Semporna (including on Mabul). The Australian Institute of Marine Science produced research on the value of shark and ray tourism on the Semporna region. The research finds the annual business revenue from shark diving for the dive tourism industry in Sabah to be USD 6.4 million and a tax income of USD 3.6 million per year. Shark diving was associated with the generation of 796 jobs that yielded USD 2.8 million per year in salaries for employees.


The Sabah Shark Protection Association visited 75 schools, and spoke to over 15,000 students and over 800 teachers about the importance of sharks and rays as part of the marine ecosystem and the associated issues with shark fin soup. Green Semporna also ran a Shark Guardian Camp in Semporna that was attended by 32 students aged between 13-16 years old.


The work culminated with two forums. The Semporna Sharks and Rays Forum drew together members of the fishing and trading community on the east coast of Sabah to ensure their views were clearly articulated and heard (early-June 2018). The Sabah Sharks and Rays Forum brought together over 140 participants, provided a platform to 22 speakers and hosted four facilitated panels over a day and a half. Invited experts included individuals from within the region who were able to share lessons for use in Sabah, including from Hong Kong, the Philippines, Indonesia, Pakistan and Australia.


Initiative members

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in collaboration with

relevant government agencies

SSRF | Pictures
Sabah Sharks and Rays Forum


shark and ray

forum 2018



Documents | Next Steps
Next Steps

current work


A group of partners are working together as part of the Sabah Shark and Ray Initiative to address by-catch reduction in commercial and small-scale fisheries, improve marine protected area effectiveness, assess the feasibility of a locally-managed marine area, engage with law and policy and conduct outreach.  


1. Reduce bycatch in commercial fisheries (Marine Research Foundation): a. Use GPS-linked camera systems to determine areas of highest bycatch of sharks and rays on shrimp trawl vessels operating out of Sandakan (Sabah’s largest fishing port) and develop a map for presentation to the Department of Fisheries Sabah to enable future management actions such as time-area closures; b. determine the effectiveness of TEDs as a shark and ray bycatch mitigation strategy by deploying GoPro cameras on existing TED-equipped vessels. Results will be discussed with government agencies with a view to being scaled (see Activity 5 on law and policy).


2. Reduce bycatch in small-scale fisheries (WWF-Malaysia, Marine Resource Foundation): Conduct studies in Tun Mustapha Park (Sabah’s largest MPA) to mitigate gillnet captures of sharks and rays through the use of LED lighting technology, to assess the potential for bycatch reduction through low-cost LEDs on artisanal gillnets. Results will be discussed with government agencies with a view to being scaled (see Activity 5 on law and policy).


3. Improve MPA effectiveness (WWF-Malaysia): Improve MPA effectiveness for sharks and rays in line with the announcement that all Sabah’s MPAs are ‘shark and ray sanctuaries’ by undertaking coordinated BRUV and UVS work in Tun Mustapha Park. The findings of the population baseline and critical habitats will contribute to the development of a management plan for sharks and rays.


4. Enhance law and policy (LEAP): To promote the above outcomes being integrated into law and policy (and therefore practice) we will develop legal analyses of Malaysian and other jurisdictions’ laws and policies related to bycatch reduction and LMMAs as the basis for engaging with the relevant government agencies. In addition, we will a. support a robust revision of the NPOA, b. engage the relevant government agencies to include all CITES-listed species under the (Malaysian) International Trade in Endangered Species Act (2008), and c. promote the finalization of the inclusion of six new species of sharks and rays under the Fisheries Regulations (1999).


5. Raise awareness (Sabah Sharks Protection Association and LEAP): Run a media campaign and engagement with the fishing community and schools.  

6. Host a Forum 2020 (LEAP): Communicate and evaluate our work, deepen political/governmental and other stakeholders’ commitment and identify next steps.

The Sabah Shark and Ray Initiative is funded by the Shark Conservation Fund, a philanthropic collaborative pooling expertise and resources to meet the threats facing the world's sharks and rays. The Shark Conservation Fund is a project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors. 

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