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Lahad Datu Blue Hole holds huge tourism potential

LAHAD DATU: Darvel Bay in Lahad Datu, is poised to be a world tourism spot with the discovery of an iconic scuba diving site known as The Blue Hole in Tingkayu Corals in the bay.

The finding was recorded on Feb 14 by a group of divers including researchers from Sabah Parks (TTS) who joined the scientific expedition to collect marine data at Darvel Bay.

Unlike other blue holes in the world, the blue hole in this bay has two structures with each hole 15 metres deep into the seabed.

Relating the matter, TTS senior research officer, Nasrulhakim Maidin said the blue hole is probably the only such feature in Sabah and maybe even in Malaysia.

“If this sunken coral structure (like a cave in water) is promoted as a diving site, it could become a major tourist attraction such as The Great Blue Hole of Belize (Central America), Blue Hole Dean (Bahamas), apart from Dragon Blue Hole (China),” he said when met recently.

According to him, they stumbled upon the find when a remote sensing map detected a coral area and they found a blue hole instead.

“We explored both blue holes and could cover the site with just one tank of gas. The experience was amazing when we came out of the blue hole from the left to the right, we were like moving over a mountain range in the sea,” he said and added the place could be opened to divers apart from becoming a sea-walking spot,” he said.

Nasrulhakim said the blue hole could be promoted as one of the tourist diving sites as it is strategically located near Sipadan Island in Semporna.

“If we take a boat from Silam Coast Conservation Area (SCCA) to the blue hole, it will take about 30 minutes and from Sipadan, an hour and it will take two hours by tourist boat from Semporna to the blue hole in Darvel Bay,” he said.

However, according to him, to bring this gem into the eyes of the world, Darvel Bay which is about 100,000 hectares encompassing the blue hole and 50 islands should be gazetted by the state government as a marine preservation area.

The move is necessary to realise the development of Darvel Bay in Lahad Datu as an international tourism destination based on the concept of ecotourism or research tourism.

“The gazette is the initial measure to preserve marine lives in the area like the blue hole which we found has lots of corals but minimal presence of fish.

“When we dived to a depth of 13 metres, we found 10 fish traps (bubu) but they appeared discarded a long time ago and we observed there were no groupers (fish) sighted in the area,” he said.

He said gazetting the place would make Lahad Datu as the preferred tourism destination which could in turn contribute to state revenue.

“Last year alone, Sabah earns RM7.8 billion from tourism and this income can be further expanded with the latest product like Darvel Bay,” he said and added they also found four other diving spots in bay.

Meanwhile, Universiti Malaysia Sabah Borneo Marine Research Institute lecturer, Assoc Prof Dr Juanita Joseph, said the expedition also recorded the finding of two turtle species, the green turtle and sea hawksbill turtle in the area.

“These wild turtles were found in Pulau Baik and Pulau Tabawan and it was also observed that there is sea grass which is what turtles feed on.

“Interviews with fishermen and security forces personnel in Tabawan also confirmed the presence of turtles in the island,” he said.

According to her, if the government gazette the bay, more turtles will be attracted to the island as a safe haven such Semporna apart from restoring the coral destroyed by fish bombs.

In this regard, Juanita said the beach and sea in several areas of Darvel Bay need cleaning up due to rubbish washed up from the sea.

Apart from rubbish, she said old fish traps and ghost nets dumped into the sea could contribute to killing marine lives such as turtles.

On Feb 11, 21 researchers from Sabah Parks, Universiti Malaysia Sabah, Remote Sensing Agency took part in 2019 Darvel Bay Scientific Expedition. The week-long programme was organised by Sabah Foundation and Lahad Datu District Office. — Bernama

Source: Borneo Post Online | Mar 11, 2019