I’m still not sure it wasn’t all a dream. Laying around in hammocks after mornings spent diving off remote islands in some of the clearest water imaginable. Snorkelling under our little stilt house on a sea that was teaming with life. Spotting seahorses, cuttlefish and scores of other tropical marine creatures that call this little slice of heaven home.
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Of course, this is not a natural paradise. It has been created by the people of Semporna, in Malaysian Borneo, a place where life and livelihood revolve around the ocean. Building unique houses over the shallow water on stilts and getting around by boat is just part and parcel of daily life here, but sadly in recent years Semporna has suffered for its beauty. Any diver who’s worth their salt knows about Sipadan, a small protected island famed for its clear water and superb marine life.
But with fame comes tourists, in their thousands, and although numbers to Sipadan are limited, dive trips to the surrounding islands aren’t.
What’s wrong with that I hear you ask? We are all tourists of a sort after all. The problem is pollution, and more specifically rubbish. It only takes a short walk along the shore of the main town in Semporna to see the scale of the problem; nappies, plastic bottles and crisp wrappers line the once pristine beaches. It’s not solely the tourists to blame, the town simply doesn’t have the infrastructure or the impetus to safely dispose of the waste created by the extra visitors and influx of new products.
“So what can we do about it?!” I hear you ask. Luckily for us, one man has already taken Semporna’s pollution problems into his own hands. ND, who runs a dive shop with attached accommodation, has an infectious love for the ocean that he subtly instills on all who dive and stay with him. He protects the small area beneath his shop with nets and believes to have the only large clams left in the area as they are otherwise collected on mass for food and handicrafts. Local children are also encouraged to fish out recyclables that have been washed over in the tide or caught by nets.
There are few places that leave a lasting impact on a personal level; places I will rave about for years to come to anyone who’ll listen. The world isn’t perfect and the story of over tourism is unfortunately all too familiar. But every now and then you find one person that cares enough about their little slice of paradise to do something about it. Sometimes that’s all it takes to leave a lasting impression on the world. One person doing the right thing.
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