Assessing Marine Conservation Effectiveness in Malaysia

Malaysia is a maritime nation, strategically located at the intersection of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. As such it is one of 17 mega-diverse countries globally, with high levels of terrestrial and marine species richness and endemism. Currently around 11% of Malaysia’s land area is conserved within terrestrial parks and reserves. However, in common with much of the world, marine conservation has lagged and less than 2% of Malaysia’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is designated as Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).

Malaysia’s EEZ overlaps with the Coral Triangle area, which has the greatest diversity of marine life in the world. Coral diversity is highest in Sabah and Sarawak, which are estimated to have over 550 species, while Peninsular Malaysia reefs have over 480 species of coral. In comparison, Hawaii is home to 80 species of coral, the Caribbean hosts 61. 

WWF-Malaysia is the largest non-governmental conservation organization in Malaysia and works closely with government, industry, research and community partners. Direct threats that the program is addressing include:

  1. Overfishing, non-selective and destructive fishing methods, and bycatch;
  2. Overcapacity;
  3. Conversion and reclamation of coastal ecosystems for coastal development and agriculture/aquaculture;
  4. Land and vessel based pollution; and
  5. Turtle and turtle egg harvesting.

The program also considers indirect threats/drivers, such as the current fisheries subsidies framework, regional trade and a lack of legislative enforcement, seafood market driving unsustainable demands and climate change.

The WWF-Malaysia Marine Program Vision: “A sustainably developed Malaysia that upholds the integrity of the globally significant marine biodiversity, through the demonstration of innovative & transformational solutions that ensure the true value of the rich marine resources are maintained or enhanced.

To address the many threats and meet long-term conservation goals, the current phase of the marine program is organized around four transformational strategies (TS):

  • TS1 – Fisheries subsidies reform and implementation of Ecosystems Approach to Fisheries Management (EAFM)
  • TS2 – Sustainable seafood through business and industry engagement
  • TS3 – Sustainable seascapes through integrated ocean management
  • TS4 – Phase out licensed turtle egg collection, working towards a federal ban

Program Evaluation During late 2016 and in the first half of 2017, Nautilus Impact Investing undertook an in-depth evaluation of the WWF-Malaysia Marine Program. The evaluation was undertaken using a range of methods including staff and partner interviews, field visits, literature and data reviews.

Despite increasing pressures on marine resources in Malaysian waters, the evaluation found that the WWF-Malaysia marine program strategies are on track and yielding promising conservation outcomes. For example, after 13 years of effort, in 2016 the nearly 900,000-hectare Tun Mustapha Park in Sabah was formally gazetted.

The evaluation concluded that with a longer-term strategic vision and refinement of strategies underway, particularly in expanding climate adaptation planning, those strategies will continue to generate positive biodiversity impacts, reduce threats to marine ecosystems from human activities and enhance the wellbeing of coastal communities in Sabah and Peninsular Malaysia.