Asia Dive News : Sipadan to be run by Sabah
Winds of change are blowing over Pulau Sipadan with the imminent handover of the island to the state government.
The National Security Council in the Prime Minister's Department is now in the final process of handing over the administration of the world-famous diving spot.
"This has always been the plan. The island was handed over to the Federal Government in 2002 by the International Court of Justice in a territorial dispute with Indonesia.
"Now that things are settled, the island will be returned to the Sabah government," said state Tourism, Environment and Culture Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun.
The state government will form a small panel headed by an assistant minister to tackle the various issues brought up by tourists and dive operators, and Sabah Parks will handle the day-to-day running of the island.
"There will be less red tape and we will be able to manage it more efficiently," said Masidi.
One of the first issues to be tackled is the limit of 120 divers per day on the island. It was put into place several years ago to protect Sipadan's delicate ecosystem.
But as the island's fame spread, more dive operators set up shop, and the complex distribution of the diving permits often leaves tourists, who have travelled thousands of kilometres to get there, disappointed.
A proposal is being looked into to modify the limitation and allow 120 divers in the morning, and another 120 in the afternoon each day.
"This will allow more divers to experience the underwater splendours of Sipadan without overburdening the island."
Environmental studies are being conducted to assess the island's sustainability, and whether increasing the number of divers will damage the ecosystem.
"What's important is that we leave the island as pristine as possible."
The island, off the east coast of Sabah, has hit the headlines several times, but not always for its reputation as a premier dive spot.
In 2000, gun-toting Abu Sayyaf terrorists stormed the island and kidnapped 21 divers and resort workers, and held them hostage. All were eventually released.
In 2004, all dive operators on Sipadan were told to move their structures from the island to conserve its ecosystem and corals. The move created much scepticism and controversy.
In 2006, a barge carrying tonnes of building material beached on the island, damaging a significant portion of reef.
The materials were said to be for a million ringgit tourist facility with a rest house, toilets and scuba shop. The idea was scrapped due to widespread objections and a more modest project was proposed.