After Borneo or, What is an Artificial Reef?
No, really, what is it? What does it do? That is to say, what is the goal of constructing an artificial reef? Is it to refurbish destroyed reef ecosystems? Is it to maintain fish stock? To support coral resilience in the face of climate change? To guarantee a good dive for a high-paying client? Any artificial reef project can do all, or some, or one of these things. So, perhaps a more fitting question in why. This why informs the purpose or objective of installing an artificial reef.
Artificial reef design is a question of how those objectives are achieved. In two months on Borneo, in Brunei Darussalam and Sabah, Malaysia, I saw the manifold ways in which this “how” is a political, economical, and historical question. Kota Kinabalu, Sabah’s capital, declares itself as the nature tourism capital of the world as the gateway to jungle, orang utans, diving, and Mt. Kinabalu. Artificial reef designs are in many ways produced by Malaysia’s bureaucracy and fertilized by it’s ecotourism industry. Let’s take a quick look.
What: To reconstruct fisheries indirectly impacted by the oil industry & promote dive tourism
How: Convenient repurposed materials from that same industry.
What: To enhance local fish stocks by refurbishing damaged reefs.
How: Thousands of specifically designed coral frames and the implementation of no-take zones/marine parks.
What: To rebuild Pom Pom’s marine ecology as a case study of group effort with a minimal budget.
How: Small-scale experiments and projects with reused plastics.
What: To provide the expected scuba holiday experience.
How: Opportune structures that create new reef attractions at little additional cost.
To recap my quickest month so far: I left Brunei in a flash to spend a week in Semporna with the Malaysian Fisheries department, then stayed another week on Pom Pom with TRACC. After that I took a break at Scuba Junkies for 3 days, then spent another 5 days diving with Seaventures. Finally, all these people and places came together in Kota Kinabalu for my last week before flying to Fiji.
KK was amazing. It felt like the south of France met 1980s Miami, without the thongs. I met a group of kind and generous people who shared KK with me through karaoke and dark cafes, rivers and sunsets. The city considers itself the gateway to Borneo, and is filled with hostels and “ecotourism” ventures. Underneath it all is a city of Sabahan waiting for their own state and own rights, to claim their corner Borneo.