Effective Enforcement Strategy in the Sugud Islands Marine Conservation Area

Reef Guardian/ Achier Chung
Published: 22 April 2021
Last edited: 22 April 2021
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Through the investment of technologies, the effective enforcement strategy and engagement with the stakeholders in reducing illegal fishing activities within the Sugud Islands Marine Conservation Area (SIMCA) are effective.


Southeast Asia
Scale of implementation
Coral reef
Marine and coastal ecosystems
Open sea
Poaching and environmental crime
Protected area governance
Protected area management planning
Conflicting uses / cumulative impacts
Ecosystem loss
Unsustainable harvesting incl. Overfishing
Sustainable development goals
SDG 14 – Life below water
SDG 17 – Partnerships for the goals
Other targets
Coral Triangle Initiative Malaysia National Plan of Action
Goal 1


Sugud Islands Marine Conservation Area, Sabah Malaysia
Lankayan Island, Sabah, Malaysia


The encroachment of illegal fishing inside SIMCA continues to be a threat, and enforcing the no-fishing policy with a large area around SIMCA can be challenging. In large no-take marine reserve, enforcement can be insufficient to cover the whole area because of limited resources and manpower. Furthermore, fishers tend to alter their fishing schedule to fish illegally when enforcement presence is limited. 


Marine ecosystem


Marine resources

Fishing communities

How do the building blocks interact?

The combined four building blocks are to achieve an effective enforcement strategy. The enforcement guideline and strengthening capacity building (Building Block 1) ensure the Reef Guardian enforcement team has a systematic procedure to conduct sea patrol. The guideline emphasized steps from pre-sea patrol preparation, crew safety, boat intercept, boat check, evidence search and preservation, data records, police report filing, and proper documentation before the handover for authorities for court prosecution. The successful detection of illegal fishing within SIMCA relies on the radar tracking system's information (Building block 2), where illegal fishing activities can be predicted. Reporting of illegal fishing or activities enhanced through the engagement of fishing communities (Building block 3). Illegal fishing impact not only MPA performance but also the livelihood of the fishing communities. Multi-stakeholders' collaboration is needed to ensure the intrusion of illegal fishing to fishing community fish grounds and marine protected area are reduce (Building block 4).


In 2006, joint collaborative enforcement with marine police successfully apprehended three fishing bombing activities. The successful prosecution results in dramatic drops in the fish bombing in the region.  In 2009, another foreign fishing illegal fish inside SIMCA was detained. The incident awakened the authorities' for more enforcement presence needs to secure Sabah’s marine resources. The sea patrol activities assisted by the land-based radar tracking team reduced illegal fishing to almost zero within SIMCA in the daytime since 2008. The enforcement operation procedure or guideline has been used as an enforcement training module for other agencies in Sabah, Malaysia.



Reef Guardian/ Achier Chung

In 2004, Reef Guardian only consisted of 5 members to manage and run conservation programmes in SIMCA. None of the staff was trained to carry out enforcement and has no sense of proper enforcement work. The sea patrol was carried out on schedule once a week, with no standard operating procedure and safety concern. Fish bottom trawling was rampant back from 2004 to 2008. In single sea patrol, the Reef Guardian team encountered a maximum of up to 12 fish trawler boats inside the marine protected area. In 2005, the radar tracking system was fully utilized by manually record data on the boat in and out inside SIMCA. Capacity training was given to staff to handle radar, interpret radar information, sea navigation, and night navigation. In the same year, the team was trained and certified as the Honorary Wildlife Warden by the Sabah Wildlife Department.

With the certification, the team can stop and search for the fishing boat. In 2008, in partnership with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Reef Guardian implemented an interpretative enforcement strategy. All fishing boats that stopped were brief on the SIMCA border, and the boat captain and the crews acknowledged the rules and regulations. In 2009, a foreign bottom trawling vessel was detained but failed in the process of prosecution. The failure was a result of the poor preservation of evidence. A lesson learned later the team strengthened the enforcement work through collaboration with the enforcement agencies. Firstly, by organising the annual environmental programme (Project Aware) that involved enforcement agencies and the fishing communities. Following this, the SIMCA enforcement steering committee was established with various enforcement agencies to discuss and combat illegal fishing activities in and outside of marine protected areas. To date, fish trawling within SIMCA reduced to almost zero in the day time. However, the conservation area's encroachment is continuing in the night hour, mainly after midnight to dawn.

Contributed by

Fung Chen Chung Reef Guardian Sdn Bhd