The importance and challenges in establishing and managing Malaysia’s Marine Protected Areas

A Marine Protected Area (MPA) are coastal and sea zones specially dedicated to the protection and maintenance of biodiversity, natural and associated cultural resources covering all features and values of a park area including soil, mineral, living things as well as all historic and pre-historic, sites, trails, structures, and inscriptions, managed through legal or other effective means (Commonwealth Department of Environment and Heritage, 2003). MPAs include marine parks, nature reserves and locally managed marine areas that protect reefs, seagrass beds, shipwrecks, archaeological sites, tidal lagoons, etc. The National Policy on Biological Diversity has set a target of 10% of coastal and marine areas to be conserved by 2025 (Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, 2016). To date, Malaysia’s gazettement of MPAs is at 5.3%.

Protecting MPAs is a key focus for Yayasan Hasanah’s Environment focus area. Therefore, as part of our knowledge sharing initiative, we gathered a panel of experts to discuss the importance and the challenges in identifying, establishing and managing MPAs. The session, hosted as a webinar, was conducted on 1 December 2020. 4 panellists participated in the discussion; 1) Robecca Jumin, Head of Conservation – Sabah WWF – Malaysia; 2) Jasmin Mohd Saad, Policy and Institutional Analysis – Ocean Research; 3) Julian Hyde, General Manager of Reef Check Malaysia; and 4) Lim Ai Gik, Department of Fisheries Malaysia. The session was moderated by Ivy Wong, Lead of Environment, Yayasan Hasanah. Learnings of the webinar are highlighted below:

Importance of MPAs

  1. Sustainability of livelihood (Lim Ah Gaik)

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are essential to our livelihood. Apart from serving as a nature-based solution to environmental and climate problems, it ensures food security and serves as an economic asset for the tourism and fisheries industries. It supports the livelihood of our local communities as well as the fishermen community.

  1. Protect marine resources (Jasmin Mohd Saad)

MPAs are crucial as it serves as one of the strategies for environmental protection and conservation of aquatic resources. MPAs help to preserve valuable environments and representative samples of marine life as well as restore ocean productivity and prevent further degradation. The existence of MPAs will also help in monitoring the threat to marine resources.

Challenges in identifying, establishing, and managing MPAs in Malaysia

Although MPAs play a significant role in ensuring the livelihood of communities and protecting and preserving the life of marine biodiversity, establishing and managing MPAs is not an easy and direct process. The speakers highlighted some of the challenges in identifying, establishing, and managing MPAs

  • Engagement of politicians and stakeholders. (Lim Ah Gaik, Robecca Jumin, Julian Hyde & Jasmin Mohd Saad)

Active participation of politicians and stakeholders in managing an MPA is said to be one of the contributing factors for a successful MPA in other countries such as Indonesia. The process of gazetting and managing MPAs is lengthy and requires a lot of networking and cooperation from many levels of authority and stakeholders.

  • Policy and Institutional issues (Jasmin Mohd Said & Julian Hyde)

Commitment from state and federal agencies is crucial in ensuring the successful implementation of MPA. One of the challenges in implementing MPAs in Malaysia is the lack of forcing factors, such as the legal requirement to ensure that the recommended actions (design and implementation of MPA) are integrated into the MPA development plans.

  • Community Awareness (Robecca Jumin)

Community members often do not realise the existence and importance of MPAs. This lack of awareness can be attributed to the relatively hidden and inaccessible nature of MPAs. Increasing the awareness and participation of local communities to share their knowledge and information about their marine area is beneficial to improve the management plan and controlling illegal activities such as fish bombing, cyanide fishing, bottom trawling and by-catch. Without community support for such marine protection, it is unlikely that these areas will be designated in the first place.

In conclusion, Marine Protected Areas are important for the future because it can protect depleted, threatened, rare, and endangered species and populations. Furthermore, protecting MPAs means protecting the livelihood and sustainability of food production. Therefore, everyone has a responsibility and a role to play in making sure that implementation of Marine Protected Areas in Malaysia is successful.

The recording of the webinar can be found at our facebook page.


Commonwealth Department of Environment and Heritage (2003). The benefits of Marine Protected Area. Retrieved from

Ministry of National Resources and Environment (2016). The National Policy on Biological Diversity 2016 – 2025. Retrieved from