Catalyst ABC News – Borneo’s live reef fish trade


With a view of the dawn glow on Mt Kinabalu to take the edge off the early morning wake up call, Scubazoo underwater cameraman Simon Enderby sped his way through the rice paddies of rural Sabah, en route to the town of Kudat, 200km’s north. On reaching Kudat Simon met with an Australian Broadcast Corporation news crew, here to film 3 stories for the lead science and environment show ‘Catalyst’.

Within minutes of his arrival, Simon, ABC crew members Kevin and Steve, plus presenter Mark Horstman were on board the local WWF Malaysia speedboat heading to their first location – live reef fish holding pens just south of Marudu Bay.

This was by no means the first time Simon, or Scubazoo, had filmed the live fish trade in Kudat or within SE Asia for that matter, having produced several environmental educational films on the subject. However what immediately contrasted with previous shoots was the sheer lack of fish within the holding pens. Later in the day the crew visited other holding pens which Simon had filmed several years ago and once again it seemed – by the decrease in the number of the pens, and the reduction in number and size of fish – that the live fish industry in Kudat region was in decline.

After the holding pens the crew made their way up to the smaller islands just off Pulau Bangii to dive on the surrounding reefs. Simon together with WWF marine biologists Robecca Jumin and Nina Ho, rolled off the boat suited and booted in SCUBA gear. Robecca then proceeded to survey the reef edge for humphead wrasse and other primary live reef fish target species such as groupers. While Robecca, with clipboard and pencil in hand, kept an eye on the reef, Nina towed a surface marker buoy and a waterproof GPS unit so each sighting could be accurately logged and each site accurately monitored over time.

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The reef was in surprisingly good condition. Hard and soft corals covered 90% of the area, with only small areas of coral die-off or old fish bomb damage apparent. But where were all the fish? Occasional schools of algae-eating surgeonfish swam past, and a few butterflyfish and small blackfin groupers were spotted, but generally the reef gave the impression of a deserted underwater city.

And there was the story – near empty fish-holding pens and near empty reefs. Is this a sign that the live reef fish gold rush has come to an end?

Possibly so, but it doesn’t mean we should give up on our reefs. Coral reefs are in fact quite resilient, once given the protection, respect and management they deserve. One such management model is the Sugud Island Marine Conservation Area (SIMCA) off Sabahs East Coast. This once heavily fished and damaged area has rebounded magnificently since protection began in 2001. Kudat is slowly being developed for tourism and really is a beautiful quiet corner of Sabah with much to offer. It is our hope that its marine life will be given the protection they deserve and one day, in the not too distant future, its reefs will thrive again.

Watch the programme now.

Scubazoo also provided underwater stock footage for the production.

Preview and buy live fish trade footage now.


Reporter: Mark Horstman
Producer: Mark Horstman
Researcher: Dr Holly Trueman
Camera: Kevin May, Dr Richard Smith
Underwater Cameraman: Simon Enderby/Scubazoo
Underwater stock footage:
Sound: Steve Ravich
Editor: Andrew Hope

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