Preliminary Notes on: A Sabah Coastal Zone

Sabah is the state in Malaysia with the longest coastline of approximately 1600 km extending from the border of Sarawak in the Southwest to Indonesia in the Southeast. Sabah’s land area of around 73,200 km 2, including all offshore islands except Sipidan is part of the continental shelf of Southeast Asia. The state territorial waters extend to three nautical miles whereas Malaysia maintains an Economic Exclusive Zone (EEZ) of 200 nautical miles or until the 200 m isobath whichever is the furthest distance. Sabah borders the South China Sea on its west coast, the Sulu Sea on its north east coast and the Celebes Sea on its Southeast coast. The total territorial waters of Sabah covers 55,828 km 2. The distribution by district can be seen in Table 2 .

Most of Sabah’s landscape is dissected and steep with more than 64% having slopes of more than 25%. About 6% is tidal swamps and 5% is freshwater swamp areas. Almost all flatlands are subject to water logging and flooding due to the combination of high precipitation and quick run-off from sloping areas.

The west coast of Sabah is characterised by sandy (in sheltered areas mixed with mud) beaches found from the tip of the Kudat Peninsula in the north to the west part of Klias Peninsula in the South. The southern part of the Klias Peninsula hosts one of the few extensive areas of tidal wetlands (mangroves and nipah) on the west coast. Freshwater wetlands can be found in the coastal flatlands of the west coast especially in Beaufort, Papar and Kota Balud.

Most of the more than 300,000 hectares of mangroves in Sabah are found on the east coast with associated extensive mudflats, especially in and around estuarine areas.

Sabah has numerous islands along its entire coast ranging in size from less than a hectare to several square kilometres. Many of these are unsheltered rocky islands at varying distances from the shore, others are sheltered muddy islands found in protected bays or in estuaries.

The state had a population of 1,736,900 in 1991 not counting the substantial number of illegal emigrants from Indonesia and the Philippines. The distribution by district according to the cencus in 1991 is presented in Table 2 . The highest population concentrations are found in the major cities, Kota Kinabalu, Tawau, Sandakan, Lahad Datu and Semporna, the five districts accounting for approximately 50% of the population. These are also the areas which attract the majority of illegal and unregistered settlements. In terms of land area the five districts only represent around 22% of Sabah. This indication of population pressure on the coastal areas is likely to be strengthened considerably with higher resolution analyses of census data. The annual population growth in Sabah between 1980 and 1991 was above 4 % which is much higher compared to Sarawak (2,1 %) and Peninsula Malaysia (2,0 %). The urban population growth exceeds the rural indicating a net migration towards the towns in Sabah. Environmental impacts of urbanisation needs particular focus from a coastal management approach.

District
Population
Growth/Y
Land Area
Sea Area

1991
1980-1991
km2
km2
Western Sabah
905610
4,23
30510
33514
Kota Kinabalu Region
420000
4,83
3225
14692
Kota Kinabalu
208484
5,51
350
1536
Penampang
87113
7,26
466
300
Tuaran
64111
2,08
1166
12341
Papar
60292
3,12
1243
515
Kota Marudo Region
230398
3,11
8987
12484
Kudat
55932
2,97
1287
9746
Kota Marudo
42410
3,62
1917
127
Kota Belud
58155
1,75
1386
1963
Pitas
24143
3
1419
648
Ranau
49758
4,81
2978

Beaufort Region
87801
2,85
4920
6338
Beaufort
49245
2,27
1735
316
Kuala Penyu
14317
0,71
453
5760
Sipitang
24239
6
2732
262
Interior Region
167411
5,25
13378
0
Tambunan
19666
2,5
1347

Keningau
89517
6,74
3533

Tenom
38096
2,87
2409

Pensiangan
20132
7,78
6089

Estern Sabah
831290
6,62
43110
22314
Sandakan Region
337215
5,91
28205
10928
Sandakan
223432
5,79
2266
2630
Labuk Sugut
54587
5
8345
3486
Kinabatangan
59196
7,35
17594
4812
Tawau Region
494075

14905
11386
Tawau
244765
6,62
6125
2108
Semporna
91989
4,73
1145
5856
Lahad datu
118272
7,2
6501
3103
Kunak
39049

1134
319
Sabah
1736900
5,29
73620
55828

Table 2 : Population, population growth, land and sea areas by districts in Sabah.

The fisheries in Sabah is predominantly artisanal with more than 70% of the catches taking place within 30 nautical miles from the coast. Tourism is an important and growing sector which exerts a considerable pressure on coastal areas particularly on the west coast and on coral islands. Other sectors with significant impact on coastal areas are forestry, mining including offshore oil and gas extraction, and transportation all of which make take place at considerable distance from the shoreline.

It is imperative for the project that agreement on the boundaries for the coastal zone management efforts is achieved during the Inception Period and discussions between stake-holders on that issue is therefore required.

Several approaches may be taken. From an administrative point of view district boundaries would be a natural choice. Districts in Sabah with a coastline however, vary extremely in size and some include considerable hinterland areas. The total area of these districts represents around 78% of the entire state, covering around 87% of the population and encompassing eco-systems that are not directly linked to the coast. Although the effects of inland activities should be considered in a coastal management effort the mere size of a zone determined by district boundaries seems inappropriate for the project. From an ecological point of view it may be considered to let the landward boundaries be determined by topographical factors letting the zone encompass the coastal watersheds, excluding the catchment areas of the major rivers extending inland. Transboundary issues related to the latter should however be considered in a management context and a mechanism for dialogue with catchment management responsibilities should be ensured. Yet another options would be to define a variable inland boundary determined by local issues deserving particular attention. Such issues could include tourism development on the west coast, effects of inland activities on coastal waters and habitats (siltation and other pollution), development of coastal aquaculture, coastal erosion, urban development and illegal settlements. Several options are available for the seaward boundaries. These may be defined by administrative borders, as an arbitrary line covering key activities related to tourism and fisheries or they may again be defined as a variable line according to local issues.

The delimitation of the area to be considered by the CZM project needs careful examination by all key stakeholders as consensus is required for the later activities under project implementation.