The Ecological and Socio-Economic Sustainability of the Reef Fisheries of Pulau Bangii, Sabah, Malaysia



Louise Teh (MSc project)
Ussif Rashid Sumaila (Supervisor)


Research Project Description



The majority of the world’s shallow coral reefs are concentrated along the coastlines of developing nations. These biodiversity rich ecosystems harbour a wide range of fish and invertebrate species that are caught mostly by small-scale fishers using multiple gears. Coral reef fisheries provide a main source of food and income for these small-scale subsistence and artisanal fishers. However, in recent decades, burgeoning populations and poverty in the coastal zones of developing countries, particularly in Southeast Asia, have led to the overexploitation and degradation of many nearshore reef resources and habitats, putting these vulnerable ecosystems under serious threat. Yet, small-scale tropical reef fisheries are often marginalized from mainstream policy makers, leading to less than adequate management of these valuable fisheries. The continuation of this trend is likely to lead to depleted reef ecosystems, with dire socio-economic consequences for the communities who depend on them. As such, there is an immediate need to understand the local dynamics of small-scale reef fisheries. Filling in basic data gaps can enable assessments of the state of the studied fisheries, ultimately leading to the identification of management strategies which can ensure the long-term ecological and socio-economic sustainability of reef fisheries.


This research focuses on the small-scale, artisanal reef fisheries of southern Banggi island in Sabah, Malaysia. It represents the first attempt of understanding both the ecological and socio-economic dynamics of the island’s reef fisheries. The goal of this research is to identify viable management strategies which will lead to the long term sustainability of the reef fisheries and associated socio-economic systems. Insights from this research can also be applied on a broader scale to other reef fisheries in the region, many of which share similar characteristics and problems as Banggi. The three objectives of this research are:

  • Characterize and describe the ecological, social, and economic aspects of south Banggi’s artisanal reef fisheries;
  • Assess the sustainability of south Banggi’s reef fisheries;
  • Explore the fishery effects of potential management strategies, and identify a feasible strategy, or strategies, that will contribute to the long-term ecological and socio-economic sustainability of Banggi’s reef fisheries.


Research Methods

Fishery and socio-economic data is collected by monitoring fish landings and interviewing local fishers during two field periods in 2004 and 2005. I then do ecosystem modelling using Ecopath with Ecosim ( to explore the ecosystem effects of different policy options. These results are then considered under the prevailing social and economic context to identify an appropriate management strategy for Banggi’s reef fisheries.

Main Findings

This study suggests that Banggi’s reef fisheries resources may still be relatively productive, but have declined significantly over time. They are likely to become depleted in the future if current rates of exploitation are maintained. Results from an ecosystem modelling exercise, considered within the context of Banggi’s socio-economic environment, indicate that: i) the establishment of a small, community-managed marine reserve within the current fishing grounds; and ii) the implementation of alternative livelihood programmes, will be the most suitable courses of action for sustainable management of Banggi’s reef fisheries. 

This project was completed in January 2006