The five gazetted islands within the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park (TARP) in the waters off the state capital are expected to undergo a facelift to provide visitors with improved and top-notch facilities without affecting the ecological carrying capacity or degrading the ecosystem.
Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Christina Liew said the Tourism, Culture, and Environment Ministry had received many proposals from private investors, who were keen to develop the Gaya, Mamutik, Manukan, Sapi and Sulug islands.
Pulau Sulug is the least developed and visited island.
"These private investors are interested to come in and build chalets, jetties and new facilities," said Liew, who is tourism, culture and environment minister, today, after making a surprise visit to the Sapi, Manukan, and Mamutik islands.
"So, the Sabah Parks board of directors will study the proposals, including the backgrounds of the companies, before making any decision and approval. What we see on these islands now is the development for the past 10 years. There will be new development and it will involve big established tourism companies. Rest assured that all the islands will get a facelift."
She was accompanied by the ministry's permanent secretary William Baya and Sabah Parks director Dr Jamili Nais.
She added that the proposals were not only for TARP but other gazetted islands off Sandakan and Semporna districts.
If the project proposals were implemented, Liew said the ministry would make sure that the companies complied with the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) requirements and ensure island entrance as well as conservation fees were affordable for locals.
On the islands' carrying capacity, she said the ministry viewed the matter with great concern and that Sabah Parks was studying how to best to manage visitors to the islands.
"Can we accept 1,000 visitors per island? I don't think it's a good idea because to allow it will go beyond the carrying capacity. We want long-term tourism players to be able to bring in visitors, but not to overkill the tourism with too many people. Just like Mount Kinabalu and Pulau Sipadan, where there is a quota system. So, we are seriously looking into this," she said.
Earlier, Liew inspected the island's cleanliness and toilet facilities following complaints and news report that the amenities were dirty and not up to standard.
However, during the visit, the toilets on Sapi, Manukan and Mamutik, the islands that are most frequented by tourists and locals, were found to be in good condition and clean.
"I am satisfied with the facilities status that Sabah Parks has provided. We have tourists coming from all over the world and if there is a cleanliness issue, it will paint a negative image on the state tourism," said Liew.
Jamili said toilet facilities on the three tourist islands had undergone upgrading work in phases beginning in July last year to cope with overcrowding.
"We upgraded (the toilets) one after another. When one toilet building underwent upgrading work, we erected a temporary toilet, and that was the source of the complaints. We admitted this, but we had put up signage (to notify visitors). On cleanliness, there is rubbish coming from the mainland and nearby islands, but this is beyond our control. However, we have been cleaning up the beach every morning before the tourists come," he said.