Chinese tourists photographed damaging marine life in Malaysia


A group of Chinese tourists have sparked an internet backlash in Malaysia after they took pictures handling precious marine life, putting in danger the delicate ecosystem. The photos, which show the beachgoers holding coral and starfish, have spread rapidly on social networking websites such as Facebook. Many Malaysians, including our Observer, blame travel agencies for promoting tourism without spreading awareness of the potential environmental consequences.

Since the disappearance of flight MH370 going from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing in March 2014, Malaysia has been working tirelessly to attract Chinese tourists to the country, most notably by making it easier for them to acquire visas.

Unfortunately, locals often complain that Chinese tourists demonstrate disrespectful behaviour. The latest outcry was sparked by a Malaysian internet user who posted a series of photos that he claimed showed Chinese tourists posing with pieces of coral. The post has already been shared more than 400 times. The pictures were reportedly taken in Semporna, an idyllic spot on the island of Borneo in the far east of Malaysia, an area popular among divers.

Coral reefs support thousands of species of marine life and are essential for controlling levels of carbon dioxide in the ocean. In order to avoid harming them, they shouldn't be touched or moved.

In several of these photos, a woman appears holding a banner that says 'You should be here!'. The slogan belongs to 'WorldVentures', a travel agency based in Malaysia. Despite the link, 'WorldVentures' denies any involvement in the incident. In a statement reported by local media, the travel agency said: 'WorldVentures did not organise a trip to Semporna. It was most likely organised by the tourists themselves on their own initiative. We will carry out an internal investigation into the incident".

Our Observer manages a diving club in Semporna. He says that the fault lies with travel agencies for not warning tourists about the country's fragile marine ecosystem.

"Most travel agencies are only concerned with making money. They don't take the time to spread public awareness."

This isn't the first time that I've seen these types of photos taken by groups of tourists. Many of them organise their holidays through travel agencies. In fact, I reckon the travel agents are responsible for bringing 99 percent of the Chinese tourists who come here. That's why I blame them as much as the tourists themselves for this kind of behaviour. 

Most of these travel agencies are only concerned with making money and don't take the time to spread public awareness. For example, often groups of Chinese tourists take part in excursions without interpreters on hand who can translate safety procedures.

Not enough travel agencies take into account the environmental damage that their business can create. I think that they, along with diving clubs like my own, should make more of an effort to teach people about Semporna's natural heritage in order to protect it, even if it doesn't please the tourists as much.

Last October, a group of Chinese tourists who took naked pictures on a beach shocked Malaysians. In May, a video originally uploaded to Facebook showing another group of tourists devouring an all-you-can-eat buffet made headlines around the world.

Malaysia's national tourism office has even launched a campaign in collaboration with Ctrip, an online Chinese travel agency, called 'Good Chinese Tourists' in order to restore the reputation of Chinese tourists.