Bajau Laut communities are also known as ‘sea gypsies’ are true masters of the sea, having roamed the waters of the Coral Triangle between Malaysia, Philippines and Indonesia for many generations © Jürgen Freund / WWF

Many uncertainties are surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, especially for already at-risk areas like coastal communities. What is certain now is that their needs for preparedness and resilience to disasters and climate change remain relevant and even more critical in overcoming the profound effects of the ongoing pandemic.

Macik Bellong, a Bajau Laut woman who is very active in turtle conservation and handicraft making on Omadal Island, has been part of the conservation unit for the Women Association of Omadal Island (WAPO) since 2012. Just like Macik Bellong, many families inhabiting coastal zones rely heavily on the bounties of the sea. But in the past few months, making a living has become more rigid. The diminishing fish supply resulting from illegal and destructive fishing activities and the current pandemic situation that the nation faces have made recovery harder.

WWF-Malaysia works with coastal communities like Macik Bellong to revive heirloom skills they already have and build entrepreneurship and financial skills, enabling them to create marketable items and diversify their livelihoods.

Recently, with the generous support of the European Union, WWF-Malaysia set out to assist island communities affected by the COVID-19 pandemic by providing food relief and support for their livelihood. We raised cash donations through the WAPO Love Basket campaign and helped secure orders of WAPO grocery baskets for the communities. Funds collected were used to provide food aid relief for 80 households on Omadal Island and other island communities impacted by the Movement Control Order. These adaptive activities helped provide emergency aid for the communities, increased the communities’ financial management capacity, strengthened rapport with village leaders, and increased nationwide visibility.

In addition to that, WWF-Malaysia also facilitates community patrolling workshops and citizen science biological monitoring training to strengthen the community’s participation and involvement in conservation efforts. All of these initiatives have been ensuring the well-being of our coastal communities and building their resilience and preparedness for future calamities. Yet, here we are today at the drips of a global pandemic, at a scale like never before. The collective responses that we’ve extended thus far are insufficient to meet the scale of impact that our coastal communities are now experiencing.

Even at the peak of national economic prosperity, these coastal communities were overlooked in critical decision making and participation in the management of coastal resources. Despite that, they remained steadfast in their commitment to safeguarding our oceans for generations.

Your contributions through the years have helped us continue our community-based efforts that have built the capacity for countless others just like Macik Bellong. We ask that you support us once again. Your gift will go to work right away to these coastal communities affected by the pandemic.

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Photo of Macik Bellong© Marine Programme / WWF-Malaysia