Submitted by Biosphere Expeditions
Tioman Island in Malaysia is a popular tropical holiday destination, due to its clear water and abundant marine life. Fortunately, despite its 200,000 tourists a year, it has remained relatively undeveloped. Although the island was gazzetted as a marine park in the late 1990s, fishing has continued, albeit to a lesser extent, and park rules are poorly enforced. Reef Check Malaysia has been completing surveys on the island for a number of years along with scientists, dive centers and other researchers. However, research has been limited to sites that are easily accessible by the dive centers fringing the north west coast of the 37km long island. Anecdotal evidence has long suggested that the rest of the island suffers from impacts such as Crown of Thorns starfish outbreaks, monsoonal coral-damaging storms and more intense artisanal and small-scale commercial fishing, but until recently, important quantitative information has been missing.
Thanks to a team of volunteers from Biosphere Expeditions, Tioman Dive Centre and Reef Check Malaysia were finally able to survey the reefs of east Tioman and surrounding islands for the first time in March 2012. Marine biologist and Reef Check leader, Katie Yewdall, led three teams of Biosphere Expedition volunteers over a six week period on Araliya, a 45 ft sloop rig sailing yacht during which volunteers lived aboard and completed 2 to 3 research dives a day. 35 surveys were completed at 19 sites in the area, including 12 newly introduced reefs. These reefs were found to be different from already surveyed ones in a number of ways. Some were badly affected by sedimentation originating from the mainland, some were suffering heavily from damaging fishing methods and some were escaping these impacts and remaining healthy and diverse.
The data gathered in these surveys will serve as a baseline upon which future expeditions will build and will be combined with the several years of data already collected from the area. This will allow researchers more fully to understand the impacts on the long-term health of the reef environment and allow managers to adjust plans and ensure their protection. Annual expeditions are now planned- which any interested individual can join- to contribute to the continuation of this valuable, interesting and exciting long-term monitoring program.
The 2013 Malaysia expeditions will run from March 10-22 & March 24 – April 5 2013. Details of these and other expeditions can be found at: http://reefcheck.org/involved/Expeditions.php