By Reef Check’s Executive Director Dr. Gregor Hodgson
Brunei Darussalam is a tiny nation nestled between the Malaysian states of Sarawak and Saba on the historic island of Borneo. The country has an area of only 5,265 sq km and a population of about 400,000. High diversity coral reefs are found throughout the South China Sea within Brunei waters. During the past 20 years, Brunei has focused on economic development, particularly oil and natural gas, and has the highest per capita GDP of any country in Asia (US$50,000).
In 2009, after Brunei was invited to join the Coral Triangle Project, the Brunei Fisheries Department sought to document its coral reef resources and to protect them. In 2009, two books were published by the Ministry of Industry and Primary Resources — ‘Coral Reefs of Brunei Darussalam’ and ‘Reef Fishes of Brunei Darussalam’ that document more than 400 coral species and more than 600 reef fishes found in Brunei waters by teams led by Gerald Allen and Lyndon Devantier.
This year, the Fisheries Department under the leadership of Director (Ms.) Hajah Hasnah binti Ibrahim, requested Reef Check to train a team of EcoDivers so that they could establish a regular monitoring program leading up to creating a network of marine protected areas. During November 2010, I invited Reef Check Malaysia Director Julian Hyde to help me to train up a diverse and enthusiastic group of 15 fisheries staff, dive shop instructors, commercial and recreational divers to become EcoDivers. Coming from different backgrounds, the participants were able to add very different perspectives on marine monitoring and management. They even got a “free” oxygen seminar from the commercial diver during a coffee break.
Following the standard one-day classroom session, we spent the next three days practicing surveys and ultimately completing one survey at Pelong Rock, just a short boat ride from the harbor. With annual rainfall in Brunei averaging 3 m (more than nine feet), there is a lot of runoff and sediment. As a result, high turbidity is common. While text books on coral reefs typically list the “requirement” for clear water, the reality is that many corals live happily in turbid water, and Brunei reef corals are no exception, with very large colonies of the massive growth forms of Porites and table corals (Acropora) – several meters in diameter. As usual in highly diverse reef systems, a great deal of time is spent teaching participants what is not a Reef Check indicator as well as what should be included. Like most teams, everyone loves the hand signals for communicating substrate types – thanks to Dr. Al Licuanan of RC Philippines and Kim Obermeyer of RC Thailand for developing them. (Hint to old Reef Checkers – ask for a new training disk).
Julian has pioneered a number of kid’s education initiatives in the islands of Malaysia. A former dive shop owner and scuba instructor, he was the perfect partner for this training – focusing on buoyancy issues in the water and presenting information on the kids programs in neighboring Malaysia.
The final day of the training was spent on designing a draft monitoring program for the nation’s reefs. The group was able to design a program that would allow them to monitor all of their major reefs with replicate surveys using only two survey days per month at about 70 reef sites. The end of the training was marked by a ceremony hosted by the Ministry and plenty of great food. In 2011, Brunei will be opening its new coral reef education center and launching its first round of Reef Check surveys.
Substrate survey results showing percentage cover from Pelong Rock. The 10 Reef Check substrate categories are: HC (Hard Coral), SC (Soft Coral), RKC (Recently Killed Coral), NIA (Nutrient Indicator Algae), SP (Sponge), RC (Rock), RB (Rubble), SD (Sand), SI (Silt), OT (Other).