By Reef Check Malaysia
Reef Check Malaysia has published its 2020 report on the status and health of coral reefs around Malaysia. The report concludes that, while overall coral reef health is reported to be in fair condition, some areas are showing signs of decline that need to be addressed. The surveys are a continuation of a National Reef Check Survey Program that has now run for 14 years.
A total of 210 sites across Malaysia were surveyed in 2020. The results indicate that the average live coral cover, a key health indicator, is 41.3%, receiving a “fair” rating. This is a slight increase over 2019 (40.63%), reversing a slow decline that has been observed for five years. However, the average masks a wide range, and many sites recorded indicators of disturbance. Pollution, Crown of Thorns (COTs – a coral eating starfish), fish bombing and tourism impacts appear to be the greatest threats facing coral reefs in Malaysia.
Coral reefs are valuable, economically and biologically. Lau Chai Ming, manager of the survey program and co-author of the report, explains: “Coral reefs are a source of both food and jobs for coastal communities. Islands like Tioman and Perhentian rely on reefs for tourism, which is the mainstay of the economy. Not only that, but they are important biologically, providing a habitat and breeding ground for a third of marine species. Put simply – no reefs, no fish. On a broader scale, they can connect ecosystems over large areas. Tioman, for example, is part of a reef system that has been identified by scientists as among the 50 most important reefs in the world – reef areas that we simply can’t afford to lose. It’s that important.”
The report calls for stronger local management, with the participation of local stakeholders, to ensure their interests are taken into account. Julian Hyde, General Manager of Reef Check Malaysia, said: “The results for the whole of Malaysia suggest little change on previous years. But this highlights the importance of looking at the data site by site. There is a wide range in Live Coral Cover, for example – from over 80% to just 5%. So it is clear that some sites are very healthy, while others are heavily impacted – even though they can be quite close to each other. This supports the argument for strengthening local management capacity, so that individual problem areas can receive more attention. And involving local stakeholders can increase buy-in to management objectives and programs.”
The report also notes the importance of incorporating resilience concepts into reef management. Resilience describes the ability of an ecosystem to recover from external shocks – such as those that are expected as climate change impacts grow. Hyde says: “There are actually some very simple, low cost measures that can be taken to improve reef health. Making sure waste is well-managed, supervising divers and snorkelling operations to reduce physical impacts to reefs, improving sewage treatment to reduce pollution – some of these measures can be implemented quickly and cheaply and can improve reef health in the short term. So it’s not the end of the world – but we do have to take action now. We are living in an era where there is increasing concern about biodiversity conservation. We can all help to conserve Malaysia’s marine biodiversity.”