Reef Check Malaysia (RCM) has published its 2021 annual report on the Status of Coral Reefs in Malaysia, marking the 15th year of its annual survey program. Despite facing several setbacks due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a total of 206 sites were surveyed in 2021: 86 sites in the Sunda Shelf region, 11 sites in the Malacca Strait region, and 109 sites in the North Borneo region.
The survey data documents the health status and trends of the coral reefs in Malaysia. Based on the overall survey results, on average, the reefs in Malaysia are considered in “Fair” condition with a level of living coral at 44.26%.
- There is a slight increase of live coral cover from 41.32% in 2020 to 44.26% in 2021.
- Abundance of both fish and invertebrate indicators remains generally low suggesting either historical or on-going fishing pressure.
- Numerous indicators of disturbances, such as Nutrient Indicator Algae, Recently Killed Coral, and Crown of Thorns starfishes, highlight the ongoing concerns about the trajectory of reef health.
- Both local impacts such as sewage pollution and global impacts such as ocean warming are visible in survey data.
After another year of movement restrictions and low tourism activity, there are some indications that reef health can recover if the impacts and disturbances resulting from high tourist numbers are reduced or eliminated. Live Coral Cover has improved for the first time since 2015.
RCM emphasizes the need to review the country’s approach to tourism and to reef conservation. A recent study by Tourism Malaysia highlighted several trends indicating that tourism preferences are changing – moving away from mass tourism to more tailored experiences, with safety and hygiene high on the list of priorities. This reflects trends in the international market.
All stakeholders need to get together and discuss these challenges and derive solutions that benefit us all. We all have a role in taking action and protecting coral reefs and the ecosystem services they provide.