Submitted by Reef Check Malaysia
The year 2022 saw a huge increase in the number of sites surveyed for our Annual Reef Check Survey program, which has now run for 16 years. A total of 323 sites were surveyed in 2022, an increase of 117 sites from the 206 surveyed in 2021. These survey sites, mainly islands, include both established Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and non-protected areas.
The results of the 2022 survey indicate that on average, the reefs surveyed have a “fair” level of living coral, at 47.83%, which is a slight increase from the 44.26% of 2021. This increase continues a trend noted in last year’s surveys, reversing a decline that began in 2015.
The improvement seen could partly be due to a huge reduction in tourist visits to coral reefs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Further monitoring is required to confirm this observation which, if supported by data, might suggest that temporary site closures be considered as a management measure in the future.
The abundance of indicator fish and invertebrates remains low. One possible reason could be the historical over-harvesting. This is the case despite the fact that many of the surveyed sites, particularly those in Peninsular Malaysia, are within MPAs, in which populations are expected to grow.
The indicators of disturbance and pollution have increased in many reef areas, which is a result of human activities such as tourism and development.
Several recommendations were made in the survey report:
- Improving management of marine resources by addressing local impacts and introducing participatory management. This can be done by giving local stakeholders a stronger voice in decisions that affect their livelihoods.
- Emphasizing the building of ecological and economical resilience. Resilient reefs have a higher chance of withstanding or bouncing back from the growing threats of climate change. Resilient communities have diversified economics and will not have to entirely rely on reefs for their livelihoods, and this will reduce human pressure on reefs.
- The government is asked to reconsider a more sustainable tourism model, moving away from the “mass’ tourism model, and to “building back better” in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. Current tourism trends suggest tourists are looking for a different experience, one that is more authentic and in areas with less crowds.
While we welcome the improvement in the percentage of Live Coral Cover, which is a key coral reef health indicator, RCM urges the government to intensify efforts to protect our reefs.
Reefs provide not only food, but also important jobs for many coastal communities in Malaysia, and they are an important tourism product. Simple actions on a local level can significantly contribute to improving the health and resilience of our reefs.
You can find our 2022 Annual Survey Report (and previous year’s reports) at https://reefdpd.wpengine.com.my/reports.
The annual survey data point to the importance of building ecological and community resilience. Working together with the Department of Fisheries, Malaysia (DoF), RCM has recently completed a two-year study funded by NOAA to develop resilience-based management plans and a strategy for holistic management of a network of Marine Parks off Peninsular Malaysia’s East Coast.
The project culminated in a workshop in early March during which the strategy was presented to a wide range of stakeholders from all sectors of government, who provided feedback on the strategy. Once finalized, we are hopeful that the strategy will be integrated into DoF’s plans to manage coastal resources.