Seagrass worth millions of ringgit lie unprotected in Malaysian waters

Food for marine life under threat
Nisha Sabanayagam, New Straits Times 10 Jan 08;

KUALA LUMPUR: Seagrass worth millions of ringgit lie unprotected in Malaysian waters.

The country is sitting on a treasure trove -- seagrass meadows of about 3.15 sq km in Peninsular Malaysia are worth up to RM20 million a year, based on their value as raw material and for nutrient cycling.

"If we lose our seagrass, we don't get seafood," said Juliana Ooi, a Universiti Malaya lecturer at the Department of Geography who will be doing her doctorate in seagrass geography in Australia.

Seagrass provides food for juvenile seafood. Prawns, fish and other seafood feed on seagrass when they are young.

She said the size of the seagrass meadows was vastly underestimated as many places had yet to be surveyed, including areas around Sabah and Sarawak.
The value of the seagrass is also much higher as it plays an important role in food production, climate regulation, genetic resources and recreation. Despite its importance, there has been minimal efforts to conserve the seagrass.

Ooi said the problem was that seagrass grew in prime areas along the coastlines which were likely to be converted to ports, jetties or marinas.

Areas such as the Tanjung Pelepas Port, the Sungai Pulai Estuary and the Merambung Shoals in Johor, where seagrass grows in great abundance, are under threat from development.

Ooi said there were about 1.1 sq km of seagrass in the areas and the vast diversity of the species meant that it provided food to a great number of sea life.

There are only a few scientists in the country doing seagrass research and most of it has been confined to the seagrass' role as a food source for the dugong.

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