Malaysia: Hot season putting the heat on coral reefs


PETALING JAYA: The prolonged heatwave is making it hot underneath the sea surface and the possibility of a mass coral bleaching still remaining a concern, says an ecologist.

Universiti Malaysia Terengganu (UMT) marine ecologist Prof Madya Dr Zainudin Bachok said that at the moment some spots had begun bleaching due to the high temperatures.

“And, with the sea surface temperature slowly rising, there is potential for mass bleaching.”

During the last severe El Nino in 2010, Dr Zainudin said the sea surface temperatures in several islands such as Pulau Payar, Pulau Perhentian, Pulau Redang, Pulau Tioman, Pulau Sibu, Pulau Tinggi and Labuan averaged at 29°C between March 29 and April 12.

“The amount of rain this year for March and April is very little compared to previous years. And if this continues and the water temperature rises to 31°C or 32°C, there is high potential for mass bleaching,” he said in an interview yesterday.

“But, it is predicted that the bleaching will not be as severe as in 2010 when about 30% of the coral reefs in Malaysia died.”

However, Marine Parks Department director-general Datuk Dr Sukarno Wagiman is not taking the problem lightly, saying that the department has formed a Coral Bleaching Technical Committee to review and update the coral bleaching response plan.

Dr Zainudin, who is also UMT’s Institute of Oceanography and Environment deputy director, said by combining satellite data and community-based monitoring network, possible bleaching events could be identified earlier before a task force carried out monitoring and investigation surveys.

“Once a report is prepared from the surveys, all stakeholders are informed as to how they can adapt to the bleaching problems and manage human activities to reduce human stresses upon the reefs.”

Human stresses refer to water pollution, plastic trash, coastal developments, sedimentation, sewage water, long fishing nets, fish bombing and physical contact from snorkellers and divers.

“This is only a short term action plan, but the first and foremost cause of mass coral bleaching is greenhouse gases that cause climate change and everyone can take steps to reduce them,” said Dr Zainuddin.

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