Malaysia: Record number of staghorn corals identified in Sabah

MUGUNTAN VANAR The Star 9 Dec 16;

KOTA KINABALU: About 70% of the world’s staghorn corals which provide habitat and food for many marine species have been identified in waters around Sabah.

Researchers from Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) reported 83 species of staghorn corals occurring in Sabah waters, as published in the November issue of the scientific journal Zootaxa (Magnolia Press).

The staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis) is a branching, stony coral with cylindrical branches ranging from a few centimetres to over two metres in length and height.

It occurs in back reef and fore reef environments from zero up to 30m in depth. There are 120 known staghorn corals in the world.

The report was based on a review of published accounts over the last three decades by various research groups and records of specimens deposited in the Biotechnology Research Institute (BRI), UMS’ Borneo Marine Research Institute (BMRI) and Museum of Tropical Queensland in Australia.

The staghorn corals draw a parallel with those in Indonesia and other neighbouring countries.

Most of the staghorn corals, including rare species, were found at Darvel Bay in Lahad Datu, Sabah’s Banggi group of islands and waters off Semporna in the east coast.

Former Biotechnology Research Institute director and principal investigator of the project, Assoc Prof Dr Vijay Kumar, said: “The number of staghorn coral species we tallied for Sabah is nothing short of impressive as its coastline is relatively much shorter compared with other coastal countries in the region.

“Our findings further highlight the staggering diversity of Sabah’s biological resources in the marine environment.”

Twelve staghorn coral species in the checklist include a rare species, Acropora suharsonoi, which was collected during a marine bio-prospecting project undertaken recently by BRI.

The corals of Darvel Bay are the best studied in Sabah and much of the current knowledge regarding its biodiversity is attributed to a 1998 scientific expedition led by researchers from Denmark and BMRI, according to Rolando Robert, the first author of the paper.

A third of Sabah’s staghorn corals are listed as threatened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Sabah Biodiversity Centre director Dr Abdul Fatah Amir said the state government’s move to gazette the Banggi islands as a marine park earlier this year was based on the rich biodiversity in the area.

He said the information in the checklist would help promote in-depth studies on understanding biological organisms involving staghorn corals.

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