Malaysia: Reefs showing only minor signs of stress as sea temperatures return to normal

g. surach The Star 1 Jul 14;

PETALING JAYA: Malaysia’s coral reefs remain healthy in general despite the heat wave that the country is currently experiencing, say experts.

Reef Check Malaysia general manager Julian Hyde said that recent checks on the country’s coral reefs revealed that sea temperatures were back to normal after experiencing a spike in April and May.

“The latest findings have really surprised us since we felt that mass coral bleaching was a very high possibility just a few weeks earlier.

“This is certainly good news and we hope that it remains that way,” he said when contacted yesterday.

Mass coral bleaching is a phenomenon which threatens the health of reefs due to a sudden increase in sea water temperature as a result of global climate change.

The bleaching causes the reefs to lose their colour due to stress, making them vulnerable to starvation and eventually death.

After making personal observations off the waters of Semporna recently, Hyde said the condition of the coral reefs there remained healthy but also showed minor signs of stress.

He added that despite coral reefs of Pulau Tioman showing tremendous improvement, those off the waters in Pulau Redang were beginning to show signs of bleaching.

James Tan, a coral ecologist at Universiti Malaysia Terengganu, said that while the coral reefs off Pulau Redang were showing signs of bleaching, the effects were not as serious as the mass coral bleaching which occurred in 2010.

“The bleaching is very minor compared to 2010 and following my observation last week, the severity is less, as the affected corals are located at the shallow area, between three and five metres from the beach.

He said temperatures also seemed normal at 28°C as the water goes deeper.

Tan said the overall improvement was due to the mixture of cold and hot sea water following rainfall in the area as well as the effects of solar radiation.

The latest survey by Reef Check Malaysia last year showed that live coral cover in Malaysian waters was at 48.33%, while in 2009 it was at 49.96%.

Coral cover is a measure of the proportion of reef surface covered by live stony coral instead of other organisms.

Last month, the Marine Parks Department warned that mass coral bleaching could be a high possibility following reports from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminis­tration’s Coral Watch Programme, which issued a “Bleaching Watch Alert” for Redang Island Marine Park on April 17.

The notification indicated that sea surface temperatures around Malaysia were above the norm of 28°C to 29°C and that coral bleaching was a possibility if conditions did not return to normal within a few weeks.