Malaysia: Rising temperatures causing bleaching in several marine parks

SIM LEOI LEOI The Star 4 Jun 16;

PETALING JAYA: Some coral reefs at diving spots in waters off Malay­sia have started showing signs of bleaching due to the rising sea temperatures.

In the June 2 statistics provided by the Marine Park Department, bleaching among coral reefs has been spotted in Pulau Payar in Kedah, Pulau Tinggi and Pulau Sibu in Johor, Pulau Redang in Tereng­ganu and Pulau Tioman in Pahang.

In Pulau Payar, which had to be temporarily closed to divers in 2010 due to damage, bleaching was observed at 60% of its reef population and up to 90% among the colony.

Pulau Sibu and Pulau Tinggi saw bleaching of 50% and 30% among the coral reef population, and up to 70% on the colony.

In Pulau Redang and Pulau Tioman, which are both popular with divers, bleaching of the coral reef population is estimated at 10% and 20%.

However, places like Pulau Rusu­kan Besar off Labuan and another popular diving spot in Pulau Perhentian, Terengganu, are still safe from any bleaching.

A check at the department’s website showed Pulau Payar and Pulau Tioman to be consistently affected by water temperature of 31°C last month.

A department spokesman said that there was no need at the moment to temporarily close any of the di­ving spots in the affected areas.

“At present, the bleaching is still minimal and localised to Pulau Payar and off Johor waters. We are still waiting for more data to come in,” he said, adding that a technical committee meeting would be called once the data had been gathered.

“We are still at the beginning phase and tracking the process,” he said.

Malaysia was recently notified by the US-based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that sea surface temperatures in some of its waters were above average, and the coral reefs might soon be exposed to thermal stress.

The “Bleaching Watch” notification for Malaysia was issued on May 2 under NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch Programme.

In 2010, the department temporarily closed several dive sites at Pulau Tioman, Pulau Redang and Pulau Payar to allow the coral reefs to recover from bleaching, a phenomenon caused by global warming.

The number of visitors was also limited during that time.

Reef Check Malaysia general manager Julian Hyde said it did not know yet how serious the bleaching would be but that based on NOAA’s data and predictions, this did not seem to be worsening.

“We are watching what happens in the next few weeks. Much de­­pends on the weather – if it remains dry then sea temperatures are likely to stay warm.

“However, if the south-western monsoon starts, it will bring rain and stormy seas, which will help cool down the ocean.”

Pulau Payar Coral Reefs Need Two More Months To Recover From El Nino - Wan Junaidi
Hamdan Ismail Bernama 3 Jun 16;

KUAH (Langkawi), June 3 (Bernama) -- It will take another two months for coral reefs at the Pulau Payar Marine Park to recover from the El Nino phenomenon that struck in March, said Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar.

He said that though the temperature of the sea had begun to decline since May, the corals in the area needed time to fully recover.

"During the El Nino phenomenon (in March and April), the temperature of the sea hovered between 30 and 31 degrees Celsius, causing the moss on the corals to die," he told Bernama.

Wan Junaidi said an improvement in the weather since May had averted greater damage as there were already early signs of coral bleaching.

"With the rain, the sea temperature has dropped to between 27 and 28 degrees Celsius and, if this continues, the corals can recover within eight weeks," he said.

Wan Junaidi, who visited Pulau Payar recently, said measures taken by the Department of Marine Parks to control the number of tourists coming to Pulau Payar also helped the recovery process.

"The department has limited the number of tourists to 400 people at any one time and the snorkeling and swimming allowed around the island do not interfere with the process of restoring the coral reefs," he said.

Pulau Payar, which is located about 40km to the south of Langkawi, is one of the areas declared as part of a national marine park in 1994 and is rich in biodiversity.

The marine park, which covers Pulau Payar, Pulau Kaca, Pulau Lembu and Pulau Segantang, is among 42 areas gazetted as marine parks in the country.

A study by Universiti Utara Malaysia in 2011 found that the total value of economic activities at the Pulau Payar Marine Park was about RM174 million a year.


‘Close dive sites if there is more reef bleaching’

KUALA TERENGGANU: Marine park authorities should temporarily close diving sites if there is more bleaching of coral reefs in Malaysian waters, experts said.

This would reduce the stress caused by human activity, said Universiti Malaysia Terengganu’s (UMT) Dr Tan Chun Hong.

He said the prolonged heatwave, which causes sea temperatures to rise, will lead to mass coral bleaching.

Dr Tan, from the university’s School of Marine and Environ­mental Sciences, said sites should be closed at the 80% level of bleaching, as stipulated by the Malaysia Bleaching Response Plan.

He added that the secretariat of the Malaysia Coral Bleaching Tech­nical Committee was monitoring the situation.

This year saw the third highest mass coral bleaching recorded worldwide after 1997 and 1998, and if the effects of El Nino continued – causing abnormally high seawater temperatures for an extended period – coral reefs in Malaysia will bleach severely and extensively, Dr Tan said.

Bleached coral will eventually die of starvation and stress, he said, adding that this last happened in 2010.

“Information from the Depart­ment of Marine Parks Malaysia shows that reefs at the Pulau Payar Marine Park in Langkawi recorded the highest bleaching (60%), followed by reefs in Johor (30-50%).

“Reefs around Tioman Island are 20% bleached while reefs in Ter­eng­ganu are the least affected,” he said.