Malaysia: First warning in 11 years on coral reef health

CYNTHIA New Straits Times 29 Jun 18;

THE coral reef health in Malaysia is good, but there are disturbing signs of decline that must be addressed.

Reef Check Malaysia (RCM), in its report last year, states that of the more than 227 reefs surveyed, the average live coral cover is relatively high at 42 per cent.

While this compares favour-ably on a regional level, this figure has been declining for four years, and over that period, it has lost over five percentage points.

Coupled with this, low numbers of fish and increasing amounts of negative indicators, such as algae, give cause for concern.

Julian Hyde, Reef Check Malaysia general manager, said: “Although the headline figures show we have healthy reefs, the average masks disturbing trends. Chief among the negative signs are indicators that suggest pressure from tourism is growing, which could have serious long-term implications.”

Coral reefs are important ecosystems.

Lau Chai Ming, programme manager and co-author of the report, said: “Coral reefs are ecologically important as a key link in marine food chains. They are also economically important as a key attraction to tourists visiting Malaysia.

“Losing our coral reefs has implications for food security and livelihoods. We need to manage them better.”

This is the first time in 11 years of monitoring coral reefs that RCM has issued clear warnings.

Hyde said: “This comes at a time of change in Malaysia, and we hope the new government’s commitment to protecting the environment will be reflected in its response to this report.”

However, the 14th General Election has created uncertainties regarding the future of some ministries and departments, and this could have negative consequences for coral reef management.

Hyde said: “RCM supports the continuing need for an independent Natural Resources and Environment Ministry, which has resource conservation and biodiversity protection as its key function, managed by independent expert agencies, such as the Department of Marine Parks.

“The latter, our main government counterpart, continues to make strides to improve reef management, including greater consultations with local stakeholders for the first time, which is what is needed.

“The department is about resource conservation. If it is moved to another ministry that focuses on resource exploitation, and we are concerned that the skill sets and attitudes won’t match, and that coral reef management will suffer, along with coral reefs. We hope the government will see the need for a strong, independent Department of Marine Parks, as custodian of marine ecosystems.”

RCM will conduct activities this year in conjunction with International Year of the Reef 2018 to raise awareness about the need to conserve coral reefs.


Reef Check Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur