Malaysia's coral reefs in 'fair condition', needs stronger local management, says survey

Reef Check Malaysia releases 2020 annual survey report; suggests stronger local management. – File photo courtesy of Reef Check Malaysia.

The overall health of Malaysia's coral reefs is reported to be in fair condition, but some areas are showing signs of decline that need to be addressed, according to Reef Check Malaysia's 2020 report on the status and health of coral reefs around Malaysia

A total of 210 sites across Malaysia were surveyed in 2020, and are a continuation of a National Reef Check Survey Programme that has now run for 14 years. The results indicate that the average live coral cover, a key health indicator, is 41.3%, receiving a “fair” rating. This is a slight increase on 2019 (40.63%), reversing a slow decline that has been observed for 5 years.

However, the average masks a wide range, and many sites recorded indicators of disturbance. Pollution, Crown of Thorns (COT – a coral eating starfish), fish bombing and tourism impacts appear to be the greatest threats facing coral reefs in Malaysia.

The report calls for stronger local management, with the participation of local stakeholders, to ensure their interests are taken into account.

Julian Hyde, General Manager of Reef Check Malaysia, said: “The results for the whole of Malaysia suggest little change on previous years. But this highlights the importance of looking at the data site by site. There is a wide range in Live Coral Cover (LCC), for example – from over 80% to just 5%.

"So it is clear that some sites are very healthy, while others are heavily impacted – even though they can be quite close to each other. This supports the argument for strengthening local management capacity, so that individual problem areas can receive more attention. And involving local stakeholders can increase buy-in to management objectives and programmes.”

The report also notes the importance of incorporating resilience concepts into reef management. Resilience describes the ability of an ecosystem to recover from external shocks – such as those that are expected as climate change impacts grow.

Hyde says: “There are actually some very simple, low cost measures that can be taken to improve reef health. Making sure waste is well-managed, supervising divers and snorkelling operations to reduce physical impacts to reefs, improving sewage treatment to reduce pollution – some of these measures can be implemented quickly and cheaply and can improve reef health in the short term.

"So it’s not the end of the world – but we do have to take action now. We are living in an era where there is increasing concern about biodiversity conservation. We can all help to conserve Malaysia’s marine biodiversity.”

Reef Check was established in the USA in 1996 to raise awareness on the importance of, and threats to, coral reefs. The local chapter, Reef Check Malaysia (RCM), was registered in 2007 as a non-profit company to engage with local stakeholders to protect, restore and revive coral reefs in Malaysia. Its surveys have highlighted various problems facing coral reefs in Malaysia, including overfishing, pollution and sedimentation from land-based development.

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