Widening the net in reef health checks

An RCM researcher carrying out a survey of coral reefs around Pulau Aur in Mersing.

THREE more reef monitoring sites will be added for a better representation of Mersing’s average coral cover.

Reef Check Malaysia (RCM) Mersing programme manager Nazirul Amin Azmi said the reef health monitoring programme in Mersing would be expanded to Pulau Mertang with three more sites added to the list.

“The existing 29 sites are around Pulau Sibu, Pulau Tinggi, Pulau Besar, Pulau Aur and Pulau Pemanggil,” he said.

He explained that more monitoring locations would help provide better assessment of Mersing’s reef health.

“Reef monitoring is possible with the support of Johor Fisheries Department, island communities and local conservation organisation partners,” he said.

He added that RCM had been monitoring the health of reefs around the Mersing islands since 2008.

Nazirul said RCM researchers checked on health levels of the reefs and marine life population around Mersing’s islands in the monitoring programme.

“We usually look for food-targeted species and aquarium trade species such as grouper, lobster and butterfly fish as indicators to see if the general population is doing okay,” he elaborated.

The monitoring programme, he said, was carried out from March to July.

“Currently, we have three researchers in Mersing who are being assisted by local volunteers and the Johor Fisheries Department,” he added.

According to Nazirul, RCM has 200 research sites in the country.

“We will also ramp up our outreach activity to share our survey findings with Mersing stakeholders so that they are informed of the current reef health.”

He said RCM would carry out monthly beach clean-up to raise awareness of plastic pollution in Mersing while encouraging island communities to be part of conservation and monitoring work.

He revealed that the health of Mersing’s reefs had deteriorated by 10% in the last six years.

RCM’s latest annual report stated that the health of reefs around Mersing’s islands experienced gradual decrease since 2015 when the coral cover was at 58%.

Nazirul said the report suggested that in 2021, the average coral cover around the islands remained in “fair” condition with approximately 43% live coral cover.

“The decrease in reef health is because of a combination of natural causes and human impact.

“We can only measure health but cannot really determine the single cause,” he said.

Johor Fisheries director Zainudin Abd Wahab said the monitoring programme was a continuation of the annual programme between RCM and the department.

“We organised a meeting with RCM in March and gave our commitment that it would not be alone when conducting a survey or research.

“The information gathered is also important for the department as we can then identify the marine population that we have and carry out necessary programmes to protect them, especially around the Sultan Iskandar Marine Park,” said Zainudin.

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