Worried about possible coral bleaching at Pulau Tioman

A photo showing coral spawning which is the act of corals releasing gametes into the ocean, which then settle to form new coral colonies and eventually new reefs.

Reef Check Malaysia (RCM) is worried that the current unseasonal weather may lead to widespread coral bleaching over the next few weeks.

RCM, along with scientists from Universiti Malaya (UM) and Universiti Malaysia Terengganu (UMT), are monitoring the mass coral spawning event that happens around this time of year.

Coral spawning describes the act of corals releasing gametes into the ocean, which then settle to form new coral colonies and eventually new reefs.

Mass coral spawning occurs when numerous species spawn at the same time, a phenomenon that occurs on cues from the lunar cycle and water temperature.

Coral reefs in Pulau Tioman usually spawn around the full moon of April and October or November.

However, RCM has observed that corals at some sites did not spawn until recently, a month later than expected.

“The erratic weather we have been experiencing could have delayed the spawning this year.

“The worrying part, however, is the water was 31°C one night.

“If it remains this hot, we are definitely going to be hit by bleaching this year,” said RCM senior programme manager Alvin Chelliah.

Coral bleaching happens when corals lose their colour.Coral bleaching happens when corals lose their colour.

When corals are stressed, they expel the algae (zooxanthellae) living in their tissues, which leads to them losing their colour and exposing the white calcium carbonate skeleton underneath – hence the term “bleaching”.

They not only lose their colour, they also lose their main source of nutrients, which comes from the zooxanthellae.

Mass coral bleaching events may result in the death of coral colonies and affect the well-being of marine life and industries that depend on healthy coral reefs.

RCM general manager Julian Hyde said, “Coral reefs are extremely sensitive to the growing impact of climate change.

“Marine life are not the only losers due to the loss of our coral reefs.

“Marine-based tourism could suffer and so will the local businesses and communities.

“No coral reefs means there will be no habitat, nursery and food for fish.

“Fishermen will suffer and there are also implications on our food supply.”

The last mass coral bleaching event happened in 2010 when Malaysia’s coral reefs suffered major damage, with an estimated 5% to 10% of corals dying.

Based on RCM’s annual surveys, it took five years for the coral reefs to recover.

RCM also gave recommendations on how to protect coral reefs in its annual survey report.

For details, visit RCM’s website or email hello@reefcheck.org.my

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