LOCAL awareness is critical for the protection and preservation of the marine life ecosystem at the islands off Mersing.
Mersing Island and Reef Conservation (MIRC) secretary Ahmad Firdaus Shaik Omar said the organisation was looking into educating the public about how the use of sunscreens could damage coral reefs.
“Parts of the United States, such as Hawaii and Key West, as well as the Caribbean nations have started banning sunscreen that contains chemicals such as oxybenzone, octinoxate and octocrylene.
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“The ban is also imposed in Thailand, where violators can be fined.
“Right now, visitors to the Mersing islands who use sunscreen are unlikely to even be aware of the chemicals that they have applied. We urge those who are planning to swim in the ocean, to opt for eco-friendly sunblock brands.”
Ahmad Firdaus, who is also the Mersing Tourism Association (MTA) secretary, said MIRC was established earlier this year to enable non-governmental organisations (NGOs), villagers, the government and the public to join forces in conserving the environment.
“Reef Check Malaysia (RCM) is more focused on the conservation of reefs, not only in Johor but on other islands in other states as well, such as Pulau Tioman in Pahang and the islands in Semporna in Sabah, while the Tengah Island Conservation in Mersing is focused on the conservation of sea turtles.
“MIRC wanted to complement these conservation efforts.”
He said the organisation focused on clown fish habitat conservation and removing ghost nets (fishing nets lost or abandoned in the ocean).
There are plans for MIRC to sign a memorandum of understanding with RCM, for the former to be trained on ghost net removal and marine life conservation.
“The majority of our members already have a diving licence and it is good to involve more locals in conservation work,” he added.
Ahmad Firdaus said MRIC was planning to organise the “One School, One Reef” conservation programme, where schools would be given a chance to adopt coral reefs attached to a frame.
“The programme involves schoolchildren who will be taught how coral reef conservation works.
“They will be given pieces of coral reef which they can attach to a metal frame that will later be placed in the sea.
“They will be given monthly updates on the growth of the corals that they have planted,” he said.
He added that MIRC was also planning to place solar-powered lights on the Mersing islands to promote green energy usage.
When contacted, Sultan Iskandar Marine Park resource management and protection chief Nur Afifah A. Rahman said the Johor Fisheries Department issued a warning regarding the increase in ocean temperatures between 30°C and 33°C last month.
“We worry that the rise in temperature will lead to coral bleaching.
“We have increased our surveillance and monitoring to look for signs of coral reef bleaching and will report our findings to the Ecosystems Conservation and Biodiversity Branch and the Fisheries Conservation and Protection Division.”
According to Nur Afifah, the bleaching process can be reversed if the water temperature cools and the corals recover their zooxanthellae within eight weeks after the incident.
“One way the public can help is to avoid touching corals when snorkelling and when swimming in shallow waters, as it may break the corals.
“Once broken, it will take years to recover.
“Avoid throwing trash into the ocean and do not pick or remove any corals, regardless if they are dead or alive, as doing so is a violation,” she said.