Call to intensify efforts to safeguard coral reefs

A member of the Redang Marine Conservation Group in a ghost net clean-up operation. — Courtesy photos

Marine NGO sounds warning bell amid signs of deterioration

IN 2023, Malaysia’s coral reefs deteriorated, marked by a slight decrease in the level of living coral as compared to 2022, according to non-governmental organisation (NGO) Reef Check Malaysia.

These vital ecosystems, also crucial to sustaining coastal communities through food and employment opportunities, help serve as a cornerstone of Malaysia’s tourism industry.

Embracing 326 sites, including established Marine Protected Areas and non-protected zones, Reef Check Malaysia’s 17th annual national survey showed that on average coral reefs exhibited a “fair” level of living coral, registering at 45.87%.

This was a subtle downturn from 47.83% in 2022.

This deterioration is partly because of the resumption of tourism after the Covid-19 pandemic, with an increase in the number of tourists visiting coral reefs.

The survey highlighted a concerning trend of low abundance in indicator fish and invertebrates, critical components of a healthy reef.

Additionally, indicators of disturbance and pollution escalated in numerous reef areas, exacerbating the challenges faced by the Sunda Shelf region, where crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks have become rampant because of human activities.

Reef Check Malaysia’s 2023 annual survey report recommended taking action to improve the management of marine resources by addressing local impacts and introducing participatory management.

A Tioman Marine Conservation Group diver clearing crown–of–thorns starfish.A Tioman Marine Conservation Group diver clearing crown–of–thorns starfish.

This gives local stakeholders a stronger voice in decisions that affect their livelihoods and numerous studies suggest that this can lead to improved conservation outcomes.

The NGO also called for an emphasis on building resilience, both ecological and economic.

“Resilient reefs are more likely to withstand or bounce back from the growing threats of climate change, while resilient communities will have diversified economies and not rely entirely on coral reefs for their livelihoods.

“This reduces human pressures on reefs, particularly from tourism,” said Reef Check Malaysia chief executive officer Julian Hyde.

The NGO also called on the government to adopt a sustainable tourism model.

Current trends indicate a preference among tourists for authentic and less crowded locations.

Developing high-value, low-volume destinations would enable local communities to better preserve their livelihoods while alleviating stress on delicate ecosystems.

With the deterioration in live coral cover, Reef Check Malaysia urged the government to intensify efforts to protect coral reefs.

Simple yet impactful steps, such as curbing unsustainable fishing, mitigating physical impacts from tourism and other human activities and enhancing sewage treatment, could be locally implemented to contribute to the resilience and health of Malaysia’s coral reefs, the NGO said.

With the threat of mass coral bleaching predicted to take place this year, it was now more important than ever to take action to protect our coral reefs, it added.

Damaged reefs would take years to recover in the right conditions, significantly impacting various communities and their livelihoods.

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Coral reef , ngo , marine life


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