‘Close dive sites if there is more reef bleaching’

KUALA TERENGGANU: Marine park authorities should temporarily close diving sites if there is more bleaching of coral reefs in Malaysian waters, experts said.

This would reduce the stress caused by human activity, said Universiti Malaysia Terengganu’s (UMT) Dr Tan Chun Hong.

He said the prolonged heatwave, which causes sea temperatures to rise, will lead to mass coral bleaching.

Dr Tan, from the university’s School of Marine and Environ­mental Sciences, said sites should be closed at the 80% level of bleaching, as stipulated by the Malaysia Bleaching Response Plan.

He added that the secretariat of the Malaysia Coral Bleaching Tech­nical Committee was monitoring the situation.

This year saw the third highest mass coral bleaching recorded worldwide after 1997 and 1998, and if the effects of El Nino continued – causing abnormally high seawater temperatures for an extended period – coral reefs in Malaysia will bleach severely and extensively, Dr Tan said.

Bleached coral will eventually die of starvation and stress, he said, adding that this last happened in 2010.

“Information from the Depart­ment of Marine Parks Malaysia shows that reefs at the Pulau Payar Marine Park in Langkawi recorded the highest bleaching (60%), followed by reefs in Johor (30-50%).

“Reefs around Tioman Island are 20% bleached while reefs in Ter­eng­ganu are the least affected,” he said.

bleaching , coral reefs