KOTA KINABALU: “When you live on the island, you take care of the island” - this was a message that conservationists wanted to instil to islanders at Pulau Larapan, off Semporna when they conducted their ongoing reef restoration programme involving the locals there.
“The sea is not only home to marine species, but your home too, so take care of your home,” said Adzmin Fatta, the programme manager for Reef Check Malaysia in Sabah.
He said the 15 youths who have been selected to be part of the programme since early this year, continued with their training and this time, they learnt to prepare coral frames for reef rehabilitation purposes.
“Before that, they underwent a classroom session to learn about what coral reefs are and the purpose and available methods for coral rehabilitation,” he said in a statement on Tuesday (June 27).
Adzmin said as part of their practical training, the youths spent days and nights preparing the coral frames and eventually, 20 of them were sent to the nearby destroyed reef.
“Larapan reef is highly unique but sadly, undermanaged. Through the training, they (the youths) now have become more skillful not only with work related to conservation but also with leadership skills,” he said.
He added at the end of the day, this is to prepare them with skills to manage their own resources in the future.
Earlier this year, these 15 youths were equipped with diving and EcoDiver (reef health assessment) certification, said Adzmin.
They will continue their training with coral bleaching monitoring and mooring buoy installation.
The diving training will also be extended to more youths in Larapan and more rehabilitation training using different methods will be introduced in the future, he said.
Mad Rinta Parintamin, a Larapan youth representative, said that they were very lucky to have this coral rehabilitation training as some people travel far and wide and spend thousands of ringgit for similar training.
“But not these youths, as opportunities came to them and they are highly committed to learning as much as possible from this training because they know that this will benefit them in the long term,” he said.
Mad Rinta also coordinates the waste management programme in Larapan where it was designed mainly to prevent solid wastes such as plastics from ending up in the ocean which contributed to the degradation of coral reef ecosystems.
Larapan island is located about a 15-minute boat ride from Semporna town, and is a small area where some 1,200 people mainly of the Bajau Kubang ethnicity call home.
This island is not well known for being a popular tourism destination in Semporna.
However, it holds a record that captures the attention of marine scientists and conservationists alike when it comes to coral reef ecosystems.
The annual Reef Check survey data in 2022 shows that the island has a live coral cover of 55.63% which is more than that recorded in Sipadan Island Park and Tun Sakaran Marine Park, which has only 50.57% and 51.56% respectively.
Live coral cover is indicated by both the reef building, hard corals and the soft corals.
In 2022, a resource mapping exercise by the Larapan community with the help from Dr Zarinah Waheed, a coral expert from Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS), has identified 211 hard corals species in Larapan.
This record constitutes 53% of the overall 397 reef building coral species throughout the east coast of Sabah.
More interestingly, 13 species are additional records to Sabah coral species.
There are also two species identified - Fox Coral (Nemenzophyllia turbida) and Elegance Coral (Catalaphyllia jardinei) - that are currently listed as vulnerable by the IUCN Red List due to its popular demand for the aquarium trade.
Larapan Island also falls victim to anthropogenic threats to the coral environment.
Fish bombings and marine pollution are among the biggest threats to the coral reefs of the island.
To combat the problem, the local youths, with help and guidance from the non-government organisation, Reef Check Malaysia (RCM), are committed to protecting the marine resources around the island.