Bright future for Semporna coral reefs, thanks to community's youth

KOTA KINABALU: The future of the coral reefs of Larapan Island, off Sabah’s east coast Semporna district, looks to be in good hands thanks to conservation efforts by its community, particularly the youth.

They are taking an active stand to protect and preserve the invaluable reefs, which are vital to the marine ecosystem and play a pivotal role in the ocean's well-being.

Larapan youth divers assessing reef health conditions.Larapan youth divers assessing reef health conditions.

Eddy Parintamin, a representative of the island's youths, spoke of their newfound sense of responsibility when interviewed recently.

"We never had the opportunity to monitor our own reefs, which left us unaware of their condition.

“When (marine conservation NGO) Reef Check Malaysia trained us in diving and certified us as eco-divers, we were equipped to conduct our own coral reef monitoring.

ALSO READ: Semporna islanders working hard to restore ailing coral reefs

“To our astonishment, we discovered that our island boasts the highest live coral cover (LCC) in Semporna, as reported in Reef Check Malaysia's 2022 publication,” he added.

Eddy, 32, was one of 12 youth divers from Larapan who recently conducted annual coral reef monitoring to gain insight into the health of their local reefs.

Youth in Larapan collecting rubbish daily to help keep the island clean.Youth in Larapan collecting rubbish daily to help keep the island clean.

Reef Check Malaysia programme manager Adzmin Fatta said the eco-diver certification, which enables a citizen science approach to coral reef monitoring using Reef Check Survey Protocol, has proven to be a game-changer.

Through this programme, he said, anyone with a passion for diving can actively contribute to coral reef monitoring efforts in Malaysia.

“Historically, marine conservation, especially coral reef monitoring, has predominantly been the domain of marine biologists and researchers,” Adzmin said.

As a result, he added, this left local communities, and particularly the youth, disengaged and uninformed about the riches of their coastal environments.

But in Larapan Island, he said, Reef Check Malaysia has taken the initiative to empower the young inhabitants to become stewards of their own precious coral reefs.

Adzmin saw first-hand how the youth seriously cared about what they were doing.

“When I began working with youths in Larapan, I witnessed their unwavering passion to gain a deeper understanding of the marine ecosystem.

“In addition to planting 300 coral fragments using metal frames, they are exploring various coral restoration techniques (in) their preservation efforts,” he said.

ALSO READ: Youth take the lead in restoring coral reefs at Kulapuan island

Adzmin said Reef Check Malaysia conducts nationwide coral reef monitoring activities annually and now covers more than 300 locations, reflecting the organisation's commitment to broader conservation efforts.

“A remarkable achievement stemming from the collaboration of the Larapan community, Universiti Malaysia Sabah and (local NGO) Green Semporna is the identification of 211 hard coral species in Larapan, 13 of which are new additions to the list of Sabah coral species.

“This remarkable record constitutes 53% of the 397 reef-building coral species found along the east coast of Sabah,” he said.

Eddy said this was not the first time his group had collaborated with Reef Check Malaysia as they had worked together to implement a pilot waste management system on the island last year.

It marked the first waste management initiative on a remote island in Semporna.

“Since its inception, we have successfully collected and prevented more than 16,000kg of waste from polluting our marine ecosystem.

“This system now serves 100 houses and a population of 1,267 locals,” he said.

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