Local youth guard coral reefs

Underwater work: A Larapan youth diver examining a reef to assess its condition. — Photos courtesy of Reef Check Malaysia

Young Sabahans join effort to preserve marine ecosystem

KOTA KINABALU: The future of Larapan’s corals appears promising, with local youth actively contributing to the protection and preservation of this invaluable asset.

A total of 12 youths from the island, located off Sabah’s east coast Semporna district, underwent training with NGO Reef Check Malaysia (RCM) to gain knowledge in reef management and marine conservation.

Now certified as eco-divers, their duties involve monitoring the coral reefs and conducting surveys to gain insight into the health of the local reefs.

Eddy Parintamin, one of the certified eco-divers, expressed excitement about his new responsibility.

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

“To our astonishment, we discovered that our island boasts the highest live coral cover in Semporna, as reported in RCM’s 2022 publication,” said the 32-year-old.

RCM programme manager Adzmin Fatta said the eco-diver programme has proven to be a game-changer.

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

Usually, marine conservation, especially coral reef monitoring, has been the domain of marine biologists and researchers.

As such, Adzmin said local communities were disengaged and uninformed about the riches of their coastal environments.

“In Larapan Island, the locals are made the stewards of their precious coral reefs.

“When I began working with the youth, I noticed their unwavering passion to gain a deeper understanding of the marine ecosystem.

“After extensive training and mentoring, they are more dedicated to protecting their island’s treasures,” he said, adding apart from planting 300 coral fragments using metal frames, the team is exploring various coral restoration techniques to continue their preservation efforts.

Adzmin said a remarkable achievement stemming from the collaboration between the Larapan youth, Universiti Malaysia Sabah and another NGO, the Green Semporna, is the identification of 211 hard coral species – 13 of which are newly added 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 added.

He hoped the youth would continue to learn and inspire others to sustainably manage the island.

“When youth are provided with the right support and resources, they can mobilise impactful action on the ground within their community.

“This is what we aspire to see, and this is what we are witnessing now in Larapan,” he added.

On another conservation project, Eddy said a waste management system was implemented on Larapan Island, the first to be done on a remote island off Semporna, last year.

“We have prevented more than 16,000kg of waste from polluting our marine ecosystem.

“This waste management system now involves 100 houses with a total population of 1,267 people,” he revealed.

RCM carries out coral reef monitoring activities and its coverage has expanded to encompass more than 300 locations throughout Malaysia.

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