Young people take charge to restore coral reefs at Mabul Island

Diver carrying finished reef stars for assembling underwater. (Photo courtesy of Reef Check Malaysia)

KOTA KINABALU: Young people are taking the lead in preserving the marine ecosystem, particularly in restoring coral reefs at Mabul Island off Sabah’s East coast Semporna district.

The members of Pemimpin Belia Iklim Mabul - a youth empowerment and climate activist NGO - have been hard at work preparing for the deployment of 100 reef stars as part of their coral restoration effort.

Coral reefs in Mabul are facing local and global impacts, with issues from trash to anchoring impacts and nutrient discharge.

“Despite being famous for snorkelling, the reefs in Mabul remain in poor condition based on the Reef Health Status Report 2023 published by Reef Check Malaysia (RCM),” said RCM programme manager Adzmin Fatta, on Saturday (Feb 24).

“A lot can be done to protect the reefs and ensure the sustainability of the island but we must act now or never.

“Apart from consistently monitoring the marine habitat in Mabul, we are also building marine conservation leaders among the islanders, particularly through our community-based coral restoration projects.

“Through this, they will become more aware, actively engaged, and hopefully continue to steer positive changes on their island,” he said.

Members from the Pemimpin Belia IKLIM Mabul group. (Photo courtesy of Reef Check Malaysia)Members from the Pemimpin Belia IKLIM Mabul group. (Photo courtesy of Reef Check Malaysia)

Reef stars are a coral restoration method adopted from the Mars Assisted Reef Restoration System (MARRS), widely used in Indonesia.

The deployment process includes coating the stars with rust converter, resin, and sand to prevent rusting and to mimic underwater substrate for coral attachment.

Each reef star will be affixed with 15 coral fragments, and during deployment, all reef stars will be joined together in a process called web building.

“It has been an amazing experience for me and all of us involved,” said Nur Aina Ghalib, a member of Pemimpin Belia Iklim Mabul who is certified in the MARRS Reef Star method.

“We were tasked with completing the deployment of 100 reef stars, from planning to deployment.

“Our partner, Reef Check Malaysia, has empowered us by trusting us with this process, which will equip us to become conservation leaders on our island," she said.

Another group member Razlan Razak said his knowledge and skills have improved since he joined in this coral restoration project.

“We are thankful to IKI (International Climate Initiative) Small Grants Programme for supporting our coral restoration efforts in Mabul, and also, to our local partners Seahorse Sipadan Scuba and Green Semporna,” he said.

IKI Small Grants is a programme funded by the German government to battle climate change.

Seahorse Sipadan Scuba CEO Mad Zafar Mad Zahala said as a tourism operator, they saw the restoration effort as crucial because Mabul was famous for tourists who love snorkelling.

Adzmin added while addressing these issues, they had made it a point to continue empowering the local community.

“Ultimately, they will and should continue the effort to sustain their island.

“For example, the villagers have taken the lead to conduct island-wide clean up with the support from the District Office.

“In this clean-up, they have successfully removed almost 10,000kg of waste - imagine what more can be done if resources are provided,” he said.

He said RCM was also currently conducting regular bleaching monitoring as preparation to a coral bleaching event which is expected to take place this year besides from restoring coral reefs.

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