By Reef Check Executive Director Dr. Gregor Hodgson
Brunei, a tiny country located on the north coast of Borneo, is probably best known for its Sultan – who is one of the richest people in the world. Perhaps because of the immense wealth coming from oil production, Brunei has not focused on marine conservation as much as neighboring Malaysia and Indonesia. Located within the Coral Triangle, close to the world center of marine biodiversity in the nearby Philippines, Brunei is an important coral reef country. A just published book by Lyndon Devantier and Emre Turak describes over 400 species of reef building corals found there.
Since 2010, Reef Check has been training a team from the Fisheries Department to monitor Brunei’s coral reefs and to design a national monitoring network as part of implementation of its first Marine Protected Area network.
In June, during World Ocean Day celebrations, Reef Check’s Executive Director Dr. Gregor Hodgson invited Brunei’s Minister of Industry and Primary Resources, Pehin Orang Kaya Seri Utama Dato Seri Setia Hj Yahya Begawan Mudim Dato Paduka Hj Bakar, to scuba dive for the first time. An avid mountain biker, the Minister had grown up on the water in a “stilt house,” so despite a strong current and less than ideal visibility, the minister was relaxed in the water and enjoyed the dive.
After the dive, the Minister stated, "We're doing this to bring light to the richness and the potential threats [and] dangers to coral reefs. I happened to see netting caught in the coral reefs damaging the coral life, [and] plastic floating around," he said. He also suggested that all students in Brunei should have the chance to see the coral reefs.
Later, during a speech, the Minister formally announced that Brunei will establish a network of MPAs and place a moratorium on trawl fishing licenses. As part of the MPA plan, Reef Check has helped the Fisheries Department to formulate a draft “Coral Reef Monitoring Plan." The plan stipulates carrying out 65 surveys twice per year at 15 reef areas. It also includes monitoring sites that will fall inside and outside the MPA network for comparative purposes once the MPAs are in place.
“It will be fun to watch the fish come back to the reefs once the MPAs are implemented,” said Dr. Hodgson. “We don't need to prove anything. We know that if you allow a system to return to its natural state, the fish are part of that equation. It is wonderful to have a scuba diving Minister who understands the importance of marine conservation.”