Submitted by Reef Check Malaysia
Research by Reef Check Malaysia (RCM) revealed that a vast majority of villagers on Tioman Island were interested in working for the Department of Marine Parks Malaysia (DMPM), the authority in charge of Marine Protected Areas in Malaysia. However, due to government hiring regulations, the islanders did not qualify for working within the DMPM. To address this issue, RCM formed the Tioman Marine Conservation Group (TMCG) in 2015. The TMCG would provide locals the opportunity to work alongside DMPM staff through a system of subcontracts, allowing them to gain valuable experience and play an important role in reducing local threats to marine life and managing the Island's Marine Park.
Now, five years later, the Tioman Marine Conservation Group is a team of 25 villagers, all of whom are active in tourism and community service and new members are recruited on an ongoing basis. Team members have taken on numerous tasks and have made many valuable contributions to the protection and conservation of their local marine environment while working with Reef Check Malaysia, local tourism and dive operators and the DMPM, all along balancing this important work with their full-time day jobs.
Some of their most notable achievements are the installation of mooring buoys in collaboration with the Tioman Dive Association to protect the reefs from anchor damage. They are responsible for the monitoring and maintenance of reef rehabilitation projects in several locations around the island and conduct annual Reef Check monitoring surveys at 20 locations around Tioman to evaluate the health of their local reefs. Some TMCG members even helped to train others as Reef Check EcoDivers to increase the impact their work has on protecting Tioman's reefs. This was particularly evident when this group played a vital role in monitoring the bleaching of corals around Tioman during the 2016 Global Bleaching crisis and when they monitored and helped contain Crown of Thorns sea star outbreaks to protect their reefs.
In addition to these ongoing activities, TMCG members have been called to respond to major oil spills, dead or injured marine wildlife sightings, illegal activities within the protected area, for the removal of ghost nets from reefs and they have even helped in the search for people missing at sea. Further, they also train snorkel guides and consult with tour operators on sustainability and reef protection.
Over its five years of existence, the TMCG has been a real success story of involving the local community in co-management of marine resources. It has demonstrated how the local community can rise to the challenge of protecting its natural resources and participate in their management. It only takes a small budget, some basic training and support, but most of all it takes the willingness of all involved to work together. Reef Check Malaysia hopes to replicate this success and work with other communities to better their livelihoods by increase reef conservation through co-management.