Submitted by Reef Check Malaysia
Reef Check Malaysia has published its 2019 report on the status and health of coral reefs around Malaysia. While overall coral reef health is still good, there are disturbing signs of decline that need to be addressed urgently. A total of 180 sites across Malaysia were surveyed in 2019. The results indicate that the average live coral cover is relatively high at 40.63%. However, there has been a slight decline from the previous year, continuing a trend that has been evident for several years. Low numbers of high-value fish and shellfish species were also recorded, as well as an increase in the amount of algae in some coral reef areas.
Julian Hyde, General Manager of Reef Check Malaysia, said: "We are sufficiently concerned about the results of last year's surveys that we feel we have to speak out to raise awareness of the state of Malaysia's reefs. This comes on the back of another year in which we saw coral bleaching, and when awareness of the possible impacts of climate change on reefs is growing. Not only is our key health indicator – live coral cover – declining, but populations of both fish and invertebrates are not growing – and when you consider that many survey sites are in protected areas, that's a real problem. The results of our surveys raise questions about the commitment of stakeholders to conserve marine resources – resources that many people depend on for their livelihoods."
Coral reefs are valuable, economically and biologically. Lau Chai Ming, Programme Manager and co-author of the report, explains: "Coral reefs are a source of both food and jobs for coastal communities. Islands like Tioman and Perhentian rely on reefs for tourism, which is the mainstay of the economy. Not only that, but they are important biologically, providing a habitat and breeding ground for a third of marine species. Put simply – no reefs, no fish. On a broader scale, they can connect ecosystems over large areas. Tioman is part of a reef system that has been identified by scientists as among the 50 most important reefs in the world – reef areas that we simply can't afford to lose. It's that important."
Reef Check Malaysia has been monitoring coral reef health in Malaysia since 2007, and this is the thirteenth annual survey report it has released. In previous years, RCM has issued clear warnings about the declining health of reefs. Hyde says: "Although the news in the report is bad, there are actually some very simple, low cost measures that can be taken to improve the situation. Making sure waste is well-managed, supervising divers and snorkelling operations to reduce physical impacts to reefs, managing fishing, improving sewage treatment to reduce pollution – some of these measures can be implemented quickly and cheaply and can improve reef health in the short term. More importantly, we are building the resilience of coral reefs, so they are more likely to survive climate-related impacts in the future. So it's not the end of the world – but we do have to take action now. We are living in an era when there is increasing concern about biodiversity conservation. We can all help to conserve Malaysia's marine biodiversity."