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PETALING JAYA: Plans are being made to protect Malaysia’s coral reefs after a Marine Parks Department warning that mass coral bleaching could be a high possibility.

Reef Check Malaysia general manager Julian Hyde said the NGO would cooperate with the department following a meeting last week.

“We provided feedback on the condition of the coral reefs throughout Malaysian waters.

“At the moment, sea water temperatures have been fluctuating, but there are early signs of coral bleaching in various parts of the country,” he said when contacted yesterday.

He was responding to reports from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminis­tration’s Coral Watch Programme, which issued a “Bleaching Watch Alert” for Redang Island Marine Park on April 17.

The notification indicated that sea surface temperatures around Malaysia were above the norm of 28°C to 29 °C and that coral bleaching was a possibility if conditions did not return to normal within a few weeks.

Mass coral bleaching is a phenomenon which threatens the health of coral reefs due to a sudden increase in sea water temperature as a result of global climate change. The bleaching causes the reefs to lose their colour due to stress, making them vulnerable to starvation and eventually death.

Hyde said he personally made an observation of the waters in Miri and noticed that the coral reefs there were beginning to show signs of “incipient bleaching” – a phase where the coral begins to change colours due to stress following a change of temperature.

“I have received similar feedback on coral reefs in the waters of Pulau Payar, off Langka­wi,” he added.

Hyde said the NGO would ask diving centre operators at Pulau Redang, Pulau Perhentian and Pulau Tioman to constantly monitor and provide feedback on the condition of the coral reefs there.

The previous record of mass bleaching in the country was in 2010 when the Marine Parks Department decided to close 12 out of 83 dive sites to reduce human-caused stress on the reefs and allow for natural recovery.

Hyde said Reef Malaysia along with the diving centres would protect the reefs by constantly cleaning the area and ensure the surroundings were not disturbed further by harmful marine life and sea urchins.

“While sea water temperature is something we cannot control, ensuring that coral reefs have a healthy ecology is what we are aiming at,” he added.

Source: The Star

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Reef Check Malaysia (RCM) is a non-profit organisation that was registered in 2007 to engage with the local community to raise awareness for the importance of, and threats to, coral reefs.

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