22 July 2013
KUALA LUMPUR – The red tide phenomenon in Sabah responsible for three deaths only confirms survey results by Reef Check Malaysia that Nutrient Indicator Algae (NIA) have increased over the last five years, also indicating that pollution has greatly increased in Malaysian waters.
Harmful algae blooms, more commonly known as red tides, were first noted on the west coast of Sabah last November. The Sabah Fisheries Department, however, recently declared that toxic levels remain high and has advised against the consumption of shellfish from affected areas.
Algae, a plant-like organism, are a natural component of coral reefs. Nevertheless, certain pollutants such as phosphates and nitrates, which are nutrients for algae, can cause algae “blooms” or a rapid proliferation of algae if present in large quantities. Under these conditions, algae are referred to as Nutrient Indicator Algae (NIA).
According to RCM’s Programme Manager Alvin Chelliah, surveys conducted using the internationally recognised Reef Check Methodology measures the percentage of NIA on the reef at survey sites.
“This allows us to monitor problems that coral reefs are facing from year to year. We can then work alongside governments and stakeholders to implement successful management measures. For example, the average NIA cover of Perhentian Island was 10.6 percent over the last five years, far higher than the national average, which in 2010 was 3.3 percent,” said Mr Chelliah.
To confirm their findings, RCM retained consultants from the Environmental Resources Management Sdn Bhd (ERM) to survey resort sewage treatment systems on the island of Perhentian.
“Only two of the 13 resorts that consented to the survey had adequate sewage treatment systems operating according to discharge limits. This clearly indicates that there is sewage pollution discharged into the water around the islands,” said Mr Chelliah.
NIA is commonly caused by industrial waste, sewage effluent, agriculture and rivers. If the amount of algae continues to increase to a level above which it can no longer be kept under control by algae-grazing fish (and other herbivorous organisms), algae can take over the reef, smothering and killing corals. It also reduces the clean surface available for recruitment of new corals, thus hindering the recovery of reefs and availability of marine species. Algae dominated reefs are less diverse and productive than coral dominated reefs. They also lose much of their value, particularly for the fisheries and tourism industries.
Malaysia is part of the Coral Triangle, an area recognised by scientists to have the world’s highest marine biodiversity. The country has about 4,000km2 of coral reefs estimated to be worth around RM145 billion per year in ecosystem services. These reefs are at risk from a number of factors, key among which is sewage pollution. There is a need to improve existing infrastructure to reduce this impact before it causes significant damage to the reefs and marine life that it supports.
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Last Updated: 07 February 2014