2014 has been declared as the year to visit Malaysia and we have already been ranked among the top ten tourist destination in the world to visit next year. Malaysia was the only Asian country to make the list which was compiled by the Lonely Planet travel guide. The Department of Tourism Malaysia along with other agencies have also been heavily promoting tourist from around the globe to visit our beautiful country, hoping to draw in 28 million tourists in 2014.
A large number of these tourists will undeniably be visiting some of the beautiful islands to dive, snorkel or just lay in the sun. Coral reefs, sandy beaches and clear water are the main attraction and the tourism industry on these islands are heavily dependent on the health of its coral reefs. Malaysia especially Sabah is considered to have one of the richest marine biodiversity in the world, while the islands off peninsular Malaysia, such as Redang, Tioman and Perhentian are known for their beautiful shallow water reefs.
|Alvin (right) from Reef Check with some volunteers|
Though tourism is good and is welcomed as an alternative source of livelihood for islanders’ the industry poses its own set of problems. Reef Check Malaysia (RCM), a non profit organisation has been monitoring the health of coral reefs around the country for the past seven years in hopes of preserving the health of our nation’s coral reefs. However according to its latest report, the health of coral reefs have not improved but instead decreased over the past few years. Coastal development on islands to cater for the ever growing number of tourists along with sewage and solid waste management seem to be the main problem facing coral reefs.
It is important to remember that though tourism is an important economic factor, unsustainable tourism that does not take into account the health of the reef can cause the tourism market on the islands to collapse. Besides monitoring the health of coral reefs, RCM has also been working with the stakeholders on the ground to help resorts, dive operators and snorkel guides to improve their services and to make their businesses more environmentally friendly.
RCM have also been working with local island communities especially on educating school children on the roles they need to play to preserve the health of the islands they call home. If the main problems such as development, sewage treatment and solid waste disposal can be addressed and managed, the health of coral reefs will improve and the tourism that depends on this delicate natural resource will be sustainable.
|A Reef Check member with local students|
If you are planning to visit an island next year you can play in protecting the coral reefs by making conscious decisions to reduce your impact while on holiday. Saving water and electricity, using minimal plastic and bringing your trash back to the mainland when you leave the island are some simple thing you can do to help. Supporting green businesses and getting involved in conservation programmes while you are on the island is also another way to add meaning to your holiday.
If you are a diver and want to help protect coral reefs, you can volunteer with RCM and join their Reef Check surveys which are run throughout the year on various islands around the country. Collecting scientific data through these surveys is the first step to understanding problems facing reefs and find solutions for these problems. However the lack of manpower limits the number of sites and area covered yearly. To find out more about what we do and how you can get involved visit Reef Check Malaysia.
Source: Malaysia Travel News