21st June 2018
Kuala Lumpur: Reef Check Malaysia today published its 2017 report on the 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.
The report states that over the 227 reefs surveyed, the average live coral cover is relatively high at 42%. While this compares favourably on a regional level, this figure has been declining for four years, and over that period it has lost over five percentage points. Coupled with this, low numbers of fish and increasing amounts of negative indicators such as algae, give significant cause for concern.
Julian Hyde, General Manager of Reef Check Malaysia, commented that: “Although the headline figures show we still have some healthy reefs, the average masks some disturbing trends. Chief among the negative signs are indicators that suggest pressure from tourism is growing, which could have serious long term implications.”
Coral reefs are important ecosystems. Lau Chai Ming, Programme Manager and co-author of the report, explains: “Coral reefs are ecologically important as a key link in marine food chains. They are also economically important as a key attraction to tourists visiting Malaysia. Losing our coral reefs has implications for both food security and livelihoods. We need to manage them better”
This is the first time in eleven years of monitoring Malaysia’s coral reefs that Reef Check Malaysia has issued such clear warnings. Hyde says: “This comes at a time of change in Malaysia, and we hope the new government’s commitment to protecting the environment will be reflected in its response to this report.”
However, the recent elections have created some uncertainties regarding the future of some Ministries and Departments – and this could have negative consequences for coral reef management. Hyde continues: “RCM strongly supports the continuing need for an independent Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (NRE) which has resource conservation and biodiversity protection as its key function, managed by independent expert agencies such as the Department of Marine Parks (DMPM).”
“Our main government counterpart, the Department of Marine Parks Malaysia, continues to make strides to improve reef management, including greater consultations with local stakeholders for the first time, which is exactly what is needed. DMPM is about resource conservation; if it is moved to another ministry that focuses on resource exploitation, we are concerned that the skill sets and attitudes won’t match, and that coral reef management will suffer, along with coral reefs. We hope the government will see the need for a strong, independent Department of Marine Parks, as custodian of these important marine ecosystems.”
RCM will be conducting a range of activities this year, in association with International Year of the Reef 2018, to raise awareness about the need to conserve coral reefs.
Note: The annual report is available for download at https://www.reefcheck.org.my/reports-downloads/annual-survey-reports/247-rcm-annual-survey-report-2017