KOTA KINABALU: The recent announcement by Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar of a new marine conservation law is to be strongly supported, according to marine conservation NGO Reef Check Malaysia (RCM).
This call is timely as Malaysia is facing increasing threats to its marine ecosystems. It is estimated that Malaysia has some 4,000 km2 of coral reef.
In the wake of the last mass coral bleaching event in Malaysia that devastated up to 10% of coral reefs in Malaysia, stepping up a gear in having more stringent protection is most welcome.
A similar event in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef in 2016 resulted in some 30% of reefs suffering coral mortality. While on a global level Malaysia has committed to reduce its carbon emission intensity to 40% by 2020, it is equally important to commit to addressing local threats. This represents an important step in building the resilience, or the ‘survivability’, of our coral reefs to withstand growing global threats.
Reef Check Malaysia’s 2016 survey data show that the average Live Coral Cover (LCC) of Malaysia stands at about 44% which is considered to be in ‘fair’ condition. However, the data also reveal that at 13% of sites surveyed, nearly one third of the reef is covered with algae, a sign of nutrient pollution from man-made sources – often poorly treated sewage.
Threats are varied – for example during 2017 tarballs were found around Pulau Tioman, and had to be removed by local volunteers. The growing tourism industry, while an important source of jobs, can also be a threat if it is not controlled. These are examples of problems that require immediate attention and more stringent legislation will certainly help.
The Minister’s call is also in line with Malaysia’s commitment to achieve the goals outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): that by 2020, at least 10% of coastal and marine areas are effectively managed; and that by 2025 there is a significant reduction in all kinds of pollution from land based activities. This is definitely great news as we head into the year 2018 which coincides with International Year of the Reef as declared by United Nations.
It is Reef Check Malaysia’s hope that the law will include provisions that allow greater empowerment to local stakeholders, which it is hoped will in turn improve compliance and optimise enforcement efforts. RCM also hopes that the law will help to protect connected ecosystems, such as coral reefs and sea grass beds, as well as the “charismatic” species such as sharks, turtles, and whales.
This is a positive and progressive move by the Ministry and Reef Check Malaysia strongly supports it.