Scuba Diver Ocean Planet - - Ocean Watch - By Ju­lian Hyde and Cyn­thia Ne­sha

Malaysia is part of the Co­ral Tri­an­gle, an area recog­nised as hav­ing the world’s high­est marine bio­di­ver­sity. Co­ral reefs are an im­por­tant eco­log­i­cal and eco­nomic re­source, pro­vid­ing a range of valu­able “ecosys­tem ser­vices” to mil­lions of peo­ple around the world. In Malaysia, one es­ti­mate puts the value of co­ral reefs as high as RM 50 bil­lion (US$13.4bn) per year. Yet, Malay­isa’s reefs are still un­der threat, as are many reefs around the world. But Reef Check Malay­isia, part of one of the world’s big­gest co­ral reef mon­i­tor­ing or­gan­i­sa­tions, are on hand to help turn this around.

CO­RAL 101

• Co­ral reefs are among the most di­verse and pro­duc­tive com­mu­ni­ties on Earth. They are breed­ing and feed­ing grounds for one-third of all marine species and pro­vide food and liveli­hoods for hun­dreds of mil­lions of peo­ple around the world.

• They cover less than one tenth of one per­cent of the worlds’ ocean floor.

• Co­rals are an­i­mals. An in­di­vid­ual “polyp” has a sim­ple body with a stom­ach and ten­ta­cles that catch food from the wa­ter.

• Co­ral reef struc­tures are made of lime­stone se­creted by mil­lions of in­di­vid­ual polyps liv­ing in colonies.

• Co­rals are eas­ily dam­aged.

• Tiny pho­to­syn­thetic al­gae, zoox­an­thel­lae, live in­side the co­ral polyps and use sun­light to pro­duce food for the co­ral – the co­ral gets up

to 90 per­cent of its food from this source. Zoox­an­thel­lae also give the co­ral its colour.

• When stressed (for ex­am­ple by pol­lu­tion, sed­i­men­ta­tion or warm wa­ter) co­ral ex­pels the zoox­an­thel­lae, leav­ing be­hind the ex­posed skeleton and re­sult­ing in co­ral bleach­ing.


Co­rals need high lev­els of sun­light, clear wa­ter, and sur­vive in a rel­a­tively nar­row range of tem­per­a­tures. Reefs are highly sen­si­tive to a va­ri­ety of ex­ter­nal threats:

• Sed­i­men­ta­tion from de­vel­op­ment on land re­duces sun­light in the wa­ter, pre­vent­ing zoox­an­thel­lae from pro­duc­ing food for the co­rals.

On the front­lines of the fight to pro­tect Malaysia’s beau­ti­ful, vi­tal co­ral reefs, Reef Check Malaysia is tack­ling the is­sues from ev­ery an­gle

• Pol­lu­tion from a va­ri­ety of chem­i­cals re­leased into the sea can kill co­rals and other or­gan­isms.

• Over­fish­ing and de­struc­tive fish­ing af­fects the bal­ance of the marine ecosys­tem.

• Global cli­mate change and in­creases in wa­ter tem­per­a­tures of only one or two de­grees centi­grade can cause co­rals to bleach.

• In­creased car­bon diox­ide in the at­mos­phere is chang­ing the acid­ity of the oceans and mak­ing it dif­fi­cult for co­rals to grow their reef­build­ing skele­tons.


• Mis­sion: To raise aware­ness of the im­por­tance of, and threats to, co­ral reefs.

• Founded in 1996.

• Is the world’s largest in­ter­na­tional co­ral reef mon­i­tor­ing pro­gramme in­volv­ing vol­un­teer recre­ational divers and marine sci­en­tists.

• Ac­tive in 82 coun­tries and ter­ri­to­ries.

• Reef Check Malaysia (RCM) was reg­is­tered in 2007.


A. Eco Ac­tion: Train­ing divers to as­sist with sur­veys and con­duct­ing the an­nual Reef Check sur­vey pro­gramme. Since 2007, RCM has trained over 600 Eco Divers and Train­ers. In 2014, the RCM sur­vey pro­gramme cov­ered 190 sites around Malaysia.

B. Out­reach: Ed­u­cat­ing and rais­ing aware­ness about co­ral reefs and the need to con­serve co­ral reefs for the fu­ture. Since 2008, RCM has con­ducted pro­grammes in more than 50 schools around Malaysia.

C. Ad­vo­cacy: Pro­mot­ing co­ral reef con­ser­va­tion and sus­tain­abil­ity con­cepts and needs to de­ci­sion mak­ers in govern­ment and other key groups. Since 2007, RCM has con­ducted reef con­ser­va­tion pro­grammes with com­mu­ni­ties around Malaysia, in­clud­ing Pu­lau Tioman, Pu­lau Per­hen­tian, Pu­lau Pangkor and Pu­lau Man­tanani.

D. Man­age­ment and Sci­ence: De­vel­op­ing a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of co­ral reef pro­cesses and im­prov­ing man­age­ment. Since 2009, RCM has con­ducted reef re­silience and reef re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion stud­ies in 12 lo­ca­tions around Malaysia. Stud­ies are on-go­ing in five lo­ca­tions to im­prove man­age­ment of co­ral reefs by in­volv­ing lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties in co­ral reef man­age­ment and ad­dress­ing lo­cal im­pacts to reefs.


Cyn­thia Ne­sha has been work­ing on the ground in Malaysia with Reef Check, get­ting first­hand ex­pe­ri­ence of what it means to work to save our planet’s reefs. “I first got in­volved with Reef Check Malaysia in July 2012. I was then a Marine Sci­ence un­der­grad­u­ate seek­ing an in­tern­ship, and was ac­cepted by RCM for about three months. This in­tern­ship gave me the op­por­tu­nity to get to grips with the full scope of the projects that RCM fo­cuses on. A friend and I were based on Tioman Is­land for 90 per­cent of the in­tern­ship pe­riod. Prior to that, we spent a week on Per­hen­tian Is­land, car­ry­ing out a marine aware­ness camp for the is­land kids. We also had the op­por­tu­nity to help a govern­ment agency to con­duct a sur­vey with a ma­jor­ity of the re­sorts on solid waste dis­posal. While in Tioman, we were ac­tively in­volved in tak­ing care of co­ral nurs­ery frames in four sites, which were a big part of RCM’s reef re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion pro­ject. We built frames, in­stalled them and went in on a weekly ba­sis to check and clean them. Af­ter a year of growth, we moved the co­ral nub­bins from the frames to a dam­aged reef site. See­ing the reef teem with colour­ful fish within the first 15 min­utes of mov­ing the frames was def­i­nitely worth all the ef­fort. We also con­ducted a pre­lim­i­nary so­cio-eco­nomic sur­vey with the lo­cal is­lan­ders, busi­ness oper­a­tors as well as tourists on Tioman. Our aim was to gauge their un­der­stand­ing and views about the is­land as a pro­tected area. In­ter­act­ing with dif­fer­ent groups of peo­ple was an ex­cit­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and it gave us the op­por­tu­nity to truly

See­ing the reef teem with fish within the first 15 min­utes of mov­ing the frames was def­i­nitely worth all the ef­fort

dig deeper into the views of a di­verse com­mu­nity, al­low­ing us in­sights into dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives. I was also trained to be a cer­ti­fied Reef Check Eco­diver dur­ing the in­tern­ship pe­riod. This meant I was able to help out in some of RCM’s an­nual sur­veys. We learned how to iden­tify and count in­di­ca­tor fish, in­ver­te­brate and sub­strate species, all of which con­trib­utes to Malaysia’s data on co­ral reef health. Our data is then sub­mit­ted to the Depart­ment of Marine Parks Malaysia, which helps them plan and ex­e­cute im­por­tant man­age­ment de­ci­sions. Div­ing while help­ing out for a greater cause? Check!

Hav­ing com­pleted my in­tern­ship pe­riod, I grad­u­ated and im­me­di­ately started a full-time job at RCM. I was put in-charge of school education and aware­ness pro­grammes. This has been a truly amaz­ing learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. Not only did I get to in­ter­act with stu­dents who grew up on the is­lands, but I also in­ter­acted with stu­dents who live in KL, spread­ing aware­ness about en­vi­ron­men­tal con­ser­va­tion, es­pe­cially co­ral reef con­ser­va­tion. I’ve also had the op­por­tu­nity to work with cor­po­rate com­pa­nies, govern­ment de­part­ments and even sev­eral univer­si­ties. Meet­ing new peo­ple, and ex­chang­ing knowl­edge and ideas, has meant I have learnt so much about dif­fer­ent ways to ap­proach the topic of con­ser­va­tion. The past two-and-a-half years have been great, pro­fes­sion­ally, but also per­son­ally – work­ing with a pas­sion­ate, smart, friendly group of peo­ple has made the en­tire ex­pe­ri­ence even bet­ter.”

1. Divers con­duct Reef Check Sur­vey at Reng­gis, Tioman Is­land, Malaysia, part of RCM’s an­nual co­ral reef mon­i­tor­ing pro­gramme 2. School chil­dren from the lo­cal vil­lage par­tic­i­pat­ing in a co­ral reef education pro­gramme con­ducted an­nu­ally by RCM staff in R

4. RCM trainer demon­strates Reef Check sur­vey method­ol­ogy dur­ing train­ing for dive op­er­a­tor staff, Man­tanani Is­land, Sabah

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