Sunday, May 01, 2011

Brunei's corals relatively healthy

By Azaraimy HH

The authority realises the need for further action in conserving the coral reefs in Brunei's waters and is in the process of acquiring a new scientific vessel for diving expedition and research.

There is also plan to enact rules and regulation for diving operators to better manage and conserve coral sites, said Desimawati Hj Metali, officer from the Marine Eco-System Section, Fisheries Department, Ministry of Industry and Primary Resources.

According to Dr Gregor Hodgson, Executive Director of a non-profit organisation called Reef Check Foundation, in an interview said there are around 1,000 species of corals in the world and Brunei reefs host around 600 species. This is diversity unmatched by Hawaii, the Caribbean and Florida with only around 30 species. Brunei also boasts a great diversity in fish species.

Gregor said the biggest problem about the coral reef is that the lack of knowledge about them. Here in Brunei, people do not think about the coral much and more awareness would be better.

A recent scientific survey - first in the country - carried by a team of officers from Fisheries Department with the Reef Check Foundation done at Pelong Rock and Two Fathom Rock showed that the reefs' health condition is around 70 per cent, which is above the world average of around 30-40 per cent.

Reef Check Foundation wants to add Brunei to its ongoing survey about the status of the world's reefs and is aiming to include the data about the Sultanate's reefs in its 2012 report, Dr Gregor Hodgson told the Bulletin.

However, Dr Gregor Hodgson said there is a clear sign of overfishing in those reefs.

The coral reefs here are hardly exploited compare to other countries, for example in the Philippines where corals are extracted to make ornaments and jewellery. In Brunei, Dr Gregor said the coral reefs remain diverse and it is important to preserve this.

He explained that not only could coral reefs benefit the tourism industry, but it can also benefit other areas including the medicines. For instance, the strongest anti-cancer ingredient is from coral sponges, he said. Some of the sea cucumber is used by the Chinese community for soup making. Some of the corals are semi-precious corals, which can be made into jewellery. Most of these corals in the Philippines and Indonesia have vanished in shallow waters.

Furthermore, coral reef is also an important part of the marine ecosystem, where the corals preserve the shores.

Desimawati Hj Metali, an officer from the Marine Eco-System Section, Fisheries Department said there is definitely a greater need in the country to promote awareness on the importance of coral reef to the ecosystem and the dilemma the reefs are currently facing the world over.

There are 10 other known reef location for diving sites in the country - Littledale Shoal, Rig Reef, Abana Rock, Hornet's Reef, Brunei patches, Victoria Patches, Ampa Patches, Porter Patch, Chearnley Shoals and Fairley Patches.

In an interview, Dr Gregor said the coral reefs in Brunei are lucky not to be affected too much from bleaching that had killed many coral reefs elsewhere. But the problem of global warning still haunts any coral reefs in the world.

This include the pollution by carbon dioxide which are mixing with the seawater and making the seawater more acidic, which then threatens the coral reefs.

The team from Fisheries Department and Reef Check Foundation will continue their survey at other reefs to collect data.

Brunei is currently not under the radar for coral reef divers as they usually go elsewhere in the region especially the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand.

Desimawati Hj Metali said the coral reefs in the country show potentials to be developed into a tourism hotspot for divers.

"But whatever we are planning to do, we have to ensure that at the end, it will not destroy what we are trying to conserve," She said.

Talking about the recent survey in the interview, Dr Gregor said the recent survey was designed in such a way that it can be done by non-scientist. "It is a relatively simple survey but very information-rich," he said.

Therefore, government officials, including Desimawati also took part in the survey after completing training exercises.

He said during the survey, the current was around two knots, which was strong enough if one was not careful enough, "You are going to end up in Labuan," he said. He said it was necessary to put on a buoy out due to strong current so divers will know where they were when they surfaced.

"We also have plastic papers and pens that can be used underwater," he said.

"There are three types of survey we undertook. Once, we survey for the fish, another for the invertebrates (for example lobster and giant clams), and once for the coral at the bottom," he explained.

"And after these three surveys, that will tell us what is the condition of the coral reefs," he further explained.

He also noted that there were two women divers in the team, one is Desimawati who only have five days' experience in the open sea.

At the bottom, the surveyors then put out rulers made of flexible fibreglass which could stretch up to 100 metres and marked every single centimetre. They then surveyed for fish. The survey was five metres wide and up to five metres high like a giant tunnel and count all the fish, where some will be measured.

Some of the corals, like a 500-year-old table coral is an asexual living thing. "Whilst they feed on plankton at night time, they draw most of their energy from the sun, like a cross between an animal and a plant," Gregor told the Bulletin.

He said, "Some of the reefs are living coral and some have died. Therefore, we need to keep track of what coral died this year and we can tell how much have eroded. There is very little damage to the reef (under survey)".

"It was a very healthy reef; the only thing is that there was not a lot of big fish around, just a few big fish. We saw skipjack tuna fish ...," he told the paper.

"There is clearly overfishing here," he stated.

"We spent a lot of time, recording all the different types of corals, how many dead and living corals and counted the fishes," he further explained.

Source: Borneo Bulletin Sunday

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