Sunday, January 10, 2016

Fighting Dynamite With Marine Protection in Borneo

Our small skiff is anchored at the edge of a remote coral reef a mile off the North end of a small Malaysian island few outsiders will ever visit.

Beneath us is a shallow seascape of complex and colorful corals. Branching Acroporid corals provide refuge for neon blue damsel fish.

Large plate-like forms two meters in diameter resemble swirling brown mushrooms, while other forms look like large orange boulders.

Soft corals and anemones wave in the gentle current. The bottom is covered with over 100 species of corals painted in purples and neon greens and blues.

Numerous species of small fish flit within the branches.  As part of an online series called Borneo From Below, we are diving and filming the local reefs and sharks in a small island group off Malaysian Borneo, including this episode called Coral Reef in Crisis.

The reef is a colorful complex and other-worldly, until we kick to the edge of an open area of broken and bleached coral. Collecting some of the fresh fragments, we surface.

Our guide, Dr. Steve Oakley of the Malaysian based Tropical Reef Conservation Center (TRACC), hands me a broken piece of coral rock the size of my hand.

“Fresh fragments. See this sheared rock?”  He points where the tiny cups left behind by the coral polyps line the rounded surface where the last living coral organisms had been.

Beneath that layer are hundreds of years of calcium carbonate deposited by overgrown generations of living coral cups.

A kind of living fossil, the side of the shorn coral indicates centuries of growth, one layer above the next. “This kind of damage only comes from fish bombing.”

At the edge of healthy coral reef we find the source of the scattered fragments. A moonscape of broken rubble centers a circle with a diameter of 5 or 6 meters. We kick over a patch of healthy coral to an area where soft corals edge the margins indicating an older bomb site.

Not a single living coral has recolonized the blast zone. No sharks or large fish are visible, and even the small reef fish are being extracted using this destructive practice.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Fighting Dynamite With Marine Protection in Borneo