01 June 2005

Coral reefs: A dying situation?

If any living organism is facing threats from every direction, it is coral reefs.

The threats include pollution that has made the ocean acidic, global warming that has raised water temperature, development that has led to sedimentation and trawling which has destroyed coral habitats.

The use of sunblock by snorkelers and divers may seem a trivial cause, but a research by the University College of Science and Technology Malaysia (Kustem) in Meng- abang Telipot showed that while it protects human skin, it does little to safeguard coral.

The oil-based cosmetic lives up to its name and when it floats on the sea surface, it blocks ultra- violet rays necessary for the growth of corals.

Baharim Mustapa, a science officer with Kustem based at the Pulau Bidong research centre, said the survival of more than 80 per cent of coral reefs in the country is being threatened by human activities.

"Coral bleaching is evident everywhere. The death of these corals occurs naturally and unnaturally. In either situation, humans have a hand in it.

"While we are concerned with the more obvious unnatural causes such as pollution, sedimentation and trawling, humans have started tampering with the natural balance in the marine ecosystem.

"A good example is the excessive removal of the Crown of Thorns (COT) starfish which is famous for devouring coral polyps," he said.

"When mass bleaching occurs, one species of coral could dominate the area. We will lose the variation of species."

Baharim said the survival of corals in Malaysia depended on the will of both the public and private sectors to stop degrading the environment.

He said the gazetting of marine parks at islands was not a foolproof measure to protect the marine environment.

"There must be tighter control measures. There must also be greater public awareness if we want to go on visiting and enjoying the beauty of our coral reefs."

Source: www.nst.com.my


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