KOTA KINABALU: Semporna is leading the way in adopting the Coral Bleaching Early Response Plan to protect its rich coral reef ecosystem.
Semporna district officer Dr Chacho Bulah recently launched the plan during the six-day Semporna Marine Eco Week 2017, which ended on Dec 2.
The plan aims to monitor coral bleaching and promote recovery. Assessment will be carried out
by Sabah Parks, Reef Check Malaysia, Scuba Junkie SEAS, Reef Dive Resort, Pom-Pom Island Resort, and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Malaysia.
Chacho said to sustain Semporna’s tourism industry, the district’s coral ecosystem must be healthy and resilient to face climate change.
“Most foreigners I have spoken to only know Sipadan as one of the top five diving destinations in the world.
“As the gateway to Sipadan, Semporna has not been recognised as a centre of marine biodiversity in the Coral Triangle region.”
He said there was a need for strong commitment and cooperation between government agencies, tourism players, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and local communities to conserve marine life and coral reefs.
“I am pleased to announce that Semporna is the first district in Sabah to launch a Coral Bleaching Early Response Plan,” he said, adding that the Semporna Priority Conservation Area had the largest coral reef coverage in Malaysia.
The conservation area, which is in the Coral Triangle, is the centre of marine biodiversity and provides ecosystem services to people in, and beyond the area.
Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) reef ecologist Dr Zarinah Waheed said coral reefs were areas of high biodiversity, providing food and habitat to marine life.
“It protects shorelines from storms and wave surges. A healthy coral reef encourages tourism. It brings income to locals and has pharmaceutical potential.
“However, coral reefs worldwide are at risk from the impacts of climate change, an emerging threat to coral reef ecosystems. This change in climate can have detrimental effects on coral reefs, such as bleaching.”
In recognising the urgency to address climate change, WWF Malaysia organised the Semporna Marine Eco Week to empower players from different industries to take action to combat climate change together.
WWF Malaysia’s Marine Programme people and marine biodiversity manager Monique Sumampouw said increased sea temperatures led to higher coral reef mortality.
She said based on WWF Malay-
sia’s preliminary study between 2015 and last year, there was an average rise of 0.5°C in Semporna’s waters.
“Semporna’s Coral Bleaching Early Response Plan aims to strengthen the resilience of the coral reefs and sustain the future of Semporna’s tourism and marine resources.”
The Semporna Marine Eco Week was organised by Sabah Parks, UMS, Reef Check Malaysia, Scuba Junkie SEAS, Seaventures Dive Rig, Green Semporna and Semporna Community College.
The programme aimed to improve awareness about climate change, coral bleaching and the importance of marine conservation among dive operators, local communities and NGOs.