By Saras Kumar
Photo by F. W. Soh
Twelve MNS members headed off to Pulau Redang from 16th – 19th October, 2003 to participate in the Redang Reef Regeneration Project 2003. The event was organised by “Friends of Redang” a group consisting of: Dragonet Diving, Coral Redang Island Resort, Ayu Mayang Resort, Pelangi Resort and the Malaysian Nature Society supported by the Department of Fisheries, with the aim of doing something positive for the island which has been receiving a lot of negative press this year due to the airstrip and dredging incidents.
It is the first time in the history of the island that four operators have got together to hold such an event. In all there were more than 50 participants who were split into two groups. A group of twenty divers went through a Reef Check training where they learnt how to carry out surveys of coral reef ecosystems to assess their health.
The Reef Check method is kept simple so as to make it easy for leisure divers to carry it out with just a few days training and provide useful data. The method uses “indicator species” – these are types of animals or plants that by their presence or absence indicate the health of that area. Species that are included are giant clams, snappers, barramundi cod, butterfly fish, edible sea cucumbers, groupers over 30cm, triton shells, coral shrimps and lobsters among others indicate a healthy reef if they are present. These particular species were chosen because they are often removed from reef as they are of commercial importance – either they are a food source such as snappers or they are collected for the curio trade such as triton shells or for the aquarium trade such as butterfly fish.
Other species recorded are diadema sea urchins and fleshy seaweeds which are indicators of pollution and the presence of large numbers of Crown of Thorns starfish indicate the balance of the reef has been disturbed and could deteriorate rapidly. The type of substrate such as the percentage of live coral also indicate the health of the reef so these are also recorded.
The way in which data is collected is by recording data along a transect line. This line is a tape measure laid over the coral reef at a constant depth of between 2m and 12m. At each site and depth four transects are measured, each 20m long. This means that for each site, there are four replicates which can give a more accurate representation of the site rather than using just one transect. Ideally two depths (one shallow and one deep) should be used for each site.
Safety always comes first when carrying out a Reef Check so the first buddy pair lays the tape measure first and swims away from the line and waits until all the divers have finished before the tape measure is reeled back in. After at least 10 minutes, the second buddy pair records the presence of indicator fish along the transect stretching 2.5m either side of the line and 5m up. The waiting period is to allow the fish that were frightened away by the first divers to return to the area.
The next to go are those who record the presence of invertebrates such as the giant clams and Crown of Thorns. The last buddy pair record the substrate along the transect line including live coral, sponges, seaweeds etc. The information is all recorded on specially prepared data sheets.
Other important data is also recorded such as the date, time, weather conditions, whether the area is a marine protected area, how the area is used, whether sewage is discharged into the area, etc. This additional information is important as conditions at that particular time could affect the types of species recorded and as each site should be surveyed every year they provide details of changes that may affect the reef. The sites that were surveyed were Pasir Panjang House Reef North and House Reef South, Pulau Paku Kecil, Mini Mount and the shallow and deep reefs of Pulau Lima South. No lobsters or triton shells were recorded – these were once found on Pulau Redang but were fished out of existence before the area was made into a marine park. A large number of Crown of Thorns starfish were found on Pulau Lima indicating problems on that reef.
The percentages of live hard coral cover for the sites surveyed are North house reef (56.9%), Pulau Paku Kecil (54.8%), Mini Mount (57.5%) which show reefs in good condition and South house reef (45%), Pulau Lima shallow reef (47.8%) and deep reef (33%) which are in a fair condition.
Pulau Redang is one of the premier diving areas in Peninsular Malaysia and we would have hoped for better results. However, all these reefs are the ones close to Pasir Panjang (the main beach where resorts are located) and the most frequently dived/snorkeled reefs. The MNS team hope to cover more sites in 2004 as well as survey these same sites. Although the other group did not go through a complete training, they were given an introduction to Reef Check and a session on fish identification. Aside from Reef Check, there were many other activities including: a buoyancy peak performance test where divers had to swim through a series of frames without touching the sides (needless to say not many of us passed that one); sessions on underwater photography; a beach clean up, Crown of Thorns clean up and talks on marine conservation by MNS and PADI Project Aware.
Dr. Leong Shown Chong, chairman of the MNS science and conservation committee gave a provocative talk on marine conservation touching on the historical aspect of the times he visited Pulau Redang more than 10 years ago before any development took place and the island was still pristine. It challenged us all to think about the sacrifices that have been made on Pulau Redang to allow tourists of all sorts to enjoy the natural wonders of Pulau Redang and whether if the pressure to develop even further will mean the loss of this underwater paradise.
David Ang of Dragonet Diving gave a PADI Project Aware presentation and quiz on the responsibilities of divers in preserving our underwater natural heritage. The whole event was deemed a success; the participants from the resorts and dive operators went away a little more enlightened on the importance of coral reefs, MNS got a few new members and we now have a group of trained Reef Checkers; we also have baseline data for some of Redang’s reefs and Redang has a whole load of friends working to support her conservation.
A participant from a Swiss pharmaceutical company was so impressed with the work of MNS that he gave a donation of US$1,700 towards our marine conservation work. We are already planning our Redang 2004 event and will be conducting more Reef Check training this year, so hope that those of you who could not join us in 2003 will be able to in 2004!