Dive in to Earth Day / Reef Check

Story by T.C. Lim
Photos by Kana Kulasingam, K.L. Kwang, Lee Siew Yeen and Ng Shiau Pei

Dive in to Earth Day - Ng Shiau Pei After exactly a 6-month hiatus and to welcome the start of the 2004 dive season, the Marine Group dived in for another Reef Check programme (April 15-18, 2004). The destination this time was the Bali Hai island of Tioman and we were hosted by Tioman Dive Center of Kampung Tekek which is run by our members, Julian and his wife Siew Yeen.

En route to the dive site - Ng Shiau Pei This Reef Check team comprised the “usual MNS suspects”, Saras, Doc Kana, Doc Susi, Doc Angie, Joanna, Kwang, myself and of course, Siew Yeen and Julian. We were also pleased to have along Mr Teh Tarik – Andrew Sia of The Star as our guest reporter. Tina from UK, a guest of Julian’s, decided it seemed like fun and hopped on the bandwagon (oblivious to the amount of work required). The event was also to coincide with the “Dive in to Earth Day” celebrations worldwide.

Surveying fish - Lee Siew Yeen It was indeed comforting to know that there were 3 doctors on this trip but fortunately, they were not required to perform any of the ER stuff. Such are the benefits of diving with the Marine Group – so leave all your medication behind as you can get it free and to top it off, you will be given an MC if you are too lazy to work upon the return (just kiddinglah – you must pay to get the MC!).

Went off tangent again. Back to the diving. Six Reef Check sites were identified. We were surprised to find most sites having good visibility (some up to 20m). While it may not appear to be too taxing with 3 dives per day, we were pushing the limits of the computers and dive tables with minimum 60-minute dives each. We paired off in buddy teams and took turns laying the line, doing the fish, invertebrates and substrate data recordings.

Baramundi cod - Kana KulasingamAs for the findings, we found that most sites had decent to good hard coral cover and that the hard corals appeared to be in relatively good condition and most were exhibiting signs of growth. Fishlife diversity was however generally poor as few indicator species were recorded. This was uncharacteristic of healthy tropical reefs where fishlife diversity was abundant. The data on invertebrates revealed that large areas were infested by sea urchins further corroborating the evidence that the reef is stressed.

We were further surprised to find that the government has commenced land clearing (and blasting) to build a school on a hill (imagine the run off on a rainy day). Plans were also afoot to build a marina and to expand the airstrip to commensurate with its duty free status. And all this in a marine park? That is why Reef Check is such an important data collection tool. Without which we will not be able to substantiate our claims that the reefs are indeed stressed.

Reef check in progress - Lee Siew YeenOur discussion with the locals revealed that they were not in favour of such development. Many of the residents were engaged in the tourism industry and realise the importance of the reef and the clear waters. We hope that Pak Lah’s recent message to preserve the beauty of our islands is heeded. Can HQ help in this area?

Batfish - Ng Shiau PeiDespite all our concerns on conservation, we did enjoy ourselves. We had good enjoyable company and the mood was always light. Of course, the fact that we were on a duty free island and that alcohol was dirt cheap also helped. Our day’s data entries were done at the bar – I can assure you that the data was accurate, as our data entry person was the most sober of the lot. By the way, anybody going to Tioman again? My JD supply is running low.

Spiny sea urchins - KL KwangWell, that’s all folks (somebody gave me a 1-day deadline). Hope to see the Usual Suspects and more of the new guys at the next Reef Check or similar project. I found it most enjoyable diving with you fellows and please count me in for the next one.

I recommend these outings for everyone, from the novice to the experienced diver as I keep learning new things on these trips. See you all soon and take care.

Note: This activity began on April 4 as a Reef Check Training course which culminated in the Reef Check at Tioman from April 15-18.