Story by TC Lim
These days, reef conservation projects organised for the general public range from basic beach clean-ups to complex coral plantings. Somewhere in between, education, the most important tenet of conservation, has been left by the wayside. To fill this void, a motley crew of dive/resort operators and NGO’s known as the Friends of Redang Island (FRI), held a conservation project from Sept 23 to 26, 2004 focusing on education.
Despite the ever increasing popularity of scuba pursuits, few divers know how coral reefs work, let alone fully comprehend what they see underwater. Even some dive instructors have difficulty explaining basic reef ecology to their students. If this trend were to persist, diving will merely be a sport and the deeper experience of diving – which is to be one with nature – will be lost.
The FRI came about two-and-a-half years ago when a few Redang dive/resort operators got together with several Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) members to discuss the deteriorating state of the environment in Redang. A pact was formed to protect the island and its reefs. The first FRI conservation project successfully took off in 2003 with more than 50 divers as participants.
In 2004, FRI included Dragonet Diving, Coral Redang Island Resort (CRIR), Redang Pelangi Resort, MNS, World Fish Center (WFC) and Coral Cay Conservation (CCC).
Held at CRIR under the PADI Project Aware, the event carried the theme “Protect the Living Reef of Redang Island”. The itinerary was packed with seven dives and several theory workshops over four days. Workshops focused on fish identification and reef ecology, and were presented by the experts, Yusri Yusuf and Karenne Tun of WFC. During Yusri’s workshop, participants were introduced to the fascinating characteristics of more than 10 “indicator” reef fish families and the methods to identify them. Tun covered the basic ecological workings of a coral reef. Participants were also briefed on the signs divers should look out for to determine reef degeneration.
To reinforce what was learnt in the classroom, practical dives were conducted later under the guidance of MNS, WFC and CCC volunteers. According to Tun, who is also the Regional Coordinator for the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network, 88% of the world’s coral reefs are under threat from human activity.
During the event, reef checks were also conducted by the WFC, MNS and CCC teams at three sites. The preliminary findings indicate that reefs close to the main island were in poor condition compared to those located further off. Certain species of algae – which indicate pollution – were found in abundance at sites such as Teluk Pertigi.
The very low numbers of key indicator fish and invertebrates were further signs of unhealthy reefs. There is a need to determine the root causes and address the problems quickly, failing which, the outer reefs will be threatened.
Feedback from the participants was very positive. Husband and wife team, Effendy and Serina Rahaman commented: “It is not often that you have the opportunity to dive with experts who can actually tell you what you are looking at.”
Leong Yew Loong, a recently qualified diver, hoped that more of such programmes would be available to help new divers appreciate their marine environment.
Saras Kumar, Coordinator of the MNS Marine Group, added, “Workshops such as these should also include the authorities, from the planners to enforcers. If they are aware of the sensitivity and importance of ecosystems then they will be better equipped to deal with environmental issues.”
While conservation is the responsibility of all, a great burden also rests with the operators. Having intermittent events such as these, while lauded, will not be sufficient. Conservation must be a continuous daily ritual for all operators in environmentally sensitive areas. On Redang, this new consciousness is taking hold and several operators are already removing rubbish from the island and planning to upgrade sewerage treatment plants.
Marvin Chiah, CRIR resort manager said, “Redang is an important archipelago which we need to preserve. The marine life diversity is good and there is so much to see. Here, you find varied dive sites to satisfy all kinds of divers. You won’t be bored with Redang.”
As divers, we should remind ourselves that the certification card is not merely an opportunity to observe beauty underwater but more importantly, a responsibility to protect it for our future generations. Love life, love nature.