Coral ID Workshop

By Loh Wan Yeng

Time for a change. I have been learning to identify birds but I seemed to have stagnated. Coral identification caught my eye. Why not? Since I was starting to indulge into my new hobby of scuba diving, it was about time I learnt something about sea organisms.

On that Saturday morning of 30 May 2009, about 20 of us gathered at the compound of MNS HQ, eagerly awaiting the doors to open. As we settled down in the auditorium, we were introduced to… corals.

What is a coral? Well, the most asked question as put by marine biologist Affendi Yang Amri is whether a coral is a plant or animal. Well, I came away from the workshop with new knowledge that it is an animal but with plant characteristics due to the presence of algae living in the coral. This is one animal that can photosynthesize.

Affendi presented us with slides of beautiful slides corals. Corals not just in one shape, but all kinds – branching corals, massive corals, columnar corals and free-moving ones, amongst others. We were enlightened with knowledge of how fragile the coral ecosystem is and the main enemy is mankind.

Later, we were divided into groups and introduced to a Coral ID software. With the software database of more than 700 coral species, it would help in the identification of coral specimens by selecting the various characteristics of the coral. We had a hands-on session with the software as each group was given a coral skeleton to identify using the software. Well, it was not as easy as we thought it was.

We ended the workshop with a Q&A session. Affendi shared with us the value of the coral ecosystem, with calculations from Tioman as an example. The digits were too long to fit into my calculator. It was a frightening thought, to think of the huge value that would be lost, if the fragile coral ecosystems of the world were destroyed. All in all, the whole session was fun and definitely a good learning experience.