The El Niño effect this year has devastated coral reefs around the world, but the reefs of one island in Malaysia are fighting back.
Citizen scientists from Biosphere Expeditions have teamed up with Reef Check Malaysia to survey the coral reefs around the island of Tioman, off the east coast of peninsular Malaysia. The group was assessing the health of the reefs following the devastating rise in sea temperatures that happened in May this year. A temporary rise of 2 or 3 degrees Celcius, caused by this year’s El Niño event, has been causing corals all around the tropics to do something called ‘bleaching’, which can lead to the death of corals and then entire reefs. A coral bleaches when it expels the symbiotic algae that usually live within it. These algae give the coral its colour, without these algae the transparent coral appears white (or bleached) as we see through the animal to its white calcium carbonate structure. Without the algae the animal also loses around 80% of its energy which is usually supplied by the algae photosynthesising sugars. This eventually leads to the death of the coral through starvation.
But the reefs around Tioman island have been taking algae back, and in the months since the reefs were 30 to 40% bleached, they have largely recovered, as the Biosphere Expeditions team has found. The team, comprising citizen scientists from all over the world, also found reefs that were almost back to pre-bleaching states and which were generally healthy. So for these reefs the danger of bleaching has passed for now, but the threats of overfishing and pollution are still there. Very few larger predator fish were found during the surveys, indicating that fishing is still happening, despite Tioman being a Marine Protected Area. The amounts of nutrient indicator algae growing on some of the reefs led the team’s scientist, Alvin Chelliah of Reef Check Malaysia, to speculate on the amount of sewage that may be ending up on the reefs from some of the island resorts. It is through working with the communities on the island, as Reef Check Malaysia does, that the threats to these reefs will be tackled sustainability can be secured.
Thursday marked the last day of surveys in the 2013 Reef Check expedition to Tioman Island, Malaysia. We surveyed two new sites and added them to the list of sites that Reef Check Malaysia monitors around this beautiful place. We had a couple of divers out of the water on doctor’s orders with ear issues and other small problems, but those left carried on with the surveys and those not diving took on dry duties to the benefit of all.
Then yesterday, Friday, the last day of the expedition was eventful too. There was a hiccup with the boat and we had to rush to get three people back to Tioman for their flights. For the remaining two, the action didn’t stop there. In the evening we learned of a python, which had been caught nearby. Alvin and I raced off to see the animal and returned to Janne and Georgie with a 4.5 meter, 30 kg reticulated beauty, which we then went to some length relocating with the help of Rosie from the dive shop and the local taxi guy. A fitting end to a great conservation expedition on the sea and now also on land!
Thanks to all who attended and donated so much more than their cash to the daunting task of protecting the coral reefs of Tioman Island. I hope you have caught the expedition bug now. If you have, I look forward to meeting you again on some conservation errand sometime, somewhere on this beautiful planet of ours. Thanks again everyone and safe travels home!
Team 2 just completed their first day of official Reef Check surveys after an exhausting and hot few days of training and tests. Today’s temperature of nearly 38 degrees made the afternoon dive a welcome respite, even if the water they were working in was 31 degrees itself. Have a look at the videos and picture.
Tomorrow we set out to sea to Tulai Island from where we plan to spend a couple of days exploring the islands in the vicinity of the anchorage there. After that we’re off to the other side of Tioman and out to Permandgil Island for a night to pick up a couple of sites we missed with the first team.
The second team for the 2013 Biosphere Reef Check expedition to Malaysia are all on deck now and officially briefed for duty. Again we have a week of training and land based research surveys before once again heading out to sea on the good ship Araliya for another week of ocean-based research around Tioman Island and the more remote islands beyond. Yesterday we hit the water for our important buoyancy workshop dive and who knows, we may even find the elusive “silver turtle” rumored to frequent the house reef at the Tioman Dive Centre… Team 1 will know what I mean…
The first slot of the Malaysia 2013 Reef Check expedition returned to port yesterday after a very successful voyage around Tioman Island and out to the remote Permandgil Island where comms were poor, but the coral was awesome. Of great encouragement to our hopes that healthy reefs still occur in the region was that our scientist, Alvin, who has dived extensively throughout Asia described the reefs around Permandgil in very glowing terms. We completed all surveys and the data collected is already logged into the Reef Check system. We also managed a few lazy dives (without data collection), which were very chilled out and easy by comparison to the focus of the transect surveys.
I now have a day back at Swiss Cottage to scrub up and get my gear into order before the crew for slot two arrive. The internet sucks here, but who cares. As we know the worse the comms, the better the reefs ;), but it also means that I have only been able to upload a few pictures…
The first team of the 2013 Malaysia expedition have all passed their Reef Check exams and are, as I write, under water conducting their second actual research survey. Yesterday, we surveyed a site called Tomok, where last year I found a beautiful but dangerous flower urchin. Alvin, our scientist, is happy with the progress of the expedition thus far and today after lunch we board the Araliya and head out to sea. The photos and video are of the team doing their first Reef Check transect survey.
The first slot of the Malaysia 2013 Biosphere expedition is officially underway. Today, after the introductory briefings, we headed out to the house reef at the Tioman Dive Center for a buoyancy workshop, which everyone handled well after some weighting and breathing adjustment.
A bit more practice will be all that is required to have group 1 research-ready. Tomorrow, we get into the academics with our scientist Alvin Chelliah and the start of the Reef Check ID classes.
Well, today I’m all set up at Swiss Cottages in Tekek on Tioman Island. In a short while I will be meeting with our scientist Alvin Cheliah who is currently doing some science, under water, just off shore.
My phone number here is xxx. Please use this number to communicate any issues you might encounter in getting to the assembly point on time (remember 11:00 for the first and 09:00 for the second group). Likewise, if you are on the island prior to assembly and would like to meet me for a chat, please feel very invited to call or text me.
So far the prep is going well. I expect everything will be well ready for your arrival. Just a quick heads up on transport from the airport. If you are staying at Berjaya prior to the expedition, you will have a coach to meet you. Unless you have been specifically informed of a ride though, people staying at other accommodation will need to get a taxi. You may find the airport officials helpful in getting a cab, I did, but it is not their job so don’t expect it. Here’s a couple of numbers for the recommended service, a bloke named Budin: 0197 890 810 and 0129 676 659. Also try Shammi on 0177 181 738.
A special g’day to last year’s team members. The last team will remember Carol, who is here at the moment providing a great piece of continuity to the expedition a she hands over the baton to this season of Reef Checkers. Unfortunately she won’t be here to meet the new team but it’s really great that the process is being connected to previous efforts in this way.
Currently I am in Singapore on my way to Tioman Island to prepare for the expedition, which is fast approaching. We are lucky to have Alvin running the science and training the team in the methodologies of Reef Check. Alvin is an engaging and passionate biologist with many years experience in implementing and teaching the Reef Check system in Malaysia. If you have not watched is short talk in the last entry, have a look at it now.
Here’s another reminder to think carefully about what you will need and try to rationalise your pack with the week on the boat in mind. Also be aware that although the international legs of your journey may allow 20 or even 30 kg of baggage, the flight into Tioman only allows 10 kg before charging for excess.
Stay tuned for more updates as the prep phase of the expedition gets under way. I am hoping to post a video diary entry or two as soon as I can sort out some technical issues with the process. My apologies to those who have been expecting one sooner.