Thematic Issues
Marine and coastal biodiversity
© JTLM

Marine and coastal biodiversity consist of coastal hill dipterocarp forests, mangrove forests, mud flats, coral reefs and sea grass areas.

Malaysia has a coastline of some 4,800 km, and sits on the geologically stable Sunda Shelf. About half the coastline is beaches and slightly less than half is fringed with mangrove forest. There is relatively little rocky coastline. Both the beach and mangrove ecosystems boast distinct, unique and spectacular biodiversity, and provide a broad range of ecological services ranging from tourism and recreation to providing critical habitat for reptilian, crustacean, mollusc and fish species. Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESAs) on the coasts of Malaysia have been identified and mapped in the NPP. These ESAs include mangrove forests, marine parks, critical coastal erosion areas and turtle landing sites.

Coral Reefs

Coral reefs in Malaysia are estimated to cover close to 4,006 km2. Coral reefs support not less than 700 species of fish that are dependent on coral reefs as a habitat. Coral reefs are valuable economic and ecological resources. They have important ecosystem functions that provide crucial goods and services to hundreds of millions of people, mostly in developing countries. They are the foundation of a significant proportion of the global tourism industry, and are a major source of biodiversity.

It is reported that USD 5.5 billion is generated from the coral reefs of the world annually. Within Southeast Asia, the potential sustainable economic value of coral reefs is substantial, as is the potential economic loss if these resources are degraded. One estimate puts the value of coral reefs at US$115,740 per hectare per year. This places Malaysia's reefs at a value of US$45.31 billion per year. Malaysia is part of the "Coral Triangle", an area recognised by scientists to contain the world's richest marine biodiversity. Coral diversity is highest in East Malaysia, estimated at over 550 species while Peninsular Malaysia has over 480 species of coral. Coral reefs represent an economically important ecosystem and are the foundation of a significant percentage of the country's tourism industry. Economically, coral reef-related businesses in Malaysia are worth approximately US$635 million annually in food, fisheries, tourism and even pharmaceuticals. Malaysian coral reefs have been categorised as fair based on the average live coral cover of 46.4% in 2012. This showed an improvement from the year 2011 of which the average live coral cover was only 42.6%. This indicates that the reefs are recovering from the mass bleaching event in 2010. A further survey in 2013 saw a positive sign of steady recovery with 48.3 % live coral cover.

There are many local threats to coral reefs in Malaysia which include destructive fishing, coastal development, pollution, sedimentation as well as physical impacts from tourism activities such as diving, snorkelling and boating.

Against the local threats above, mass coral reef bleaching has emerged over recent years as a global threat; which is difficult to manage at the local level and has potentially devastating effects. The first significant mass coral reef bleaching event reported in Malaysia was in 1998, as a result of which, an estimated 40% of corals in reefs around Peninsular Malaysia died. Reefs had barely recovered before the 2010 mass coral reef bleaching event occurred, which fortunately saw lower coral death rates ranges from 5% to 10%. This is due to effective management of local threats to reduce stress and allows for natural recovery.

Consequently, Malaysia has developed a Coral Reef Bleaching Response Plan, which aims to put in place a number of actions in response to coral bleaching related events. The key objectives of the plans are to:-

  • Raise awareness among key stakeholders of the possible impacts of mass coral bleaching;
  • Formulate guidelines for actions to respond to coral bleaching and establish a bleaching reporting/information system for public networking and information sharing; and
  • Establish a coral bleaching committee/unit involving government, non-governmental agencies and universities that would encourage immediate and long term actions to reduce local stresses to coral reefs.

The Plan also contains 4 primary components that contribute towards the overall response mechanism which include:

  • Early Warning Systems: In view of the increase in coral bleaching monitoring internationally, information is available from a variety of sources that serves as early warning of climate conditions that favour bleaching. This aids towards predicting bleaching events;
  • Response Triggers: In view of the fact that bleaching occurrences are not uniform, the plan therefore, identifies a number of triggers that result in programmed actions. This provides flexibility in implementation, and allow for adaptive management in different scenarios;
  • Management Actions: implementation of a variety of actions that would reduce or eliminate local threats to coral reefs and thereby enhancing the survivability of coral reefs to bleaching events; and
  • Communications: a significant element of the plan involves communications with various stakeholders. The provision of timely, accurate information helps stakeholder groups understand these events and therefore increases the likelihood of cooperation with management authorities towards efforts to reduce the impacts of coral bleaching events.

Mangroves

Peninsular Malaysia has a coastline of about 1,972 km that borders the South China Sea in the East, the Straits of Johor in the South, and Straits of Malacca in the West. About 72% of the coastline in West Peninsular Malaysia is made up of mud coasts, while the rest is sand coasts interspersed with capes, promontories and headlands of granite and sandstone. Most of the mangrove areas are found fringing this coastline. Mangroves in Peninsular Malaysia are found largely sheltered along the west coast that borders the Straits of Malacca. Key near-shore islands such as the Pulau Klang in Selangor and Pulau Kukup in Johor are also predominantly colonized by mangroves.

Sabah and Sarawak contain almost 82% of the nation’s mangroves. In Sabah mangrove forests are found largely on the east coast facing the Sulu Sulawesi Seas. In Sarawak, these forests are located at the river mouths of Rajang and the Trusan- Sundar. In Malaysia, there are about 38 species of true mangroves and generally, mangrove plant species diversity is comparable with the global diversity; as at least 70 species from 28 families have been recorded.

Within the PRFs in Malaysia, the country recorded mangrove areas at 544,032 hectares in 2012; showing an upward trend from the last reporting period where in 2009, mangroves areas was recorded at 539,142 hectares. Peninsular Malaysia, in 2012, recorded total mangrove areas of 98,848 hectares. The State of Sabah has the largest area of mangrove forest in the country and within PRFs, the figure in 2012 stands at 333,019 hectares. Meanwhile, the total mangrove forest area in Sarawak in 2012 is 112,165 hectares.

In 2005, Malaysia launched the ‘Tree Planting Programme with Mangrove and Other Suitable Species along the National Coastlines’ as part of mangrove forest conservation and environmental protection activities. The implementation of this programme is in line with the National Forestry Policy 1978 (NFP) and the National Physical Plan I (NPP).

During the nine-year period of its’ implementation from 2005 to 2013, Malaysia has succeeded in planting 6.2 million seedlings of mangrove trees and other suitable tree species encompassing 2,500 hectares of coastal area throughout the country. The success of this planting programme was achieved through an integrated approach and through the involvement of various parties including the Forestry Department Peninsular Malaysia (FDPM), the Forest Department Sarawak, Sabah Forestry Department, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and local communities.

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