Sabah rules in sea life

Posted on December 21, 2010. Filed under: Bio-diversity |

-The Star-

KOTA KINABALU: A 17-day study of coral reefs off the Sabah east coast Semporna district has reaffirmed that the area has the world’s highest marine biodiversity.

But the study involving Malaysian and Dutch researchers unearthed some disturbing information – the area is under serious threat with only 5% of coral studied deemed in excellent condition and another 23% in good condition.

The study was jointly organised by WWF-Malaysia, the Netherlands Centre for Biodiversity (NCB) Natura­lis, Universiti Malaysia Sabah and Universiti Malaya.

Under the sea: Dr Hoeksema holding a rare species of mushroom coral (Halomitra clavator) in the Semporna Priority Conservation Area.

Expedition co-leader Dr Bert Hoeksema of NCB said the Nov 29 to Dec 18 study found a staggering 43 mushroom coral species in waters off the 50 islands off Sem­porna.

He said the previous recorded richness of this family was 40 species at several sites off Sulawesi, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.

Dr Hoeksema said the study found 844 fish species and more than 90 coral shrimp species, rivalling the highest counts in the Philippines and Indonesia.

Dr Hoeksema disclosed this yesterday when releasing preliminary results of the expedition.

But he said researchers found that nearly all the areas studied had been impacted by damaging human activities – fish bombing, discarded fishing gear and solid waste.

He said researchers also heard 15 explosions due to fish bombing and found several unexploded fish bombs “that were just a few days old”.

Dr Hoeksema said the researchers found discarded fishing nets on the coral “and these were like death blankets over the reefs”.

WWF Malaysia chairman Datuk Tengku Zainal Adlin Tengku Maha­mood said the expedition had showed the waters off Semporna as “amazingly right in comparison to the other hotspots for marine diversity in the Coral Triangle”.

“We cannot save what we do not love, and we cannot love what we do not know.

“We have now increased our knowledge of the rich reefs in Semporna and we must work harder to save them,” he said.

Videos of the expedition can be viewed on YouTube at www.youtube.com/user/2010SMEE.

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