Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Marine Week: Day 3

On our third day of Scuba Junkie Marine Week we continued our efforts on our reef check surveys. In the evening Julian, of Reef Check Malaysia, gave a presentation on who Reef Check Malaysia are,  what it is they do and the changes that need to be made in this area. 

Sadly we are facing our third world wide coral bleaching event. Coral bleaching and disease are caused by climate change. Corals can only survive in water temperatures of 18-29 degrees celsius. Anything outside of this and the coral cannot survive.

What is coral?
All this talk about coral and the threats it face, it's time to talk about what coral is.  Dave and Cat our environmental officers at Scuba Junkie, have produced a collection of incredibly informative posters that are easy to understand. All the information provided here was taken from their posters.

It is a common misconception that corals are plants - given their often bush like appearance. However, they are actually animals! They are tiny little invertebrates called 'polyps'. These polyps cannot survive on their own so they have a symbiotic relationship with zooxanthellae. Zooxanthellae is actually a photosynthetic algae: the mutualistic relationship it has developed with the corals means that they both can thrive.  This tiny algae lives inside the coral tissue and provides it with energy through photosynthesis. Whilst living inside the coral the zooxanthellae is provided with shelter - the perfect symbiotic relationship! The zooxanthellae also gives corals their stunning colours, as the body of the polyps is actually clear.

Coral bleaching affects corals because it destroys the relationship between the polyps and the zooxanthellae. When temperatures rise the zooxanthellae abandon the polyps. As mentioned it is the algae that gives the corals their stunning colour - thus without it the corals appear 'bleached'. Without the energy from the photosynthesis the polyp struggles to survive.  If temperature returns to normal within a short period of time than the coral can recover as the zooxanthellae will return. If not, the corals die.

Thousands upon thousands of polyps comes together to form the stunning coral structures you see in the water. These are known as 'colonies'. There are two types of coral colonies - hard and soft. We'll be providing you with more information on this as the week goes on!

Who are Reef Check Malaysia?
Whilst Reef Check was originally set up in America in 1996, it is now in 82 countries! It was set up to raise awareness of the importance of and the threats that face coral reefs. The aim of Reef Check Malaysia is focused on managing reefs sustainably. Through education and raising awareness they hope to stimulate local action to aid the rehabilitation and protection of coral reefs.

After undertaking a reef check survey around Mabul,  Julian felt there was much that needed to be explained. Sadly whilst doing the survey the team witnessed purse sein fishing close to Pulau Mabul What Julian highlighted was that though we may personally disagree with these practises,  there are people who are just trying to survive.  

At the end of the day we may wish for fishing to decrease,  but people need to feed their families.  Furthermore Julian noted that some laws may seem unclear, whether or not they could fish so close to Pulau Mabul was actually not known by many involved in the reef check survey.  The information he provided and the passion with which he spoke about the situation was a real eye opener. Many have idealistic opinions on change,  whereas Julian was realistic in his talk.  

We'll be keeping you posted on all our activities and providing you with more information on corals as the week goes on.  

Facts about Mushroom Coral (Fungia Seychellensis):

  • Generally a solitary species, they grow to about 30cm 
  • Juveniles attach to a rock, but older ones are free living 
  • The discs are round or oval and have a central mouth
  • They are listed as 'vulnerable' on the IUCN Red List 

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