At the end of 2016, the Perhentian Marine Research Station (PMRS) was established when it was handed over by the Blue Temple Conservation, and it is now in its third year under the social enterprise Fuze Ecoteer. In the past, PMRS was involved in seagrass mapping, assessing the health of coral reefs along with encouraging recycling and waste separation schemes around the island. This year, there has been a shift in its focus; PMRS started its Direct Action Conservation scheme by constructing artificial reef for coral reef conservation, and it also focuses on liaising with local stakeholders (dive shops and resorts) to implement waste management initiatives such as jumbo bags and mesh recycling bins for collecting plastics and managing waste around the islands.
We are a very small team and always need help with our dive surveys. If you are keen to volunteer with us, please click here.
- who we are
- what we do
- current issues
PMRS is small scale research station with basic facilities and limited workforce. Therefore, we mainly focus on the practical aspects of marine research and conservation. This also means that we can accommodate a wide range of volunteers who undergo training in marine life identification and underwater survey techniques, prior to the acquisition of data.
We aim to conduct research and push for collaboration with NGOs, government agencies and universities since we believe to be crucial for coastal zone management and conservation. With this in mind, PMRS aims to conduct research that will complement and build on its existing work while assisting the Marine Parks Department Malaysia (MPDM) on prioritizing its management efforts. Also, we aim to restore and preserve the coral reefs around the islands through our direct conservation efforts, while coordinating with local stakeholders to implement waste management and recycling initiatives. This is a big part of who we are, and what we aim to do.
- We build and put artificial reefs to restore coral reefs, and also use it for educational purposes, e.g., we work closely with the Perhentian Eco-Education Project to teach the local children about corals and their importance for the local ecosystem.
- We work with Reef Check Malaysia to conduct our own reef check surveys, and we also do fish species identification to assess the health of the local ecosystem.
- We are in the process of setting up seagrass surveys around the Perhentian Islands to assess the impact of the monsoon season.
- We are currently formulating and trialling our methodology to compile a shark ID database. This will help us to understand the distribution and abundance of sharks in the Perhentian Islands.
It is hoped that in the future the Marine Park and relevant authorities will use the data we are collecting to decide which snorkelling and diving sites might be closed temporarily to preserve them.
THE PLASTIC POLLUTION SOLUTION
- We started a Plastic-free Perhentian initiative to reduce the amount of plastic on the island, and have introduced a recycling system on the island using Jumbo bags and mesh bins.
- We organise weekly awareness talk, and also liaise with local dive shops and resorts to implement plastic waste solutions.
- We collaborate with other ECOTEER projects to conduct weekly beach cleanups.
Perhentian Island's shallow coral reef communities and seagrass beds are subject to a number of anthropogenic impacts, the main driver being the rapid expansion of the local tourism industry. Some reefs around the islands is a rubble field with dead corals and plain sand as a consequence of these anthropogenic disturbances, i.e., human influx, more resorts being built up, more boats visiting shallow waters with coral reefs, and too many divers and snorkellers concentrated in specific areas. Also, coral diseases are widespread around the island due to contaminated water - direct runoffs into the sea without any water treatment.
The water quality around the Perhentian Islands will gradually become a serious issue with an increase in land-based infrastructure development resulting in more solid and liquid waste pollution. Reef Check Malaysia stated in their previous report that the recorded high levels of nutrient indicator algae at the Perhentian Islands are indicative of raised levels of nutrients in the waters. (Reef Check Malaysia, 2017). Currently, divers reported rashes and other skin problems; we have also observed irregular periods of jellyfish larvae blooms.
Beyond local threats, the global threat of mass coral bleaching is certainly a big issue with rising sea temperature. The first significant mass coral bleaching event recorded in Malaysia was in 1998 (Reef Check Malaysia, 2017), and it is expected these events will increase in frequency and scale in the coming years.
SHARK ID DATABASE
Currently, we are not aware of any past or recent studies on the distribution and abundance of shark species in the Perhentian Islands. We know blacktip reef sharks are abundant (juveniles and adults) on our waters, but we do not know where the nurseries are, and if there are other shark species present around the islands. Also, in the past, we received reports of Whale shark sightings, but we do not know where they are going. Hence, we are super keen on using this opportunity to establish our shark database ID to understand the distribution and abundance of shark species around the islands.
In the last few months, we have started formulating and trailing our methodology, which will be basic so our volunteers can get involved. We will be compiling our database records of every shark species we observe along with location, sex, size and any observed behaviour, i.e., feeding, swimming, etc.
We also want local dive shops to get involved in our scheme by taking pictures of sharks and sending it to us for identification and further analysis. Additionally, we hope to share our database with other shark and marine conservation organisations to combine and collate as much information about sharks in Malaysia.
From past studies, we know that seagrasses play an important role in improving water quality, provide shelter and is also an important food source, especially for sea turtles. Hence, the more seagrass beds they are, the better the water quality and a greater number of turtles around the islands. Currently, seagrass beds are abundant but fragmented due to the settling of sand and silt sediments onto the beds as a consequence of human activities.
In the past, PMRS mapped most of the seagrass beds around the island, and we also surveyed seagrass habitats using the Seagrass-Watch methodology to monitor abundance and assess their ecological value. However, this year, we are interested in understanding the impacts of the monsoon season on our mapped seagrass beds. The size and intensity of the waves increases during the monsoon which can affect the seagrass beds around the island. Therefore, we aim to conduct our seagrass surveys before the monsoon period this year, and then we will carry out another survey at the start of the next season.
Additionally, we aim to work closely with the Perhentian Turtle Project (PTP) to measure the abundance, spatial density and diversity of seagrasses around both islands. We will also share our data on the distribution of seas turtles around the seagrass beds to PTP.
We use glass bottles to attach corals and concrete as our substrate since it is simple yet an effective technique to build artificial reefs. The glass bottles we use are collected from bars and resorts around the Perhentian Islands.
Our artificial reefs normally use the coral fragments found on the seafloor since they are dismally abundant due to boat strikes and snorkellers damaging the corals. However, we are also aiming to start a coral nursery, where we will attach fragmented corals (1-2cmz) onto several lines, and once it is ready, we aim to transplant them onto our artificial reefs.
Our first artificial reef, the Amex reef, which was constructed in April 2019 is gradually growing and being used by different species as their home – we have observed goby fish, damselfish, moray eels and even fish eggs during our fish identification surveys.
REEF CHECK SURVEY
We assist Reef Check Malaysia in assessing the health of coral reefs around the Perhentian Islands by monitoring the corals during our underwater surveys. We use a revised version of reef check methodology to collect data on the health of corals, which is shared with the organisation when they come to the island for their bi-annual surveys.
Different fish species play a different role in an ecosystem for e.g. in the Perhentians, rabbitfish feed on algae which controls the algae population in the human-induced nutrient rich waters. However, if there are not enough rabbit fish, algal bloom persists leading to reduction in oxygen concentration. Additionally, some algae species produce cyanotoxins, which may have a severe biological and economic impact, especially at higher cell concentrations.
Therefore, we identify and monitor indicator fish species that serve as a measure of environmental condition around the Perhentian Islands. Currently, we use Parrotfish and Rabbitfish as our indicator species, since they are easier to identify and train our volunteers.
We actively engage with local dive shops and resorts to host us for a weekly awareness talk in collaboration with the Perhentian Turtle Project. This allows us to speak directly with their guests and customers on conservation and plastic pollution issues, and also help us teach them about eco-snorkelling and diving practices.
We also aim to involve and persuade the local dive shops to build and maintain artificial reefs and coral nurseries around the islands. This is crucial in achieving our main aim – to restore and preserve our coral reefs – once dive shops start taking responsibility for their dive sites and divers.
The amount of single-use plastic can simply be reduced by refilling our water bottles rather than throwing them away.
Local businesses still get some income but can support the campaign for a plastic-free Perhentian.
There is only a certain amount of natural resources in the world. Through recycling, we can conserve them.
Investing in a reusable water bottle or metal straw is a small action but helps to tackle the problem of plastic pollution.
Partying whilst being part of the solution – no plastic cups and straws here!
To build on this initiative, we developed a survey to assess how tourists rate the cleanliness of beaches, pathways and coral reefs around Perhentians. We are also keen to find out if tourists are interested in having more places to refill their water bottles or to buy reusable bottles. We are looking forward to the outcome and want to invite everyone to take part in the survey. It will just take 2 minutes!
To take part in our survey please click or scan QR code
THE PLASTIC POLLUTION SOLUTION
In collaboration with the Precious Plastic Project and the Perhentian Eco-Education Project, PMRS is trying to reduce the amount of plastic on the Perhentian Islands by utilising an on-site recycling strategy based on the Precious Plastics machine. The machine upcycles plastic wastes and can also provide a financial incentive to the whole island community to recycle their plastic waste. The aim is to counteract the accumulation of plastic debris in the Marine Park and reduce anthropogenic stress exerted on the local coral reefs. For this, we also have –
- Started providing mesh bins and jumbo bags to local dive shops and resorts for collecting plastics, which will be sent to a recycling facility in the mainland. We also have jumbo bags with plastics at the local school to be used for upcycling with the Precious Plastic Machine.
- Set up our weekly Conservation Education Station booth at the Panorama Divers to brief snorkelers and divers on eco-friendly practices along with educating the public.
- Organise weekly beach cleanups in collaboration with other ECOTEER projects, and we also conduct micro-plastic surveys.
What we achieved in 2018
We provided economic benefit to the local community
We focused on conservation and waste management
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