‘The corals have grown and the green turtles are back’

A school of cuttlefish swarming over an artificial reef ball to lay eggs on an old rope used to mark the reef balls at Patricia Reef Complex.

BINTULU, Sept 9: The coral community at Similajau National Park here has shown promising signs of recovery from damage caused by illegal trawling and also despite the constant hazards that have devastated coral reefs stretching from Sematan to Miri.

The recovery was largely made possible with timely intervention by Malaysia LNG Group of Companies (MLNG), a subsidiary of Petronas, and Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC).

Four years ago, the two parties collaborated to carry out a reef conservation project known as ‘Beacon Project’ to save dying and damaged corals at the national park.

They dropped roughly 1,500 artificial reef balls along the park’s coastline with the hope that corals would grow on them. And since the artificial reef balls are strong enough to damage fishing dragnets, the two parties also hoped they would deter illegal fishing at the coral reef area.

Four years on, there is an early sign of success. Recently, a group of 30 volunteer divers who did a reef check exercise at Patricia Reef Complex found that corals have grown by more than 15cm long and fully covered the artificial reef balls just three years after being deployed there.

They also found seven species of hard corals from the family of Acroporidae, Pocilloporidae, and Montiporidae were growing and thriving on the artificial reef balls.

The trained divers, who were volunteers from MLNG, SFC, Fire and Rescue Department (Bomba) and the Marine Police Department, also noted that the fish population in the area was increasing.

They also discovered more coral trouts, snappers, sweetlips and cuttlefishes in the area during their reef checking activities known as the ‘annual Beacon reef monitoring’ there from Aug 31-Sept 2.

Hard coral ‘Acropora cervicornis’ (Staghorn coral) on one of the artificial reef ball.

Two years ago, the team also reported that green turtles were flocking back to hatch at the beach of the national park after an absence of more than a decade.

The programme is a component of the RM10 million coral reef conservation initiative known as Beacon Project at the Similajau National Park, Bintulu, which is jointly undertaken by MLNG and SFC.

Launched in 2013, the Beacon project aims to protect, conserve, regenerate and enhance marine biodiversity especially coral reefs through reef balls deployment at the Similajau National Park waters.

Among the key achievements of the project to date are the deployment of some 1,500 artificial reef balls at the Similajau National Park waters, completion of the RM2 million visitor and Beacon Project interpretation centre at the park, the return of green turtles to the Similajau beach after a seven-year absence and 387 turtle hatchlings released to the sea. — DayakDaily