Frequently Ask Question (FAQs) of Centre for Coastal and Marine Environment (CMER)
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Malaysia's seas are among the most biologically diverse in the world, with a variety of ecosystems and natural resources important to the livelihood and sustenance of the people. The major ecosystems include coral reefs, mangroves, seagrasses, mudflats, and estuaries. In addition, fisheries are among the main components of natural resources in our waters. Besides fisheries, some of the other important activities related to the marine environment include shipping, oil and gas industry, tourism, mariculture, to name a few. Therefore, these marine and coastal ecosystems and resources, and their relationship with humans and human activities are important.
The three main ecosystems found in Malaysia are coral reefs, mangrove forest, and segrasses.
- Among the main components of the coastal and marine environment, Malaysia's coral reefs are regarded to be of global significance. They contribute to marine tourism, shoreline protection, nursery and feeding grounds for fishes, and also as a potential source of medicine. Besides that, reefs also support marine biodiversity and sustain human activities such as fisheries.
- Mangrove forests are also very significant to the country, especially for shoreline protection, nursery and feeding grounds for fishes, coastal fisheries, timber and fuelwood production, as well as a potential source of medicine and ecotourism. It is also a habitat for local endangered species (i.e. proboscis monkey, flying foxes, dolphins, migratory shorebirds) and feeding and nursery grounds for commercial finfish and crustacean species.
The Matang Mangrove Forest located in Perak is an example of best-managed mangrove forest in the world. More than 100 years of management experience has focused on timber production, while taking into account other considerations such as conservation and protection of the mangrove and its environment sustainably.
- Seagrasses act as habitats and nursery grounds for recreationally and commercially important finfish and shellfish. Juvenile finfish that can be found in seagrass beds include snappers, croakers, grunts, groupers, etc. Other commercial species found include crabs, lobsters and shrimps.
Other functions of seagrasses ecosystem include stabilising bottom sediments, protecting coastlines against erosion, and recycling of nutrients.
These can be categorised into several main groups as the following:
i) Population pressure in coastal areas
This includes threats to the coastal and marine resources, mainly in terms of conversion of coastal areas to various other uses, increase in human activities, and pollution sources.
ii) Ecosystems degradation
With focus on the coral reefs ecosystem, Status of Coral Reefs of the World 2008 reported a general decline in most monitoring sites in Malaysia in terms of coral cover. In addition, the Reefs at Risk in Southeast Asia project estimated over 85% of corals reefs in Malaysia are threatened, mainly from human activities.
As for mangrove forests in Malaysia, total areas reduced from 800,000 ha (early 1950s) to 695,000 ha (1973) and further reduced to about 575,180 ha (2005), representing a loss of about 28% in about 50 years. This was mainly attributed to land clearing activities for development projects. Nevertheless, the government through the 9th Malaysia Plan, allocated about RM40 million for the planting of mangrove trees at the suitable coastal areas in the country. In 2008, a total of 1,511,465 trees have been replanted, covering about 627.7 hectare of total land area at various coastal sites in Malaysia.
Seagrasses are currently not protected (except if located in protected areas). Major threat facing this ecosystem is sedimentation from the land areas, resulted from the coastal development activities.
iii) Marine pollution
This can be categorised into sources from land and the sea. The main land-based sources/components include total suspended solids, oil and grase, E. coli, heavy metals, and solid waste. On the other hand, sea-based sources include oil pollution mainly from vessels, ballast water, tributyltin pollution from ships' paints, to name a few.
iv) Decline in marine fisheries
In 2007, 50.2% (692,985 tonnes) of total landings of fisheries resources were from the Straits of Malacca. Landings from South China Sea in the East Coast region of Peninsular Malaysia contributed 24.3%, and waters of Sabah and Sarawak supplied 25.5% of the landings. Basically, the Catch per unit effort (CPUE) for Malaysia declined from 46 tonnes/vessel (2001) to 35 tonnes/vessel (2007). Among the main reasons for the decline in catch would include pollution, mangrove loss, and destructive fishing methods applied by the fishermen which destroy the natural habitats, to name a few.
v) Long term impact of climate change and sea level rise
The full impact on Malaysia is still being undetermined. However, several studies are currently being carried out to ascertain the impact of climate change and sea-level rise to the country.
Various efforts have been undertaken which include initiatives in the areas of biodiversity conservation, coastal zone management, pollution prevention, and resource management. However, progress in improving the situation in the country would be gradual because of the pervasive nature of the problem.
There is no single law for environmental conservation. Principal law is the Fisheries Act 1985 which protect ecosystems and habitats, protect endangered species and manage resources. Other laws include Environmental Quality Act 1974, Wildlife Protection Act, National Forestry Act and other specific State enactments.
Accordingly, we have also ratified a number of international conventions on environmental protection and these include the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity 1982 (UNCBD), International Convention on the Trade in Endangered Species of World Flora and Fauna 1973 (CITES Convention), Convention on the Protection of Wetlands of International Importance especially for Waterfowl Habitat 1971 (RAMSAR Convention), International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships 1973 as amended by the Protocol of 1978 (MARPOL 73/78), and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change 1992 (UNFCCC), to name a few.
Malaysia's coasts and seas are endowed with a wealth of marine biodiversity, ecosystems, habitats, and resources. Together they provide essential goods and services such as fish and coastal protection. The sustainable development of our coasts, seas and related resources is therefore a priority.
CMER aspires to contribute to the ecologically sustainable coastal and marine environment management through policy research and the provision of timely and appropriate inputs into policy-making. Therefore, CMER's research thrusts are manifold and include among others:
The Centre also organisers events to advance Malaysia's environmental related interests. Its researchers speak at seminars, conferences, workshops, and also publish in various publications to disseminate information on their research work.
- State of the marine environment
- Sustainable development of marine resources
- Ecosystems protection
- Prevention of marine pollution
- Conservation of coastal and marine biological diversity
- Coastal zone management
- Environmentally friendly shipping activities