2010/07/22

Malaysia closes top dive sites hit by coral bleaching

KUALA LUMPUR, July 22, 2010 (AFP) - Malaysia has closed some of its top dive sites, on the tropical islands of Tioman and Redang, which have been hit by coral bleaching caused by global warming, officials said Thursday.

The reefs, which attract some 500,000 tourists annually, will be off-limits to divers and snorkellers until the end of October in an attempt to relieve stress on the fragile marine ecosystems.

"Nine diving sites out of 83 sites all over the country are closed," Shahima Abdul Hamid, the Marine Park Department's director of planning and management, told AFP.

The closure would give the coral an opportunity to regenerate and would remove stress caused by tourism-related activities such as diving, the department said.

Coral bleaching, which can eventually cause corals to die, occurs when stresses including rising sea temperatures disrupt the delicate, symbiotic relationship between the corals and their host organisms.

The department's director-general, Abdul Jamal Mydin, told reporters that in some areas 60-90 percent of the coral had been damaged, and that three entire islands around Tioman in Malaysia's southeast had been closed.

"We are monitoring the extent of coral bleaching at all marine parks in the country. In the meantime, we are building artificial reefs and coral transplants," he was quoted as saying by the Star daily.

The Malaysian Nature Society applauded the move to give the reefs a break.

"In Malaysia, corals are facing a vast variety of threats even without the coral bleaching episodes," said the society's head of conservation Yeap Chin Aik.

Apart from global warming, "the other threats are uncontrolled tourism, and land-based threats which result in pollution," he said.