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December 22, 2010

Rich coral reef in Semporna

KOTA KINABALU: The Semporna Marine Ecological Expedition which concluded on Dec 18 indicated the district may have the world’s highest marine bio-diversity.

Eighteen scientists from Malaysia, the Netherlands and the United States spent three weeks examining the reefs here.

The team documented species richness for mushroom corals, reef fishes, shrimps, gall crabs, ovulid snails and algae, while a reef status team recorded the health of coral reefs.

Rich in biodiversity: Kulambu Island off Semporna in Sabah is one of the diving hotspots.

Mushroom corals lived freely on the sea bed, from the shallow reef flat to the sandy reef base. The expedition documented 43 mushroom coral species in Semporna.

Previously, the highest recorded richness of this family was 40 species at several sites in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.

One of the researchers Bert Hoeksema said mushroom corals can be used as a proxy for other coral richness.

“Where we find high richness of mushroom corals, we usually find extremely high richness of other corals.”

Another researcher Kent Carpenter said the roving census of fish count showed Semporna was one of the richest areas within the Coral Triangle.

Measuring nature: A researcher at work.

“At some of the more diverse reefs, fish species counts rivalled the highest count the fish team found in the Philippines and were greater than what they had encountered in Indonesia,” he said.

During this expedition, the fish team encountered 844 fish species.

The coral reef status team used a modified ‘Reef Check’ methodology to assess its health.

Some 12km of transects were laid in the course of 60 dives.

Preliminary results showed the reef status ranged from poor to excellent condition.

About 5% of the transects had ‘excellent’ live coral cover, 23% had ‘good’, 36% had ‘fair’, and another 36% had ‘poor’ live coral cover.

Signs of coral bleaching and suspected coral disease were observed at various sites.

While Semporna has several sites with good coral cover, nearly all sites showed significant human impact including fish bombs, discarded fishing gear and solid waste.

The extremely high levels of coral reef diversity and the relative poor health of the reefs combined meant more efforts must be made to manage and conserve the important reefs of Semporna.

Not only it is a world class diving destination, it may well be one of the Coral Triangle’s top hotspots for marine bio-diversity.

Thousands of residents around the district also relied on the rich coral reef for their livelihood and income.

Videos of the expedition team members can be accessed online at

Source: The Star



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