Projects to restore coral need time

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CORAL restoration projects currently being undertaken off Brunei’s shores may take several years to show improvements in fish stock and marine life, said a key facilitator of the project.

Wong Thye Sing, general manager of Poni Divers, said the project, named Green Xchange (GX) H20, has been challenging due to strong ocean currents, but he is optimistic that the rehabilitation programme will bear fruit over the next few years.

“A lot of the soft coral in Brunei waters has been decimated over the past 10 to 20 years and corals have been damaged due to fish bombing and trawling,” he told _The Brunei Times _yesterday.

“So coral replanting is one initiative we have undertaken with SCOT (Society for Community Outreach and Training) to preserve the marine ecosystem in Brunei.”

The Society for Community Outreach and Training (SCOT) partnered with Poni Divers and HSBC in February to begin a six-month underwater clean-up at popular dive sites, including the Pelong Rocks area which houses the endangered blue coral.

Part of the project includes coral propagation, which Wong describes as an “attachment process” where broken coral fragments are collected and then glued onto “live” rocks. Upon return to the underwater environment, the corals will then naturally establish their foothold on the “live” rocks.

Wong said that coral restoration would lead to better preservation of the marine ecosystem as well as increase the fish population and provide more eco-tourism opportunities.

Statistics from the Ministry of Industry and Primary Resources show that the demersal fish stock has been depleted to 20 per cent of what it once was. During marine surveys carried out over 1979-81, the mean catch rate in shallow waters was 190 kilogrammes of catch per hour. In 2008, surveys indicated that this figure had decreased to 39.9 kg/hr, or about 20 per cent of the original stock.

Due to the depletion of fish stocks, the government has banned commercial fishing in shallow waters and issued a moratorium on trawling licenses. It has also introduced legislation to establish Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).

“It may be several years till we can see the effect of these MPAs, The challenge now is enforcing and monitoring these policies,” Wong said.

Experts said that maintaining coral health was key to preserving marine ecosystems and fish stocks. Dangerous fishing practices and overfishing could lead to the collapse of the fishing industry and the livelihoods dependent upon it.

The Brunei Times