Reef Check Malaysia

Earlier this month we were lucky enough to have Alvin from Reef  Check Malaysia join us for 3 days of training with our science team to enable them to conduct reef check surveys on Pom Pom Island. I sat down with him to talk about Reef Check and the valuable work they do.

What is Reef Check?

Reef Check's core programme is basically monitoring the health of reefs around the world. Its head office in California and there are 92 different offices around the world.

In Malaysia we have gone a bit further than just monitoring reefs. We had the data, then asked ourselves- what are we going to do about it? We have been closely involved with the local communities close to the reefs.We operate education programmes in schools, and offer building resilience programmes by identifying threats to the reefs and trying to find solutions. Examples of threats include trash, tourism and lack of education. To target these on Tioman Island (where Alvin is based) we have done a range of things. For example there was no recycling for an island of about 3800 people, with 60 resorts. Trash was just being stacked in one village then sent on a barge to the mainland. The barge was like Hansel and Gretel- dropping bits of trash all the way back. so we set up recycling so we can send out plastic and cans. Paper is still an issue as it has to be dry and it costs a lot t recycle. Glass is an issue too- as it is cheaper to make new glass than recycle old ones. And set up better sewage on the island, when before then there was nothing.

Tourism is another issue, with bad snorkeling and diving habits. People standing on the coral and breaking it. The Malay word for coral is actually very confusing. It means rock. so many people do not see coral as an animal- they see it as a rock so it is ok to step on.

Another programme we have is training up locals to work in the dive shops and resorts. Owners prefer to hire westerners and mainland people, which is stupid, because the locals know the area, the marine life and know how to find the good sites. Reef Check funds local dive master training and link people up with jobs. Next year we are introducing a course together with a university to train locals in the hospitality industry, so that they have a qualification and are more employable in the resorts. It is all a big task and habits are hard to change. The good thing is that we are seeing change.

We have corporate sponsors and a little bit of government funding at the moment, but it will only last us another 2 years so we are currently looking for more sponsorship. It is hard to make our work sexy, to attract sponsorship, as people often want to make tangible things such as coral replanting- but Tioman has really good coral- the need is more in community education and training.

How did you come to work at reef check?
I currently manage the programme on Tioman Island. I started diving in high school, which got me interested in marine science. I did my degree in marine science, then continued my masters. At the time I was volunteering for Reef Check. after i finished my masters a job popped up in KL. I worked there until we expanded to Tioman three years ago.

What is the training you have been conducting with our science team?
I was doing the EcoDiver course. Basically this is teaching volunteers how to do the reef check survey. One of the biggest problems in collecting data is that we never have enough marine scientists around, especially in Malaysia. Reef Check was designed to use your average diver with good buoyancy skills and train them about how to identify things in the sub-straight so they can conduct surveys and collect data. The information Reef Check gathers is accessible by anybody that asks- universities, government departments. We use the information to lobby governments to protect marine areas.

How many volunteers and dive sites does Reef Check have in Malaysia?

In Malaysia there have been about 500 divers trained. Out of those 500 divers we probably have about 50 active volunteers.
We have about 200 sites around the country. Every year we will organise to go to each of these sites and then come out with a calendar where volunteers can sign up to conduct surveys. Very seldom do volunteers go out on their own and send data. This will only happen with organisations like TRACC.

Alvin teaching our science team 
A reef check survey

Trained EcoDivers!

Thank you Alvin for bringing your valuable knowledge and training to TRACC!