The Pulau Payar Marine Parks has been established 24 years ago prompting mass tourism activity since. Coral reef degradation in at the sites surrounding Pulau Payar and its sister islands is mainly from human activities such as unregulated tourism and illegal fishing activity. The tsunami in 2004 did minor damage to the reef at Pulau Payar. The island is open all year round. These added to the unrelieved burden on its environment. Since its establishment in 1990, the coral reef there receives visitors without a single day of break. As a result, all the popular sites assessable to snorkelers are damaged.
Ocean Quest is invited by our sponsor Bina Darullaman Berhad (BDB) to survey and take necessary steps to help rehabilitate the coral reef at Pulau Payar. We took this opportunity to visit several areas and make observations pertaining to degradation of coral species. According to our records dating back to 1998 we are able to establish comparison between now and then. Density and diversity observations that we conducted tells us the general state of health of the coral reef. Besides degradation we also make record of potential recovery of some important species at the reef.
Pulau Payar is located twenty four nautical miles to the southeast of Langkawi the northern legendary island in Malaysia. It is at the northern proximity of the Malacca Straits facing the Andaman Sea. As such, its marine bio-diversity approximates those of the Andaman. This make Pulau Payar the only assessable island in Malaysia that hosts marine species similar to those of the Andaman Islands. Collared butterfly fish and Schooling bannerfish native to the Andaman Sea and Indian Ocean are found here. These species never exist in the East Coast of Peninsular Malaysia.
The Pulau Payar group of islands consists of Pulau Lembu, Pulau Kaca, Pulau Segantang and Pulau Payar. There are no inhabitants on these islands a part from the Marine Parks rangers. Visitors to Pulau Payar arrives in the morning and leaves in the afternoon. On average there are over one thousand visitors to this island daily. Even with the least number of visitors due to the recent airline mishap last month we could still estimate around six hundred foreign tourist arrive at Pulau Payar on the day of our recent survey. This establish that Pulau Payar as one of the key tourist attraction for visitors to Langkawi.
Pulau Payar is not a popular diving destination for local scuba enthusiasts due to its unpredictable underwater visibility. However this lack of water clarity is made up by its diversity of marine life. It is a fact that comparatively one can find more critters on a single dive here as compared to a dive made anywhere in the clear waters of the East Coast of Peninsular Malaysia. A story written in a dive log during the exploration of the reefs in 2005 describes the riches of Pulau Payar. Comparatively the diversity of marine life at these sites are still as plentiful as it used to but their density is lesser.
This coral propagation program in sponsored by Bina Darulaman Berhab (BDB) and the team is led by its group managing director Dato’ Izham Yusoff. The director of Marine Parks for Kedah, En. Mohd Nor Ashri bin Haji Basari is also present to officiate the program. There are sixty five participants in this coral propagation program including media, crew and employees. Diving community from within the state is also present to assist with the underwater task during coral propagation. Ocean Quest is represented by four coral propagation trainers. Diving equipment and logistics is provided by Iskandari Dive Center based in Alor Setar, Kedah. The program involves all relevant stakeholders and the local diving community. That is what the Ocean Quest coral propagation program is built to do.
State of health assessment that is carried out in the prominent areas of the reef reveals that the corals are healthy despite appearance of physical damage in the shallow areas. Coral growth have shown that the staghorn corals (Acropora formosa) are making a recovery. This species is totally devastated from 1999 until our last observation in 2005. Now small patches of this branching corals can be seen along the reef front. However due to the proximity of the colonies near the sandy plateau poses risk of it being buried by the shifting sand. Reef building species like the boulder corals (Porites lobata) is also seen to be affected by sand movement and some small colonies that lacks footing toppled and become smothered by the fine sand. Toppled boulder corals and sinking branching corals are listed as target species in the coral propagation program. In addition, the team also collect broken coral fragments from the bottom and include them in the propagation process as well. Among the broken fragments collected are from genus Montipora, Porcillopora and Echinopora. Underwater tasks for this program is carried out by Ocean Quest trainers and the local divers. The employees of BDB and media help with the task on shore under supervision of the trainers.