September 25, 2015

Saving the Ocean One Reef at a Time

Saving the Ocean One Reef at a Time

Malaysian reef system by WorldFish @flickr

Coral reef destruction, ocean acidification and illegal fishing are gripping the island of Borneo, but an insightful marine conservation outfit is doing everything it can to reverse the damage.

The Tropical Research and Conservation Center (TRACC) is a nonprofit organization based in Sabah, Malaysia on the island of Borneo.  Running marine conservation expeditions, teaching marine biology courses, conducting research projects and rebuilding coral reefs, TRACC is bent on protecting one of Borneo’s most valuable resources – its marine biodiversity.

An incredibly rare host of fish, sharks, rays and other marine animals populate the waters surrounding Borneo.  Just off the island’s shores, a network of coral reefs comprises the unique habitat these creatures call home.  This ecosystem, though still vibrant, has come under fire from pollution, climate change and dynamite fishing.  These dangers are a serious threat to marine life in the area, and could mean massive species loss and even ecosystem collapse if unchecked.

That’s where TRACC comes in.  Led by professor and marine scientist Steve Oakley, TRACC is protecting coral reefs from preventable damage and bolstering the ecology’s defenses against changes that are inevitable.

“One of the things we think we should be doing is increasing biodiversity as much as possible in as many places as possible in order to create natural resistance to ocean changes,” said Oakley in interview with Clean Malaysia.

How is this accomplished?  In large part, by rebuilding coral reefs.  TRACC’s focus right now is to provide more homes and havens for diverse species, thus encouraging their survival as ocean systems continue to degrade.  Rebuilding also serves to begin repairing the immeasurable damage done by dynamite fishing.  This highly illegal activity is a huge problem in Borneo, killing large amounts of fish and blasting apart in an instant reefs that took centuries to form.

The bombing is an ongoing issue, but TRACC’s coral reef installations are showing real success.  Sticking glass bottles in cement footings, planting coral seeds in the bottles, and setting them on the ocean floor, TRACC is creating new reefs where old ones were destroyed.  Oakley describes the process:

“It’s like setting up a free apartment complex in the ocean and saying ‘move in!’ and [the fish] do.  Five years later we’ve got fish that are 70 to 80 cm – breeding and reproduction size – that we’re fairly sure we watched grow at this island.  They’re producing eggs, they’re spawning, and they’re spreading lots of other fish throughout neighboring areas.”

TRACC is also working with government and the local community to spread protections further.  Raising awareness and encouraging policy change, Oakley and his volunteer staff are making a real difference in their area.

“TRACC’s mission is saving the ocean one turtle, one shark, one reef at a time,” Oakley said.  According to the healthy reefs and fish popping up under his watch, he is doing just that.

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