Balanbangan-JMcgowan

Coral Surveys in Tun Mustapha Park

Borneo, Malaysia

Tun Mustapha Park (TMP) is Malaysia's largest marine park located in northern islands of Sabah just south of the Malaysian and Philippine border.  I joined Jennifer McGowan (University of Queensland) and Dr. Maria Beger (University of Leeds) on WWF Malaysia survey of the park.  Jennifer and Dr. Beger were instrumental in the zoning of TMP using the spatial planning tool MARXAN and joined the first expedition in 2012.  See the video of the 2017 expedition below!

L to R: Our great crew - Captain Damsek + Wan - and Dr. Maria Beger, Jennifer McGowan, and myself.

the mission

Marine spatial planning is plaqued by a paucity of data over the areas typically of interest.  TMP was zoned using remotely sensed coral habitat maps and the goal of this field trip was to do rapid assessments of coral reef diversity and health at the broad scale of the park.

A Pachyseris sp. coral with Black Band Disease.

My Role

I was responsible for estimating benthic composition of the transects and recording impacts on the transect including disease (black band disease pictured), bleaching, other physical damage (i.e. anchor damage), overgrowth by other organisms etc.


Jennifer surveying on a transect with bleached corals.

coral bleaching

Corals are animals with tiny, one-cell algae living in its tissues.  The coral provides a safe home for the algae in return for food the algae photosynthesize.  When corals become stressed, most commonly because of warmer than usual water temperatures, the partnership between the corals and algae breaks down and the algae leave the coral tissue giving the coral a white or 'bleached' appearance.  We surveyed one site in TMP with a lot of bleaching which is a concern.

A rubble reef from blast fishing.

Blast Fishing

The effects of blast fishing were prevalent on our surveys and we could hear the bombs detonating an unknown amount of kilometers away while underwater. It is seen as another method of fishing, although clearly very destructive.  Managing this threat is a major challenge for conservation.