PUSAT KAJIAN SAMUDERA & PANTAI -- Universiti Sains Malaysia

String of Malaysian records set in Sabah

Published on: Sunday, April 09, 2023
By: Kan Yaw Chong 

Marine Ecology Research Centre or MERC in Gaya Island.

THE First Ocean Acidification Monitoring Station for South China Sea” is the latest of a string of eight Malaysia Book of Records awards won by Gaya island-based Marine Ecology Research Centre (Merc-2) and its associated companies Bayu Aquaculture Sdn Bhd (5) and Rantau Bakat Sdn Bhd (1) since 2010.

Remember, any Malaysia Book of Records award means it’s historic – meaning the first break of its kind in the history of Malaysia.

So it’s a “feat” alright. 

The Giant Clams project 

“Merc’s first record with the Malaysia Book of Records dated back to 2010 as the pioneer in Malaysia to successfully produce all seven species of endangered Giant Clams found in Malaysian waters,” noted Aquatic biologist, Alvin Wong, Project Director.

The salient purpose?

From Left to Right: Alvin Wong, Prof Dato Dr. Aileen Tan, Gillian Tan

Giant clams bred in Merc

“Giant clams were produced to be returned to the sea to increase the population and to allow these slow growing, sessile (immobile) animals to reproduce on their own,” Wong noted.     

The Backcross grouper

“In 2019, an associate company of Merc, Bayu Aquaculture Sdn Bhd (BASB) was awarded a record by the Malaysia Book of Records for successfully producing the first Bac-kcross grouper.

“The backcross grouper was introduced as a new species to be cultured to meet the growing demand for fish as a source of protein,” Wong explained.

Back cross grouper 3.

Back cross grouper 2.

Back cross grouper 1.

“Following the success of producing the first Backcross grouper, BASB went on to produce fish fry from more species that have never been produced from hatcheries in Malaysia. The objective was to produce more varieties of fishgerlings for culture to meet the greater demand for affordable fish,” Wong said. 

The drive to be the first in Malaysia to set record big-time continued.  

The Streaked spinefoot – rabbitfish 

“In 2020 BASB received another record with the Malaysia Book of Records for being the first to successfully breed Streaked Spinefoot in hatchery (in 2019) and providing fish fingerlings for aquaculture,” Wong pointed out.

Orange-spotted spinefoot (upper pic). Vermiculated spinefoot (above).

Streaked spinefoot (upper pic). White-spotted spinefoot (above).

“Spinefoot, or also known as rabbitfish, is a relatively cheaper fish that was until then, only caught in the wild.” 

Record 260 varieties of Hibiscus award  

In 2021, Rantau Bakat Sdn Bhd received another Malaysia Book of Records award on a totally different dimension – for successfully producing ‘The Most number of Hibiscus varieties planted’ – a staggering 260 varieties!   

“Meanwhile, the acceptance of Streaked Spinefoot led BASB to propagate more varieties of rabbitfish.

Record 260 varieties of Hibiscus bred by MERC, associate company Rantau Bakat.

“In 2022, BASB was awarded three additional Malaysia Book of Records for being the first to produce the hatchery bred Orange Spotted Spinefoot, White Spotted Spinedfoot and the hatchery bred Vermiculated Spinefoot,” Wong listed all the previous records won so far. 

“On 2 February 2023, Merc completed the installation and commissioning of the Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structure (Arms) and Calcification Accretion Units (CAUs) at Gayana Resort,’ Wong continued.

The latest record: 1st Ocean Acidification Monitoring Station in South China Sea   

On 27 March 2023, Gilllian Tan, owner of Echo Resorts, received the award certificate for being “The First Ocean Acidification Monitoring Station in the South China Sea” from Senior Record Consultant of The Malaysia Book of Records, Edwin Yeoh, at the Le Meridien Hotel.   

“The successful deployment of the ocean acidification monitoring station in Gayana was led by Professor Dato’ Dr Aileen Tan, Director of the Centre and Coastal Studies (Cemacs), Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang,” he said.

The Autonomous Reef monitoring Structures.

“This is the first step in a research collaboration between Merc and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of Unesco, following the protocol established by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). It is also an effort to achieve the Sustainable Goal 14: Life below water.

“Our research under the title “Research and Monitoring of the Ecological Impacts of Ocean Acidification of the Coral Reef Ecosystems” would improve the understanding of ocean acidification and the potential damaging effects of ocean acidification on marine resources and ecosystems,” Wong hoped.           

Existential threat – Oceans getting hotter, sour, breathless: Prof 

In an exclusive interview with the Daily Express, Prof Aileen Tan once voted ‘Best Woman Scientists’ used simple layman language in her opening remarks to explain what climate change is doing to the world’s oceans. 

“The oceans are getting hotter, sour (acidic) because pH is going down and also breathless, because of lack of oxygen (hypoxia) but a lot of time people only talk about temperature, we forgot about the ocean getting sour and also getting no oxygen,” she addressed the average man-on-the-street to stress this is a serious existential matter for life at sea.      

On the main cause of ocean acidification, Wong cited: “Ocean acidification due to increased anthropogenic CO2 in the atmosphere is expected to reduce the pH of seawater. The reduction of pH or the increased acidity along with lowering of carbonate saturation are expected to create negative impacts on coral reefs, seagrass beds, mangroves, and other marine habitats.” 


On the purpose of the latest award winning exercise, Wong listed some technical details: “The setting of Arms is to monitor the health and biodiversity of coral reefs, which mimic the physical structure of a coral reef,” Wong said.

“The structure is equipped with a sensor that continuously monitors the seawater temperature. 

“In addition, monitoring of seawater carbonate chemistry (pH and total alkalinity) and water parameters (temperature and salinity) would also be conducted to better understand the current situation,” he said.

Local actions of international repute  

The mantra is “acting local, solving global issues”. 

“The joint effort with IOC Sub-Commission for the Western Pacific (Westpac) would monitor the ecological impacts of ocean acidification on coral reef ecosystems and expand this research and monitoring effort across the Indo-Pacific region and globally as part of the International Global Ocean Acidification – Observing Network (GOA-ON). This data will also be used to develop strategies for conserving and protecting these important ecosystems,” Wong invoked the big picture.

According to Wong, the Asean Biodiversity Centre has listed Merc as one of the centres of excellence in its contribution in biodiversity and conservation, which means international recognition which positions Merc globally as the first site in the South China Sea, contributing to the IOC-Westpac regional ocean acidification observing programme and GOA-ON. 

As noted earlier, Merc’s latest venture into ocean acidification monitoring comes after earlier achievements in producing and restocking endangered species and introducing more suitable marine food fish species for culture. 

Wong said one reason why Merc embarked on the Giant Clam project in 2007 was to propagate and restock the endangered species to save them from extinction. 

“Following the success in propagating giant clams, Merc went on to propagate hard and soft coral, and other marine species including seahorse,” he disclosed. 

Won on the ultimate Importance of water quality 

“Simultaneously, BASB would continue propagating species that are good candidates for aquaculture including molluscs and crustaceans to increase food production through aquaculture,” Wong pledged but underscored the ultimate importance of water quality. 

“Water parameter remains the ultimate factor that determines the success of these efforts,’ he stressed. 

The survival of endangered species in the sea as well as the survival of fish and other species cultured in aquaculture farms depends on good water quality. Water quality determines the success or failure of marine conservation efforts as well as food production from the sea.

“Changes to water quality due to climate change would affect the health of corals and subsequently impact the diving industry.

“Our rich marine biodiversity remains an important attraction to the diving community and contributes significantly to our tourism industry. Nobody will want to dive if there is nothing to see.”

Merc witnessed temperature increase, coral bleaching, giant clams dying  

“Merc has in recent years witnessed coral bleaching and giant clams dying after recording increased in water temperature,” Wong conceded. 

The negative experience from this flagship project reinforces reality of climate change. 

Reliable data gathered from the deployed Arms, CAUs, recorded seawater temperatures and seawater chemistry can assist in the development of climate change vulnerability assessments and further inform coastal resource managers and policy makers as they develop climate adaptation plans for the coastal communities of Malaysia, he said. 

In addition, these data will be linked into larger regional effort by the International Oceanographic Commission for the Western Pacific (Westpac) region focusing on establishing baselines and monitoring the ecological implications of ocean acidification on coral reefs.

Background to Gaya Island project 

On the background to the Gaya Island project, he said 2015, eight Westpac countries (Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, China, Bangladesh, Cambodia and Thailand) committed to establishing Climate Monitoring Stations based on standard techniques to better understand the effects of climate change. 

This effort will encourage significant comparison studies across gradients of biodiversity and oceanographic conditions. 

Accepting responsibility as private company 

“Merc believes everyone has a role to play and has no hesitation in accepting the responsibility as the first private organisation for the Ocean Acidification monitoring programme in this region and would be the first contributor to fill significant existing knowledge gaps in the South China Sea.

“We will continue to work with Cemacs in data collection as well as maintaining the Arms and CAUs set up,” Wong said.


Source:Daily Express

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