BRUNEI-MUARA – Regular health checks of Brunei’s coral reefs may lead to the discovery of new dive sites which can in turn boost ecotourism in the country.

According to Reef Check Brunei (RCB), an organisation that aims to strengthen coral reef conservation in the Brunei, the sultanate’s marine ecosystems have largely been unstudied.

Reef check surveys that have been conducted in the country are few and far apart. However, if they are conducted often and annually, they may be used to discover new reefs that can become potential diving sites.

“There is that chance [of discovering new reefs], surveys can help identify new diving sites that can boost [marine] ecotourism in Brunei,” said Emily Yong, marine biologist and secretary of RCB.

Emily Yong (L) during a roadshow promoting awareness on marine conservation. Photo: Courtesy of Reef Check Brunei

Globally, coral reefs represent US$36 billion a year in economic value to the world. In Brunei, dive tourism is still relatively small, generating about $800,000 over the past seven years, recording an average of 1,400 divers a year.

Based on the latest reef check survey conducted in 2016, results show that Brunei has 34 per cent live coral coverage, which suggests that our corals are in good or fair condition compared to our coastal neighbors.

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With about 50 square kilometers of coral in the nation’s waters, it is considered one of the healthiest in the world, with over 410 coral species and more than 700 different species of reef fishes.

“In Brunei, conversations on biodiversity seem to always revolve around the country’s forests because they are beautiful, but so are our reefs,” Emily added.

However, Brunei’s corals are unable to avoid the impact of climate change, with a small percentage affected by coral bleaching and an increase in algae, which is detrimental for coral growth.

Emily said that through annual surveys, we can gain a better understanding of the nation’s reefs in order to conserve them.

“However, there has not been [continuous] annual data [collection] on [Brunei’s] coral state, so it is difficult to say whether our corals are getting better or worse.”

Marine biologist Bazilah Rozani (top left) from Reef Check Brunei educating kids on marine conservation during an event in 2018. Photo: Courtesy of Reef Check Brunei

Bazilah Razani, another biologist from RCB, said that the organisation’s main goal is to conduct annual reef checks to analyse the health of the sultanate’s coral reefs.

Through the surveys, environmental threats and trends can be identified by examining the marine life around the reefs.

RCB hopes that the data will also help increase public awareness on marine conservation.

“Ultimately, we want to stimulate locals into action, to aid us in the protection of the pristine corals that we have, as well as to rehabilitate the ones that have already been damaged.”

RCB is a part of a coral conservation project facilitated by local diving operator Oceanic Quest.

The NGO, while is still in its infancy, wants to engage divers from across the country to join their cause.

“To protect the nation’s reefs, we can’t do it ourselves. We hope to engage every level of the Bruneian community, as well as help train divers to be eco-divers, to help us in our monitoring in the future.”