By Zainuddin Bachok

The pandemic COVID-19 has created chaos around the world. Since the spread of COVID-19 and the implementation of Movement Control Order (MCO), most human activities that usually take place have now stopped for longer than usual, and this has resulted in a quick and drastic change in the way the human population uses and occupies the marine ecosystem such as coral reef. The outcome is that fewer people are moving around and that pollution linked to society’s functioning has also decreased.

The northeast monsoon season occurs from November until March serves as a buffer period for the marine ecosystem in the marine park to recover from the tourism impact. Nonetheless, the MCO has extended the buffer period from 5 months to 9 months. It is expected that the coral reef ecosystems in the marine park are in better condition due to this prolonged buffer period. Hence, the Marine Park and Resources Management Section, Department of Fisheries Malaysia, in collaboration with Universiti Malaysia Terengganu (UMT) was initiated the project entitled “Post COVID-19 Marine Life Status at Marine Park Islands of Terengganu”.

The research team from Universiti Malaysia Terengganu has been conducted the study at four marine park islands, Pulau Redang, P. Perhentian, P. Kapas and P. Tenggol in the Terengganu. A field survey was conducted from August to October 2020, which involved 24 researchers from UMT with supporting personal from technical staff (3), postdoctoral (2), research assistant (11), postgraduate student (6) and internship student (9). The study comprises a survey on a benthic life form of coral reef, epibenthic invertebrates and any associated organisms and fishes; marine food web; measurement of in-situ and physical parameters of seawater; a collection of seawater for water quality analysis and microplastic occurrence.

On the other hand, the marine tourism activities in the Malaysian marine park reduced significantly during the MCO, impacting the entrepreneurs  and local communities at the islands. Thus, this survey also aims to determine the socio-economy impacts of COVID-19 on local communities and tourism operators. The preliminary finding shows evidence that Covid-19 has positively impacted the coral reef ecosystem at the studied islands. In terms of socio-economic, most respondents stated that the threats COVID-19 pandemic create an economic shock.

Prof. Dr. Zainudin Bachok is the Head of Coral Reef Group, Institute of Oceanography and Environment (INOS).