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Times 17 Sep
A mission to save stressed 'trees of the seas'
By Liaw Wy-Cin
BRIGHT and colourful these corals at Pulau Hantu may still be, but they are slowly being bleached of their vibrant hues.
Over the weekend, 51 divers were in the waters off the island - whose name means 'ghost island' in Malay - doing their part to try and save these coral reefs.
According to the organiser of the event called WaterFest Reef Expedition, this was the first time the public could take part in such coral conservation programmes of the island, 8km south of Singapore.
Previously, such trips were available only through dive shops or private groups, said the organiser.
This time, a group of diving enthusiasts wanted to involve more people in efforts to save 'the trees of the seas', said organiser Chong Wei Yong, 30, managing director of events company Lemlabs.
Coral reefs are considered a crucial part of the marine ecosystem, and are fertile spawning grounds for marine life.
What the expedition did was gather information on how much colour the corals were losing. The information will go towards a conservation project, called Coral Watch, at the University of Queensland in Australia.
Said Mr Chong, a diving enthusiast: 'We have a colour chart as reference and we note what colour the corals are.' Corals lose colour - a process known as bleaching - when they expel a type of algae which live in their tissue and on which the corals are dependent.
This usually happens when the corals are under stress from their environment.
In Pulau Hantu's case, the depletion of corals has been attributed to corals being smothered by silt churned out by land reclamation and dredging, marine biologists say.
Experts estimate that Singapore has lost more than 65 per cent of its coral reefs since 1986.
It is not true that reef surveys were only available through dive shops or private groups. Since 2003, Blue Water Volunteers' ReefFriends have carried out once-yearly surveys of several southern islands, including Pulau Hantu, Sisters’ Island, Kusu Island, Pulau Semakau and Pulau Jong. The data is available online at the Coral Reefs of Singapore website.
ReefFriends is an ongoing coral reef survey programme that is open to the public as volunteers. Volunteers are trained in survey techniques derived from Reef Check or the line-intercept transect (LIT) methods. Data collected by ReefFriends are submitted to National Parks Board, NUS Marine Biology Lab and Reef Check.
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