From Awareness to Action: Building Social and Ecological Resilience Towards Climate Change
Tioman Island, Malaysia
Tioman Island is the largest island off the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia. The island is home to a growing population of approximately 3,700 people in seven villages spread around the island. The waters around the island were designated as a marine park in 1994 and has since experienced massive growth in tourism and development. The island’s long coastline and natural beauty has made Tioman one of the most attractive holiday destinations in Malaysia. It now receives around 250,000 visitors annually with 81 resorts and 36 dive shops – numbers that have been steadily increasing over the years.
Reefs around Tioman were impacted during both the 1998 and 2010 bleaching events. To incorporate resilience information into coral reef management, a series of resilience assessments were conducted based on the Obura, D. O & Grimsditch, G. (2009) methodology. A total of 18 sites around Tioman was surveyed and the data showed that the main impacts were from: 1) land-use change, 2) sewage pollution, 3) physical impacts from tourism activities, and 4) lack of compliance to marine park regulations.
Findings from the surveys, along with recommendations, were submitted to federal, state and local government agencies. At the same time, Reef Check Malaysia started a long-term programme called Cintai Tioman (I Love Tioman) to address local threats on the island. The objectives were to reduce local impacts to the reefs, to build capacity of the local community, and to involve the community in coral reef conservation and management.
An average of 8 tons of trash is produced on the island daily, all of which was burned in an incinerator. We initiated a recycling programme to reduce this amount and to deal with trash that could not be burned such as glass. To deal with the problem of sewage pollution, water quality surveys were conducted to provide supporting data to the government and to urge them to take action. In 2015, a joint programme with the Tioman town council was conducted to empty, clean, and maintain sewage treatment systems; it was the first time such maintenance services were provided on Tioman. The town council has since provided new guidelines on sewage treatment and is currently in the process of setting up septic tanks and centralized sewage treatment centres. To address impacts from construction, a Standard Operating Procedure Document was prepared and submitted to the town council to be used as a guideline for future development projects.
Unsustainable tourism practices were one of the main impacts on Tioman. To overcome this problem, we introduced sustainable practice certifications. We introduced the UNEP Green Fins certification for dive centres, ASEAN Green Hotels certification for hotels and resorts, and EcoFriendly Snorkel Guide certification for snorkel trip operators. These 3 certification processes look at the environmental impacts of each business operation and provide suggestions for improvements. Certifications are accompanied with annual assessments that allows us to keep track of their improvements.
Lack of awareness among the local population was one of the main reasons for non-compliance with MPA regulations. To overcome this, Reef Check Malaysia ran monthly education and awareness programmes with the primary and high schools on the island. Public talks and social media were also used to spread information about coral reefs to villagers. To reduce dependence on the reef as an economic resource, Reef Check Malaysia provided skills trainings for alternative livelihoods, where villagers were trained to work in the tourism and government sectors. A team of islanders was also trained to assist in day-to-day management activities, such as installation and maintenance of mooring buoys, removal of ghost nets and marine debris, bleaching monitoring, Crown-of-Thorns Starfish monitoring, and rapid response. The team was later called the Tioman Marine Conservation Group (TMCG) and were officially hired by the Department of Marine Parks Malaysia (DMPM) to help with certain tasks.
How successful has it been?
The Cintai Tioman programme has proven to be successful in achieving both objectives. The heath of reefs in Tioman has improved, as reflected in data from annual Reef Check surveys (www.reefcheck.org.my), and at the same time we have been able to increase local participation in management and conservation efforts through various stakeholder engagement activities. Hard coral cover around Tioman has increased by 12% since 2013, while surveys have shown a decline of up to 10% in other locations along the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia. During the 2016 global bleaching event, Tioman once again saw minimal bleaching and very little death compared to other locations in Malaysia. We were able to engage with many of the local businesses via the responsible tourism programme, working with 70% of the resorts and 32% of the dive operators to sign up and work towards achieving “Eco-Friendly” status.
The TMCG proved to be a great success, it was the first time a group of locals were officially recognised by the DMPM and hired to help with management and conservation activities. Their efforts managed to reduce impacts such as anchoring on reefs, damage by ghost nets, and pollution. The TMCG also helped with coral restoration efforts and with bridging the gap between the government and the local population, which made reporting and enforcement more efficient. Information is being shared faster and wider than ever before, allowing for quick action and even arrest of those breaking MPA regulations. Weekly public talks are also held in the main village to discuss environmental issues and solutions, encouraging participation from the local community and businesses.
Waste management on the island has improved dramatically since 2013, with recycling bins being provided all over the island as well systems to recycle plastic, aluminium, glass, and cardboard. This has ensured clean beaches and low amounts of trash entering the marine environment. Over the last 5 years, about 25,000 kg of trash was recycled and three local islanders have also set up their own recycling centres in villages around the island. The recycling centres, named Rumah Hijau (Green House), act as collection sites. Trashed is also repurposed and recycled there.
The rate of completion of skills training courses was surprisingly high as well as the rate of subsequent employment. Courses were very carefully selected to ensure they would suite the local community. Instead of trying to introduce new kinds of skills or jobs, the courses looked at improving and polishing the skills the community already had. Trainings were also done on the island and followed up with mentoring over a period of time.
Lessons learned and recommendations
- Commit to long term actions
- Involve the local community in every step of the process
- Work closely with local, state and federal government agencies
- Address the needs of the community – if you don’t take them seriously, they won’t take you seriously either
- Sime Darby Foundation
- United Nations Development Programme, GEF Small Grants Programme
- Department of Marine Parks Malaysia
- Royal Bank of Canada