Malaysia’s rich marine biodiversity has been a source of pride for the nation as it supports local fishing industries while serving as a bustling tourist attraction. However, behind its beauty lies concerns of threats from ocean acidification and fish bombing, which are highly prevalent with negative economic impacts.
Ocean acidification is brought on by deforestation and burning fossil fuels for energy production, which raises the atmospheric concentration of CO2. By investigating the relationship between the environment and the economy, it is evident that urgent action needs to be taken to safeguard our marine biodiversity which is vital for a sustainable future.
As one of the largest seafood consumers in Asia, Malaysia’s fishing industry is a significant contributor to the national economy and the livelihoods of thousands of coastal communities. However, ocean acidification, driven by the absorption of excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, leads to lower pH levels and in turn the deterioration of marine ecosystems. With a reduction in carbonate content, acidification prevents the growth of shell-forming organisms like corals and mollusks which disrupts the food chain. This is problematic as it reduces marine survival with harsher conditions and depletes fish stocks, collapsing entire ecosystems and consequently impacting fishermen’s incomes with a drop in available seafood.
In addition to the direct effects on fish stocks, a destructive practice known as fish bombing has further exacerbated the crisis. 2,832 blasts were recorded between June 2014 and February 2020, showcasing its aimless nature which depletes fish populations and destroys vital habitats. As a result, Malaysia has lost 96 percent of its fish stocks in less than 60 years according to the Department of Fisheries.
Moreover, the local fishing community no longer sees certain fish species that they used to catch 30 years ago and spends more time fishing but returns with fewer catches than before. This leads to reduced incomes and increased competition for scarce resources which force fisheries to venture into deeper and riskier waters, adding to costs and compromising their safety. The economic consequences are felt at the individual level but also across the entire fishing supply chain, impacting suppliers, traders, and consumers.
To combat this, community involvement in enforcement has proven effective in maximising reach and minimising cost. Data collection has allowed individuals in marine protected areas to assess and solve these issues. Furthermore, fish bombing has been linked to socioeconomic decline and its permanent solution is education and alternative livelihoods. This approach was used in the Philippines and recent monitoring reports no bombing, good fish stocks, and healthy corals. By developing sustainable fish markets, fishermen are motivated to adopt sustainable fishing methods leading to a better livelihood.
Malaysia’s spectacular coral reefs and diverse marine life have been a major attraction for tourists and a source of income for the coastal tourism industry. Unfortunately, these fragile ecosystems have suffered greatly as a result of the combined effects of ocean acidification and rising sea temperatures. Along with a reduction in the growth of coral skeletons, widespread reef damage has been brought on by coral bleaching, a phenomenon driven by the stress-induced loss of symbiotic algae. The ecological benefits that coral reefs provide are degraded as they deteriorate. Reefs protect vital coastal infrastructure by acting as a natural barrier to prevent coastal erosion. The loss of this protective barrier makes Malaysia’s coastal areas more susceptible to erosion and storm damage resulting in high costs for local communities. Moreover, reef degradation impacts fisheries as these habitats serve as nurseries for many marine species, reducing fish populations.
The communities that rely on coral reefs for their livelihoods and the reefs themselves are gravely threatened by fish bombing. This destructive practice not only fractures coral reef areas beyond repair but also hinders any chance of regeneration or regrowth. Furthermore, since it shatters the dead sub-structure of the coral, “dead zones” are created that destroy biodiversity and ecosystems, removing essential life support systems for many species. As a result, the delicate balance of marine habitats is further threatened and bombings intensify the existing dangers of overfishing and climate change.
Worldwide, tourists seek to immerse themselves in Malaysia’s diverse marine biodiversity. However, the appeal of these vivid underwater landscapes has been affected by the dangers of ocean acidification and fish bombing. The degradation of coral reefs disrupts the marine ecosystem driving away tourists who visit for a captivating diving and snorkelling experience. Potential tourists who are concerned about the sustainability and ethics of their travels may be drawn to other destinations with healthier marine environments once they learn about the deteriorating state of Malaysia’s underwater ecosystem. These shifts in tourist preferences will eventually lead to a decline in revenue for coastal businesses, tour operators, hotels, and restaurants that rely on coastal tourism. This is important as the tourism industry generates significant revenue for the country.
Local communities, international partnerships, and enforcement agencies such as the Department of Environment and The Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) must work together to uphold maritime laws, lead environmental preservation efforts, and protect marine biodiversity, due to the evident and alarming economic effects of ocean acidification and fish bombing on Malaysia’s marine biodiversity. It is crucial for Malaysia to act decisively to protect its marine ecosystems as fishing communities struggle with declining catches and coral reefs suffer severe degradation. Adopting sustainable fishing techniques, upholding stronger laws against illegal fishing, and funding coral reef restoration are all necessary to achieve this. By prioritising environmental preservation, Malaysia can secure its marine heritage for future generations, fostering sustainable economic growth while ensuring the prosperity of coastal communities.
A version of this article was published in The Star on August 18, 2023.