Coral reefs provide resources that sustain the economy and culture of Malaysians. Despite occupying less than one percent of the ocean, more than 25% of all marine species call coral reefs their home, including the fish and seafood that we eat, and what our fishermen depend on for their bread and butter (or as we say in Malay, periuk nasi); indeed, seafood makes up a large part of our diets, with Malaysians eating 2 times more fish than chicken and 10 times more than beef.
Also known as the ‘rainforests of the sea’, coral reefs are one of the most diverse and productive of ecosystems in the world. Unfortunately, they are under threat. According to a recent report by local coral scientists, Malaysian coral reefs retained approximately 50% coral cover before 1990, but this has halved since then. Corals, especially branching corals, are fragile as not only do they grow slower with rising seawater temperatures, but they also break easily from intense storms, which are increasing in intensity and frequency due to climate change. Higher success rates in coral rehabilitation programs are critically needed to reverse the degradation of coral reefs in Malaysia.
To work towards tackling this problem, Universiti Malaya (UM) researchers from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Institute of Ocean and Earth Sciences, and the Faculty of Science teamed up to form Project PULIH (Protecting Underwater Life through Integrated reHabilitation) to study the rehabilitation of coral reefs from physical damage. Funded by the Impact-Oriented Interdisciplinary Research Grant (IIRG) programme, this multidisciplinary research team combines different scientific disciplines — ecology, geography, physiology and molecular biology — to improve coral reef rehabilitation techniques. The word ‘pulih’ in the Malay language means to ‘heal’ or ‘restore’, which is befitting of the team’s overall aim to find better and localized strategies to heal and restore marine ecosystems in Malaysia.
Team Project PULIH on Pulau Rawa, Johor
(Left to right: Heng Wei Khang, Jihad Wajdi Mohd Erfino, Nuradilla Mohamad Fauzi, Jillian Ooi Lean Sim, Affendi Yang Amri, Chew Kok Lynn, Mok Man Ying, Febrianne Sukiato)
RHB Islamic Bank Berhad is committed to marine conservation through their flagship initiative, ‘Ocean Harmony’, that aims to raise public awareness of the conservation and sustainability of the marine environment.
Cemented by Project PULIH’s strong media presence, RHB Islamic recognized the project’s similar visions for coral reef rehabilitation and engaged with UM to extend its Ocean Harmony initiative.
Signing Ceremony for Memorandum of Understanding
To form a strategic partnership, UM and RHB Islamic signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on 2nd March 2022 at DoubleTree by Hilton Putrajaya Lakeside, represented by Dato’ Adissadikin Ali, Managing Director of RHB Islamic Berhad and Professor Dr. Sabri Musa, Deputy Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs, UM, who was representing Professor Dato' Ir. Dr. Mohd Hamdi Abd Shukor, Vice Chancellor of UM. Also present during the MoU signing were Mr. Roshan Jaffar, Head of Strategy at RHB Islamic and Dr. Nuradilla Mohamad Fauzi, senior lecturer at UM and representative of the team behind Project PULIH.
The MoU serves as a framework for future joint activities between UM’s marine scientists and RHB Islamic, dedicated towards increasing awareness on the coral reef ecosystem and developing science-based solutions to address coral reef degradation. This marks the beginning of a promising collaboration towards ensuring our coral reefs are increasingly resilient to climate change. Through this shared vision for marine ecosystem conservation, UM and RHB Islamic reinforce their commitment to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, SDG14 “Life Below Water” and SDG17 “Partnerships for the Goals.” Some activities in the pipeline include hosting naturalist dives, marine awareness programs, and deploying coral rehabilitation programs for citizen scientists.