Protecting the reefs of Pulau Perhentian

Working together to help the reefs of Perhentian

PULAU Perhentian, Terengganu, is famed for its myriad marine life and clear waters, an ideal combination for great diving and snorkelling. It is made up of a cluster of islands – Pulau Perhentian Kecil, Pulau Perhentian Besar and a few smaller islands to the north. Great snorkel and dive sites can be found at reefs with names like Coral Garden, Sugar Wreck, Tiger Rock and Tanjung Basi.

The brilliance of the coral depends on when and where you go as the monsoon season has a large impact on the reef. Monsoon winds can stir up powerful waves which hit the reefs continuously from November to February, causing not just physical damage to corals but also raising water turbidity.

Coral colonies actually contain millions of tiny animals called polyps, not too dissimilar from tiny translucent jellyfish. Each polyp contains tiny algae plants called zooxanthellae, which produce over 90% of the energy for the coral polyps. This means that corals can only thrive when the water is clear and the zooxanthellae receive enough sunlight to photosynthesise. When monsoonal waves hit and sediment is stirred up, the zooxanthellae cannot collect enough sunlight, resulting in lower amounts of energy given to the corals. Because of this, corals are not as healthy or as colourful and vibrant in March and April as in the month of September.

Coral diversity

The monsoon also influences the predominant type of coral on the reef. In the shallow waters of Coral Garden, you will see mainly large boulder corals. The bay here is sheltered from monsoonal waves and winds, thus the calmer waters allow slow-growing boulder corals (they grow only 3cm to 5cm per year) to establish themselves. At the more exposed shallow parts of the snorkel site named Shark Point, staghorn corals dominate the reef. These grow much faster, about 15 cm per year, and broken fragments can reattach themselves to the reef and continue to grow. This is why staghorn corals are more common in shallow areas with high wave action.

Sugar Wreck, Tiger Rock and Tanjung Besi.

Sugar Wreck is an old cargo ship that sank in 2000.

Divers are always keen to venture into its cargo hold where you can see a pocket of trapped air. Wrecks are always great places to dive and to spot interesting marine life. Sometimes at Sugar Wreck, you can see 2m- to 3m-wide lagoon rays.

Terumbu Tiga or Tiger Rock, which lies east of Pulau Perhentian Besar, is the place to be if you like not only small things but also the biggest ones. The site is a collection of large rocks with crevices for lots of exciting swim-throughs. Avid divers often seek out the numerous colourful nudibranchs (or sea slugs) found here.

Tanjung Basi is another favourite dive site for corals as it is shallow and has beautiful coral formations and lots of reef fish. It is also a great example of a phenomenon called coral bleaching. In 2010, the temperature in the South China Sea rose by 2°C to 3°C, causing coral polyps to release their zooxanthellae. The algae not only give the corals energy but also their colour. Without the zooxanthellae, all that is left are translucent coral polyps in a white calcium carbonate structure. The ghostly-white corals give an impression of bleached corals.

Clown fish and Sea Anemone

Do you know?

If you were to hold an anemone clownfish (Nemo in that popular animation Finding Nemo), the protective mucus which surrounds the clownfish will be rubbed off and it will be stung when it returns to its anemone home, causing it to die.

Coral renewal

But there is always life after death and corals have been around for millions of years and can continue to live if we can help them adapt to a world with more humans. Various non-govermental organization together with the Association of Operators of Pulau Perhentian, dive operators and several independent divemasters and dive instructors are working together to help the reefs of Perhentian. The most important thing is education and awareness.


  • Role model dive professional and responsible practices of divers and non divers

Good dive instructors and divemasters make it a point to brief their students on not touching corals or getting too close to sea turtles. Responsible divers or snorkellers should speak up if their instructor fails to brief their students on ethical diving and snorkelling practices. This is important as responsible practices should be the foundation for every individual wishing to enjoy the beautiful underwater environment.

  • Dive for debris and underwater clean-up

Individuals can help protect the reef by removing fishing nets and rubbish which they see underwater.

 In 2009, a large, discarded trawler net wrapped itself around the corals at Tokong Laut or Temple of the Sea, killing several marine animals.

With the combined effort of several resort operators and divers, much of the net was removed.

Underwater clean-ups should be continuously practised by everyone on the island, a message that is repeated during dive and snorkel briefings, as well as during talks on marine issues.

  • Education on marine awareness and participation to school children and school club

Among the local village children, volunteer may instill a love for the marine environment through the school Environmental Club.

The children are introduced to various species of marine life and how to protect these creatures.

  • Introduce and educate eco-friendly and safe snorkelling practices 

Start the Eco-Snorkelling Club to teach local guides about eco-friendly and safe snorkelling practices, such as not standing on corals, identification of species and the ills of fish feeding.

  • Learn and conduct proper data collection

Teach  volunteers and programme participants to collect data on coral cover when snorkelling. The information is submitted to, a website run by Queensland University in Australia, which is assessing coral bleaching events. In addition to that

Train snorkel guides in reef surveys using the Reef Check method. The guides can then collect data on corals at the same time that they take visitors out to snorkel.

  • Support and effort by various organisations

Pulau Perhentian is receiving support and effort by various organisations keen on protecting its marine environment. One guide has even suggested that snorkel sites be rotated on an annual basis to give the reef a chance to recover from damage inflicted by tourists. The education must continue as it is of utmost importance that the locals love and care for the environment and this has to start from the ground up – educating the younger generations who live in this beautiful marine playground.


Marine park are ideal places for viewing the rich aquatic life that abound in Malaysia’s water. There are 5 marine parks and tourist wishing to visit these parks must take note of regulations.

What is Marine Park ?

A Marine park is an area of the sea zoned as a sanctuary for the coral reef community which is considered as possibly the most productive ecosystem in the world, with its diversity of flora and fauna. Coral reefs are also important breeding and nursery grounds for many commercially important species of marine organisms and fish.

Among the objectives of the marine park and Marine reserves are:

– Preservation and protection of coral reef areas from the impact of development.
– Upgrade and preserve the natural habitat of endangered species of aquatic life.
– Establishment of zones for preservation of the aquatic flora and fauna and also for the purpose of research  and educational activities.
– Establishment of zones for recreational uses consistent with the carrying capacity of the area.

What are the benefits of Marine Park?

With the establishment of the Marine Park, the benefits are as follows:
– The ecosystem and habitat of marine life will be protected and maintained
– Rejuvenation of over exploited zones and their maintenance for the protection of endangered species of marine organisms.
– Establishment of zones for research and educational purposes.
– Establishment of zones for recreational uses and tourism.

Permitted Activities

Provisions for the establishment and management of the marine parks in the Fisheries Act 1985 allows for the control of the following activities.

Permitted Activities :

  • Underwater photography
  • Swimming
  • Observation and appreciation of the aquatic flora and fauna
  • Scuba Diving
  • Snorkelling
Prohibited Activities (except with permission)
  • Water skiing, speed boat racing and jet skiing
  • Destruction, removal or collection of the corals and other aquatic life
  • Vandalizing and structure or object within the marine park
  • Anchoring of boats over the coral areas.
  • Carrying and using weapons that endanger aquatic life.
  • Fishing in the park vicinity. (within a 3.2km radius)
  • Discharging of pollutants and rubbish

Project AWARE

Our Ocean Our Future

Froject AWARE is a global movement of scuba divers protecting our ocean planet – one dive at a time. Focused on the critical issues of Sharks in Peril and Marine Debris, Project AWARE empowers thousands to work together for a clean, healthy and abundant ocean planet

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