Universiti Malaysia Terengganu (UMT) and the International SeaKeepers Society Asia have initiated the UMT Ocean Monitoring Project, a citizen science project that builds on the two bodies’ collaboration on the Laguna Redang Island Resort’s coral transplant programme (see Yacht Style Issue 44).
As one of the world’s most populated regions, Southeast Asia has made a significant impact towards marine plastic pollution, yet questions regarding the degree of plastic pollution in its waters still abound. To answer such questions, on-site data is crucial to help researchers and scientists evaluate the level of pollution in our marine environment.
To gather such data, the Ocean Monitoring Project was initiated, with the UMT-SeaKeepers consortium working with volunteers from the SeaKeepers Discovery Yachts programme to collect water samples in seas over different seasons and locations. The support of the private yachts reduces costs and allows the scientists to focus more time and funds on research.
Geographically, the project aims to cover waters surrounding Peninsular and East Malaysia including the Straits of Malacca, South China Sea and Sulu-Sulawesi Sea. The project started last September and will span two years through to 2020, involving quarterly sample collections in September, December, March and June.
The first sampling featured Kirsten Bennett and Joe Cumming on the Discovery Yacht Halo, as they cruised from Langkawi to Johor and collected over 20 water samples (250ml each) from 13 stations along the Straits of Malacca.
In preparation, Joe and Kirsten were briefed by Dr James Tan and Dr Poh Seng Chee, the project’s lead scientists, who outlined the standard operating procedures and methods for collecting the water samples.
The scientists plotted the desired locations for sampling stations and the sailing route, and provided equipment such as sampling bottles and plankton nets. As Halo sailed the length of the west coast to Kukup Island off Johor, water sample collection points were planned at intervals of 45nm subject to weather, water depth, tide, current and many other factors.
Back in the UMT laboratories, collected samples were examined for several scientific aspects such as the abundance of primary producer (e.g. phytoplankton), as well as marine plastic materials that occur together with the primary producers.
More data and analysis will help to fill critical knowledge gaps such as the occurrence of marine plastic pollution in Southeast Asia, seasonal dispersion patterns and more importantly the state of plastic pollution in the human food web.
Collections of such samples are crucial to understanding the seasonal variation of our ocean conditions and will be disseminated to provide a better understanding of marine plastic pollution. The research findings will also support the development of new policies and strategies to battle against ocean pollution.
The owner of Luzerne volunteered his yacht for the sampling along the Straits of Malacca and we believe there will be more helping hands and vessels to ensure the completion of this project.
Other areas to be monitored include the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia, the coastline of Sabah and Sarawak on Borneo, and remote islands including Perak northwest of Penang and Layang-Layang north of Miri.
To achieve the project’s goals, continuous support and the involvement of citizens is key. Every little bit helps matter in safeguarding our ocean and each of us can play a role in it.
Helping hands and yachts needed!
If you’re interested to be part of the ongoing UMT Ocean Monitoring Project, please contact [email protected] for further information.
Universiti Malaysia Terengganu
Representing the marine-focused Universiti Malaysia Terengganu, the UMT team spearheading the Ocean Monitoring Project includes Dr Poh Seng Chee, an environmental chemist, marine biologists Dr James Tan Chun Hong and Dr Muhammad Hafiz Borkhanuddin, and Dr Siti Nurtahirah Jaafar, a biochemist. Dr Poh is leading the project and his role is to assess and advise the public about how chemicals move through the environment and their effects on human health and the environment itself. www.umt.edu.my
The International SeaKeepers Society is a non-profit organisation focusing on the health of the world’s oceans and climate. SeaKeepers Asia was launched in 2016 by Board Member Julian Chang, an active member of the yachting and shipping industry in Singapore and China, and his wife Sandra. Building upon established international programming, the Asia chapter’s mission is to save the oceans by applying the SeaKeepers motto: Research, Educate, Protect and Restore. www.seakeepers.org/singapore
Note: The original version of this article appeared in Yacht Style Issue 45