Semporna Expedition Yields Rich Biodiversity | WWF Malaysia

Semporna Expedition Yields Rich Biodiversity

Posted on 20 December 2010   |  
Dr Bert Hoeksema holding a rare species of mushroom coral (Halomitra clavator) encountered at various sites in the Semporna Priority Conservation Area.
© WWF-Malaysia / Eric Madeja

Kota Kinabalu: The Semporna Marine Ecological Expedition concluded on 18 December 2010. The preliminary results indicate that Semporna may have the world’s highest marine biodiversity. Eighteen scientists from Malaysia, the Netherlands and the USA spent three weeks examining the reefs of Semporna, Sabah, Malaysia. The biodiversity team documented the species richness for mushroom corals, reef fish, shrimps, gall crabs, ovulid snails, and algae. The reef status team documented the health of the coral reefs.

Mushroom corals are a family of corals of which most species live freely on the sea bed, from the shallow reef flat down to the sandy reef base. The expedition documented 43 species of mushroom corals in Semporna. The previous highest recorded richness of this family was 40 species at several sites in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. “Mushroom corals can be used as a proxy for other coral richness. Where we find high richness of mushroom corals, we usually find extremely high richness of other corals,” says Dr Bert Hoeksema, Head of Department of Marine Zoology, NCB Naturalis.

The roving census of fish counts clearly demonstrates that Semporna is one of the richest areas within the Coral Triangle. Dr Kent Carpenter, Professor at Department of Biological Sciences, Old Dominion University states, “At some of the more diverse reefs, fish species counts rivalled the highest counts that the fish team found in the Philippines and were greater than what they have encountered in Indonesia.”  The fish team encountered 844 species of fish in Semporna. 

The coral reef status team used a modified ReefCheck methodology to assess the health of the reefs. 12 kilometres of transects were laid in the course of 60 dives. The preliminary results show that the reef status ranged from poor to excellent condition. 5% of the transects had “excellent” live coral cover, 23% had “good”, 36% had “fair”, and another 36% had “poor” live coral cover. Signs of coral bleaching and suspected coral disease were observed at various sites. While Semporna has several sites with good coral cover, nearly all sites showed significant human impacts including fish bombs, discarded fishing gear, and solid waste.

The extremely high levels of coral reef diversity and the relative poor health of the reefs combine to mean that much more effort must be made to manage and conserve the important reefs of Semporna.  Not only is it a world class diving destination, it may well be one of the Coral Triangle’s top hotspots for marine biodiversity, and hence, the world’s. Many thousands of local people also rely on these rich reefs for their livelihoods and income.

Watch videos of the expedition team members conducting research and telling about discoveries, as well as stories of local communities in Semporna at:    
Semporna Marine Ecological Expedition is made possible in part by funding from Adessium Foundation.


Photo captions :
1. Dr Bert Hoeksema holding a rare species of mushroom coral (Halomitra clavator) encountered at various sites in the Semporna Priority Conservation Area.
2. Sabah Parks researcher, Mohd. Nara Hj. Ahmad, winding up the transect line.
3.  WWF Boat Kahumbu with Batik Kulambu Island in the background.
All photos are credited as: © WWF-Malaysia / Eric Madeja

Editor’s note:
 WWF-Malaysia’s Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion Programme in Semporna PCA is currently implementing a project to facilitate collaborative management of fisheries and marine resources among stakeholders, which include government agencies, district office, private sectors, tour/dive operators and local communities. WWF’s Semporna PCA Team works with these partners to manage coral reefs and adjacent ecosystems in a sustainable way to protect biodiversity. Economic activities such as tourism, reef fisheries and aquaculture can continue to provide livelihood and income for many people and sectors of society.

 The Semporna Priority Conservation Area (PCA) is one of three Globally Significant PCAs in Malaysia within the Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion (SSME). It is has Malaysia’s largest concentration of coral reefs linked to complex habitats including mangroves, seagrass beds, and is home to 400 species of hard corals, 650 species of fish, endangered green and hawksbill turtles and contain migratory routes for whale sharks and manta rays. The SSME is located at the apex of the Coral Triangle.

 The Coral Triangle—the nursery of the seas—is the most diverse marine region on the planet, matched in its importance to life on Earth only by the Amazon rainforest and the Congo basin. Defined by marine areas containing more than 500 species of reef-building coral, it covers around 6 million square kilometres of ocean across six countries in the Indo-Pacific – Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Solomon Islands, and Timor-Leste. For information go to:   

For more information, please contact:

Angela Lim, WWF-Malaysia, Tel: +60 12 833 2868, Email:

Astrid Kromhout, NCB Naturalis, Tel: +31 71 568 7625, Email:

Dr Bert Hoeksema holding a rare species of mushroom coral (Halomitra clavator) encountered at various sites in the Semporna Priority Conservation Area.
© WWF-Malaysia / Eric Madeja Enlarge


blog comments powered by Disqus