INTRODUCTION: ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTIONS
Lying at the northern end of the Strait of Penang just off the eastern coast of George Town, the Middle Bank is a ridge that plays a key role in the environmental and ecological health and sustainability of the seas surrounding the state of Penang.
In 2021, Centre for Marine and Coastal Studies at Universiti Sains Malaysia (CEMACS, USM) and Penang Institute were tasked by the Penang State Government to undertake studies and prepare the groundwork for the gazettement of the Middle Bank area as a marine sanctuary to be named the Middle Bank Marine Sanctuary (MBMS).
This report is the first of several done in line with that mandate. It presents in detail key ecosystems and biological species found in the Middle Bank, and describes the crucial ecological functions provided by them. Apart from being an area rich in fisheries resources, the Middle Bank is acknowledged to house unique ecosystems such as seagrass beds, fish nursery areas, and marine feeding grounds for resident and pelagic species.
2. STUDY PHASES
Studies relevant to the gazettement of the Middle Bank Marine Sanctuary (MBMS) project are herewith divided into three phases, as listed below.
a) First Phase – An investigation into the natural components of the Middle Bank (This report)
This phase provides a detailed description of the natural conditions found in the MBMS area. Multiple field surveys were done between October 2021 to March 2022. These include:
i. Mapping of the natural areas of the Middle Bank and Pulau Gazumbo using satellite imageries, aerial drones, and ground truthing to determine the extent and distribution of these natural ecosystems.
ii. Determining the diversity of these natural ecosystems and taxonomic investigation of their biological components.
The results of this phase provide a baseline on the type and distribution of the ecosystems and their components. This report will be essential to understanding and promoting the MBMS establishment, and also provides information required for the future management of the sanctuary.
b) Second Phase – An investigation into the human impact on the Middle Bank and the restoration of its ecosystems
The project’s second phase focuses on the human impact on the MBMS. The large human population centres on the fringes of the MBMS and the varied land uses there carry significant impact for the MBMS. It is, therefore, necessary to determine the type and degree of such activities on the health and sustainability of the proposed park.
This phase will determine the areas affected and what follow-up steps needed to be taken to restore and improve the MBMS area.
c) Third Phase – An investigation into the blue carbon value and potential of the Middle Bank
The project’s third phase investigates the blue carbon value and potential of the MBMS and how this may be improved. Such a framework will guide the MBMS’ establishment and its subsequent development and maintenance.
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