Johor Bahru, Malaysia

Researchers from the University of Plymouth have contributed to two international policy briefings showing how Malaysia’s coastal infrastructure can not only protect humans and property but also make space for nature.

Academics from the School of Biological and Marine Sciences worked with colleagues from Universiti Sains Malaysia and Universiti Malaya to produce new guidance around how approaches to coastal engineering can be developed in ways that benefit habitats.

They also looked at how nature can be used to not only benefit key coastal and marine habitats, but also protect coastlines, enhance fisheries, and mitigate and adapt to climate change.

The policy briefings were launched during a webinar hosted by the Nexus Action for Mangroves in Selangor, Malaysia (NexAMS) project – which also involves the University – and supported by the British High Commission Kuala Lumpur.

The webinar was introduced by Amy Then, Senior Lecturer at Universiti Malaya, and Nicole Willey, SEA Director for Science & Innovation at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO). Melanie Austen, Professor of Ocean & Society at the University of Plymouth, mediated a question and answer session at the end of the webinar.

Dr Su Yin Chee, Senior Lecturer from Universiti Sains Malaysia, spoke about the impacts of coastal development in Malaysia with Dr Louise Firth, Lecturer in Marine Ecology, talking about how the integrated greening of grey infrastructure (IGGI) could enhance biodiversity on the country’s engineered shorelines.

Amy Then spoke about the implementation of Nature-based Solutions (NbS) and how it could enhance coastal resilience in Malaysia. Meanwhile, Dr Abigail McQuatters-Gollop, Associate Professor of Marine Conservation, spoke about how the successful integration of science and policy can promote sustainable development in Malaysia and elsewhere.

Launched ahead of Biodiversity Day 2021, the briefings also echo the messages of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development.

Nature-based Solutions (NbS)

In this policy briefing, the authors say the loss of natural coastal protection (provided by coral reefs, seagrass beds and mangroves) due to coastal development is a serious threat to Malaysia’s human population.

However, one powerful way of addressing the difficult balance between coastal development and conservation is to implement Nature-based Solutions. In a series of recommendations at the end of the briefing, they urge governments and other agencies to:

  • Promote education of the importance of mangroves, coral reefs, and seagrass beds for fisheries, coastal protection, water filtration, climate change mitigation and adaptation, and biodiversity;

  • Enhance protection measures for existing mangroves, coral reefs, and seagrass beds, including the establishment of Marine Protected Areas and Permanent Forest Reserves;
  • Address underlying causes of degradation in mangroves, coral reefs, and seagrass beds, such as pollution, coastal development, and overexploitation;
  • Meet the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) target of reducing greenhouse gases emission intensity of gross domestic products (GDP) by 45% relative to the 2005 baseline;
  • Recognise links between the protection and restoration of coastal and marine habitats and the achievement of global policy goals (Aichi Targets, UN Sustainable Development Goals).

Integrated greening of grey infrastructure (IGGI)

In the second briefing, the authors highlight how manmade structures such as sea walls, breakwaters and revetments are increasingly being used to replace natural coastal defences. Although this type of infrastructure performs well in terms of protecting the coastline from erosion and sea level rise, they add, it offers a poor habitat for marine life.

IGGI is a relatively new concept in trying to address this, and aims to increase the physical and biological complexity of engineered habitats to enhance biodiversity and ecosystem functioning.

Various trials have taken place in Malaysia but, writing at the end of the briefing, the authors say:

“Now is the time to build on the strong evidence base on experimental work. IGGI needs to be scaled up to ‘real-world’ scales.
"In Malaysia, there are many opportunities where IGGI can usefully be implemented given that several coastal reclamation projects have been proposed, are underway, or have been completed.
"Long-term monitoring should simultaneously assess the longevity of IGGI interventions and the risks/benefits to humans and nature alike.”

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