Malaysia may close more dive sites hit by coral bleaching

Malaysia may close three more popular dive sites in the South China Sea which have been hit by coral bleaching blamed on global warming, an official said Wednesday.

Last week authorities announced the closure of nine dive sites on the tropical islands of Tioman and Redang until the end of October in an attempt to relieve stress on the fragile marine ecosystems.

The two islands are located off the east coast of Malaysia in the South China Sea.

Marine authorities said they were studying a proposal to shut down three more sites on Redang island after resort operators said they detected coral bleaching and wanted the diving spots closed.

"We have received the proposal, we will study it and verify the matter," a marine park official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The dive sites will only be closed if more than 60 percent of the coral has been damaged, she added.

The closure would give the coral a chance to regenerate and would remove stress caused by tourism-related activities such as diving.

Coral bleaching, which can eventually kill corals, occurs when stresses such as rising sea temperatures disrupt the delicate, symbiotic relationship between the corals and their host organisms.

The marine department has said 60 to 90 percent of the coral in some areas of the closed sites has been damaged.

The reefs in Redang and Tioman island attract some 500,000 tourists annually.