Marine Life at Tunku Abdul Rahman Park
Sabah’s coral reefs are home to some of the largest, most varied communities of marine life on earth. Apart from their biological significance, these reefs fringe a number of exotic islands which have become important centres for marine research and conservation.
These include the islands of Tunku Abdul Rahman Park, Pulau Tiga, the Turtle Islands, the Tun Sakaran Marine Park and Pulau Sipadan Park, under the jurisdiction of Sabah Parks.
The excellent diversity of life on Sabahan reefs extends to echinoderms. There are five major divisions - sea stars, brittle stars, featherstars, sea urchins and sea cucumbers. All echinoderms display the pentagonal theme although this may not beobvious on the outer surface.
There are seven phyla of marine worms comprising over 20,000 different species. They live in a wide range of habitats. Some burrow into living or dead corals, some hide beneath crevices, while others dwell more permanently on other reef inverterbrates such as sea cucumbers and sea stars.
Sponges have existed since Precambrian times, some 600 -700 milion years ago. They are efficient filter feeders feeding on the smallest microscopic organisms. Bacteria is their major source of nutrition. They have unusual biochemical properties and are frequently toxic to other organisms. They feature in medical research, notably in treatment of cancer and other diseases.
Soft corals lack a hard limestone skeleton. Like many reef inhabitants, they secrete chemicals that prevent or inhibit encrusting growths. Cancer research scientists are intrigued by this. There is amazing diversity of soft coral. Many of the soft fleshy forms belong to the family Alycyoniidae. Another major group, gorgonians or "sea fans " comprise several families and contain the largest growth forms. Soft corals seldom have encrusting growths as they secrete chemicals to prevent or inhibit these.
Sabah's marine parks are home to a large and diverseassemblage of reef dwelling molluscs. A wide variety of shells, colourful sea slugs and cephalapods can be seen.
Hard corals build spectacular reefs. Individual coral polyps secrete calcium carbonate that eventually becomes the matrix of the reef. Living coral forms only a thin veneer, flourishing on layers of previous generations, over the skeletal remains of ancestors. Hard corals form the nucleus of life on the reef - providing habitats, food, protection, and shelter. Over 200 coral species are found in the waters of Sabah Parks. The vast majority are colonial forms although there are solitary species like mushroom coral (Fungiidae). Hard corals thrive in clear, warm, shallow seas, requiring bright sunlight for optimal growth.
Fishes are the most apparent of the reef's inhabitants. The array of fishes encountered in Sabah's reefs is vast and overwhelming. Visitors can expect an amazing cavalcade of colour, shape, and size. The coral reef is home to numerous fish species - from gentle giants to colorful clowns, from timid sand dwellers to vicious predators. The natural life cycle of every marine creature revolves around survival and procreation. Every species is part of the food chain though each takes a slightly different path or uses a unique adaptation to survive.
Of all known invertebrates in the sea, crustaceans are most abundant as a group. They show incredible diversity in size, shape, colour and lifestyle. Due to their tiny size and cryptic habits, they are not always evident. Crustaceans can provide many hours of fascination for the patient observer. Reefs in Sabah host a large variety of crustaceans, including many interesting and unusual species.